Newspapers censured by PCC for chainsaw suicide tale

The Press Complaints Commission has censured 10 news groups for providing too much detail in reports about a man who killed himself with a chainsaw.

Coverage in the Daily Mirror, Telegraph.co.uk, Metro.co.uk, Independent.co.uk and Thelondonpaper.com were considered to be a “clear breach” of the Editors’ Code of Practice on reporting suicide.

Reports in The Sun, Daily Star, Dailyrecord.co.uk, Mail Online and Crawleyobserver.co.uk were also found to have included too much detail about how 50-year-old David Phyall took his life at his home in Hampshire in 2007.

Press Gazette revealed last month that a number of national newspapers were being investigated by the PCC over the reports into the Phyall’s inquest, published last November.

Clause five of the Editors’ Code states: “When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used.”

A number of the reports investigated by the PCC were found to have included “excessive detail” about the method used by Phyall to kill himself.

“The newspapers in question had gone further than a simple reference to the fact that the man had used a chainsaw to kill himself,” the Commission said.

“In particular, they had described the manner in which the chainsaw had been activated and positioned.”

The Mirror argued that the method of suicide used was “exceptional” and reporting it was in the public interest. It did not consider that the story could prompt copycat suicides.

The Telegraph also said that there was a difficult balance to be drawn between the public interest in the free reporting of court proceedings and the need to avoid excessive information.

And the Daily Mail said online publishing was “a 24-hour job, relying on sometimes inexperienced journalists working under tight time pressures” and said the complaint “made clear the need for improved supervision”.

The Crawley Observer said it had taken the article from the Press Association newswire and published it unamended.

PA told the Commission that it had quickly realised that the content of its copy was too explicit, and then issued a second version of the story.

The PCC ruled: “Particularly in inquest reports – many of which will be provided by external agencies – care needs to be taken in the editing process to remove excessive detail.

“Clause five of the code enshrines the right to report inquest but this does not mean that publishing every detail will always be acceptable.”

Two newspapers investigated by the PCC escaped censure. The Guardian ran a brief news item but said it had taken a decision not to run a longer piece online.

Morning free newspaper Metro was also found to have removed excessive detail and stayed “on just the right side of the linee”.

PCC director Tim Toulmin told a Polis debate at the London School of Economics last month that the Commission was preparing to send a briefing note to journalists with further details on ‘best practice’on reporting suicide.

The issue has been the subject of much controversy following the press coverage of a spate of suicides in and around the Welsh town of Bridgend last year.

The PCC is also conducting its annual review of the Editors’ Code of Practice. It is inviting suggestions from the public and the industry until the end of January on potential revisions and how the system of press self-regulation can be improved.

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