The grieving aunt of a one-legged shoplifter has had her complaint about a regional daily’s coverage of her nephew’s death rejected by the press watchdog.
The Dundee Evening Telegraph reported last year how the man, who in the paper’s words had “become notorious for carrying out shoplifting sprees on his mobility scooter”, had been found dead in a hospital toilet.
But the story’s publication prompted Kathleen Newlands, the dead man’s aunt, to complain to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, claiming it had intruded on his right to patient confidentiality.
The Evening Telegraph reported that the man, who it named, had been found at a named hospital three days previously “alongside evidence of illicit drug misuse”, adding that he had previously had a leg amputated because of drug-related issues.
The paper’s report also stated that he had “a long list of convictions for crimes of dishonesty” which “had not been stopped by the loss of a leg about a year ago.”
Ms Newlands claimed the family had not been aware that the man, who was unnamed in IPSO’s ruling on the matter, had died in a hospital toilet, or that his death had been linked to drugs, prior the publication of the article.
Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), and Clause 8 (Hospitals) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, she also said the man had lost his leg due to an illness, rather than due to drug use.
Denying a breach of Code, the Evening Telegraph said that it had received the original copy from an agency, and it had published the story as a matter of public interest, adding the agency became aware of the circumstances of the man’s death from confidential sources in the days following the death.
It said that, as the story was published four days after the man’s death, it had no concern that the family would not have been informed by the police about the circumstances of his death, and denied that the article had revealed any private information about the man, or any health conditions he was being treated for.
The Evening Telegraph added that there was a public interest in the reporting the man had died while committing a criminal act in a public building because he had a history of engaging in drug-fuelled crime.
The newspaper referred IPSO to comments made by the man’s solicitor, representing him in a court appearance months before his death.
He had said: “He accepts most of his health problems are self-inflicted. He is now in a wheelchair, having had a recent amputation. He has significant health difficulties associated with his drug misuse.”
IPSO extended its condolences to Ms Newlands and her family, but found no wrongdoing on the part of the Evening Telegraph.
The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.