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IPSO backs weekly over naming of toxic substance used in suicide

NewIPSOA weekly newspaper was justified in publishing the name of a toxic substance that a teenager used to take his own life, the press watchdog has ruled.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has backed the Bucks Free Press after it revealed the detail in a report into the inquest of a 17-year-old.

Jane Coates, the teenager’s mother, had complained to IPSO about the inclusion of the chemical name for the substance in the story, claiming this constituted an excessive detail of an “emerging” method of suicide and could lead to simulative acts.

But the watchdog found in favour of the High-Wycombe-based Free Press, finding the story did not contain “excessive detail” about the method.

Complaining under Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Mrs Coates said she was very concerned that the information appeared to have been picked up by a third party website which “glamorised” her son’s death.

She added the possibility that the article under complaint could lead to simulative acts had caused her and her family much distress.

The Free Press offered its condolences to the complainant and her family for their loss but did not accept that the story breached Clause 5.

It said that it had taken steps to avoid including excessive detail as to the suicide method used, for example by not including the quantity of the substance that the young person used to take his own life or the concentration of the substance present in his blood, adding that it was only fatal when taken in relatively large quantities.

The paper noted that Clause 5 recognised the media’s right to report legal proceedings, and it was necessary to name this substance in order to accurately record the cause of death where the cause of death was officially registered as “[named substance] toxicity”.

It said that there was a public interest in reporting on the inquest and its findings, and that the reporter worked with the family via a family counsellor to provide a photograph and tribute to be included in the article.

The paper had referred to guidance from IPSO and the Samaritans in reporting the death and included contact details for the Samaritans at the end of the article.

Although it understood Mrs Coates’s concern at the content of articles which may have appeared on other websites, this was out with its control, and it did not mean that the article under complaint constituted a breach of the Code.

IPSO found the Free Press did not include any details which might support an individual in carrying out a simulative act, such as the amount of substance required, the preparation of the substance, and how the substance could be obtained or administered.

While it understood Mrs Coates’s concern that the substance used was relatively infrequent as a method of suicide, it did not consider that the article contained “excessive detail” about this method and also noted it could not make findings on reports by third party websites.

The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.