Papers face PCC probe for printing images of suicide leap

By Dominic Ponsford

The scene is set for a precedent-making judgment from the Press
Complaints Commission on intrusion into private grief after three
newspapers published photos of a woman jumping to her death from a
London hotel building.

The PCC has written to The Times, the Evening Standard and The Sun
informing them that an investigation is underway over their pictures of
52-yearold lawyer Katherine Ward jumping from the Jury’s Hotel in South
Kensington.

The pictures were taken by a photographer from agency
Matrix and were made available to all news organisations – but only the
three newspapers under investigation decided to use a picture of Ward
in mid-air.

The picture was used last week in the Evening Standard on Tuesday, The Sun on Wednesday and in The Times on Thursday.

According
to the PCC it has received around 50 complaints about the pictures,
mostly from people unconnected to the deceased. Although the commission
has the discretion to act over complaints from unconnected parties, the
current investigation was prompted by action from two friends of the
deceased. One complained only over the articles in the Evening Standard
and The Sun, and the other also mentioned The Times.

The
complaints have been made under Clause Five of the Editor’s Code which
states that in cases involving personal grief or shock publication must
be handled sensitively.

According to sources at The Times
discussions over how to use the photographs were extensive and went to
the highest level at the paper.

Times executives are believed to
feel that the use of the picture, in black and white on a left-hand
page, in conjunction with a front page head and shoulders shot of the
woman, was sufficiently sensitive. It is also understood that The Times
held publication over for a day to ensure that all relatives had been
informed of the woman’s death.

A Times2 feature the following day
by Tim Lott, dealing with his own previous suicidal thoughts, is
understood to have been planned as part of the story’s overall package.

A
spokesman for the Evening Standard said: “We have written to each
reader who contacted us explaining the reasons behind what was a very
difficult judgement, and have received replies from many who
appreciated our response to them.”

A spokesman for The Sun declined to comment on the details of an ongoing PCC investigation.

Among
those to complain to the PCC was the charity Samaritans, which singled
out coverage in The Times and Evening Standard for criticism. It said
the reports were a serious breach of its guidelines on covering
suicide, which state that press coverage should be “discreet and
sensitive”, avoid explicit details of the method and also avoid
“dramatic photographs or images”.

 

Suicide leap photographer Jonathan Bushell:
‘IN SOME WAYS I WISH I HADN’T TAKEN THE PICTURE’

The photographer who captured the mid-air image of a woman jumping
to her death from a London hotel building has spoken to Press Gazette
of his regrets about taking the photo.

Jonathan Bushell, from
picture agency Matrix, said he photographed Catherine Ward moments from
death by accident when he was taking a “general view” of the hotel. He
said he only discovered the picture was on his film when he returned to
his office on nearby Gloucester Road.

He said: “I popped outside
the office for a coffee and on the way back I saw a police car and
flashing lights. For some reason I looked up and saw this woman
standing on the ledge on the fourth floor of the Jury’s Hotel.

“I
didn’t have my camera with me as I had just popped out, but I always
have a compact with me wherever I go. It was quite a cheap one.

“A friend of mine who is a policeman said 99 per cent of the time they don’t jump so I didn’t expect her to go through with it.

“I
did a few shots of her on the ledge and then decided to do a few GVs
[general views] of the whole building. I heard a bang on the floor and
didn’t realise I had the photo until I got back to the office ten
minutes later, I didn’t really want to have what I’d got.”

Bushell
said Matrix didn’t hesitate to put the photo out to newspapers on
Tuesday afternoon – but he denied any allegation that it had
profiteered from the woman’s death.

He said: “We are a
photographic agency and make our money from exclusives, not small £50
news photos. All we asked for was a space rate and sent it out to
everyone, it didn’t cross our minds to try to sell it exclusively.”

Bushell
added that he has had flashbacks every day since witnessing Ward’s
death and said: “In some ways I wish I hadn’t taken the picture, I just
thought she was going to go back off the ledge

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