Luton weekly's 'pervert' suicide splash was 'gratuitous'

Luton weekly the Herald & Post has been censured over the story of a local man who committed suicide headlined ‘L&D ‘pervert’ is found dead’after finding it breached clauses on accuracy and intrusion into grief.

Rod Hemley complained to the PCC over the article, published on 28 September 2011, following the death of his civil partner Ameet Mohabeer.

At the time of his death Mohabeer had been facing 13 charges of sexual assault on a male and four other sex charges, which were alleged to have occurred at Luton & Dunstable Hospital where he was employed.

Hemley said the word “pervert” in the headline was insensitive and inaccurate because Mohabeer had pleaded not guilty to the charges and no evidence had been presented against him.

In its report the Herald & Post said Mohabeer was due in court to enter a plea in the case on 3 October 2011 – but he had in fact already pleaded not guilty and a trial date had been set

This would have given readers the misleading impression that his partner had taken his own life to avoid appearing in court the following day, said Hemley.

The newspaper accepted the inaccuracies and had published a front-page correction and apology but stood by its decision to use the headline.

It pointed out that there were 14 alleged victims in the case and that Mohabeer was the only suspect in the police investigation, and that several victims had contacted the newspaper to say that his death had denied them justice.

The paper amended the headline on the online article to: “L&D accused is found dead”, but stressed that this was not an admission that it had breached Clause 5 of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The complaint under Clause 5 was upheld by the PCC. The PCC also found the newspaper had breached Clause 1 but had ‘taken a sufficient form of remedial action’with its correction and apology.

‘Unacceptable and gratuitous’

In its adjudication the PCC said: ‘There could be no dispute that the newspaper was entitled to report the allegations against Mr Mohabeer and the existence of the criminal case in the context of his death.

‘The commission accepted the newspaper’s position that the ongoing legal action was highly relevant, and it noted that Clause 5 makes clear that its terms should not be taken as restricting the right to report legal proceedings.

‘The newspaper had also been entitled to publish the reaction of a patient who had made allegations against Mr Mohabeer. However, its other obligations under clause 5 remained.

‘Mr Mohabeer’s death had occurred just days before publication. The word ‘pervert’ was clearly a pejorative and colloquial term, and it had been presented prominently as the headline on the front-page story.

‘Given that Mr Mohabeer had been contesting the sexual abuse allegations at the time of his death, and he had not been convicted of any crime in this regard, the commission judged the phrase to be unacceptable and gratuitous.”

PCC director Stephen Abell, who earlier today announced he was leaving the organisation later this month, said: “This case is an important contribution to the commission’s case law, which sets out specific standards expected of journalists.

‘Reporting death can be a difficult area, with a need for balance between the right of the public to be informed and the need to protect those personally affected by it.

‘This ruling by the commission sets down an important marker in reminding editors and journalists that, whatever the circumstances of a particular story, the commission will always expect publication to be handled sensitivity.”

  • To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7336 5327 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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