Newspapers escape PCC censure over lawyer suicide pics

Dominic Ponsford

Three national newspapers which published pictures of a lawyer leaping to her death from a London hotel were not in breach of the Press Complaints Commission code.

The startling pictures of 52-year-old lawyer Katherine Ward in mid-air as she jumped to her death from the top floor of the Jury’s Inn hotel were made available to all newspapers in January this year – after being taken by Jonathan Bushell from the agency Matrix.

But only Evening Standard, The Times and The Sun chose to use them.

The PCC received around 50 complaints including one from the charity Samaritans, and it had rule on whether publication breached clause five of the Editors’ Code, intrusion into private grief.

The PCC rejected the complaints but did express "regret" that the picture was published.

It said: "It was not the task of the Commission to judge whether publication exceeded any bounds of tastefulness, but to reach a decision under the terms of the Code. Commissioners did, however, acknowledge – and indeed share – the view that publication had been likely to offend and upset readers. They regretted that it had done so.

"Under Clause 5, the first question was whether publication had been ‘handled sensitively’ by the newspapers. The Commission started from the position that the simple fact of publishing photographs of what was a public incident did not, in itself, constitute a failure to be sensitive.

"The Commission considered that it should be slow to restrict the right of newspapers to report – including using photographs – newsworthy events that take place in public. The manner in which the photographs were published was, therefore, important.

"Had the newspapers made light of the incident, included unnecessarily explicit details or presented the photographs in a gratuitously graphic manner, there would have been a breach of the Code. However, in the Commission’s view, the newspapers had not sought to trivialise or sensationalise the death of Ms Ward in this way. There was no breach of the Code as a result."

The PCC added that there was no evidence the papers broke the news to the dead woman’s family. However it said that in the case of the Evening Standard, which was first to use the mid-air picture, this "seemed to be ‘more a matter of luck than judgement’."

The PCC said: "The Commission was concerned that the Evening Standard had made no checks to confirm that the family had been informed about the incident and felt that greater steps should have been taken to verify the position before publication. The Commission was critical of the newspaper for its failure to have done so on this occasion."

The PCC has recommended that the Code of Practice regarding reporting of suicide should be reviewed.

 

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