The Press Complaints Commission has received more than 90 complaints over a story in today’s Daily Mail about the death of a Red Arrows pilot.
Flight Lt. Sean Cunningham died yesterday after his ejector seat was activated whilst his plane was still on the runway. The complaints centre around the Daily Mail’s decision to name the pilot in this morning’s paper.
When British servicemen die in conflict zones there is normally a 24-hour delay observed before names are published by the media, to provide families with a “period of grace”.
Press Gazette understands that on this occasion no specific time-limit was stipulated, but Flight Lt Cunningham’s name – and a quote from his family – was put out by the RAF press office at around midday today.
The majority of the complaints made to the PCC have been under clause 3 of the Editors’ Code (privacy) and clause 5 (intrusion into grief or shock).
The PCC is understood to be assessing the complaints and it has contacted the RAF to make its services available to the Cunningham family.
The Daily Mail is now looking into this matter to establish if journalists were made aware of a request to preserve the dead pilot’s anonymity.
Press Gazette understands that the Mail sent a reporter to RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire on Tuesday to report on the tragedy and that it was widely known on the airbase and in the local community that Flight Lt Cunningham was the pilot who had died.
According to Mail insiders, because the accident was on home-soil – rather than abroad in a theatre of war – the incident was treated in the same way as any other newsworthy tragedy. The Mail took steps to ensure that next-of-kin were aware before publishing. Press Gazette understands that a statement was put out by the RAF at 5.30pm on Tuesday saying that the dead pilot’s family had been informed and that his name would be released the next day.