Detail of chatroom death 'could encourage suicides'

A charity has claimed that newspaper reports about a man killing himself on the internet could encourage copycats.

Journalists are required to "avoid excessive detail about the method used" in suicides under clause five of the PCC Code of Practice, amended in 2006.

But suicide prevention charity Papyrus claims this is often flouted, citing the case of Kevin Whitrick from Shropshire, who hanged himself while broadcasting to an internet chatroom. Chairwoman Anne Parry said: "For most of us, it is unbelievable that reading the details of a suicide could lead you to a copycat attempt. But if someone is already thinking about suicide, the fact someone else has done it a certain way almost makes it an acceptable route to go down.

"In the Whitrick case we were particularly unhappy with the coverage by a Sunday broadsheet, but local media sometimes report in a similar manner to the most sensational tabloids. And because they are local, they can divulge more detailed information."

The Birmingham-based Sunday Mercury revealed details of Whitrick's death. Editor David Brookes said: "We generally try to steer clear of detail but because his death was broadcast on the internet, it was already in the public domain — you could see how he did it.

"We did keep out the most graphic detail and chose not to carry pictures from the web that were available. We also decided to lead the story on the possible charging of the internet voyeurs who encouraged him to do it, rather than the death itself."

Tony Harcup, senior lecturer in journalism at Sheffield University and author of The Ethical Journalist, has questioned whether it is necessary to report many suicides at all. He said: "If there is, for example, an alleged suicide in police custody and there are several versions about what happened, then there is a public interest case. But if someone's just reached the end of their tether, does it need to be reported?"

But Brookes said: "Suicides can highlight issues we need to tackle, for example bullying. We have the right to know so that we can put things right."

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