PCC rejects complaint on suicide inquest report

A complaint over a newspaper report about a man who killed himself by inhaling gas was rejected by the Press Complaints Commission today.

Rosie Nicol-Harper complained that the report, headlined “Man used balloon kit to take his own life”, which appeared in the Southern Daily Echo on 12 July, contained excessive detail about a method of suicide in breach of Clause 5 (ii) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, covering intrusion into grief or shock.

The report was of an inquest into the death of a man who killed himself by inhaling helium.

It said he had bought a “blow up balloon kit”, which included “helium canisters” and died after “inhaling too much” of the gas.

Nicol-Harper said this method of suicide was uncommon and that, by giving such excessive detail, the newspaper was likely to encourage copycat suicides.

The newspaper said it was aware of the code’s requirements on reporting suicide and removed detail about the method used, to limit the chance of others copying it – it had not reported how precisely the gas was inhaled, or the quantity which would generally cause death.

It argued that in the context of a straightforward inquest report, it would have been improper and misleading not to have disclosed the basic means by which the man had died.

The PCC said it had made several rulings under Clause 5 (ii) of the Editors’ Code, which was introduced in 2006 specifically to deal with concerns about copycat suicides, and that the key part of the Clause related to care being taken to prevent publication of “excessive detail” about methods.

“In this case, even though it was a fairly uncommon method of suicide, the Commission did not consider that the newspaper had breached the terms of the Code,” it said.

“The newspaper was entitled to cover the inquest proceedings and to report the basic details of the method.

“Details about the precise apparatus that had been constructed – and how much gas had been inhaled – might well have been excessive in breach of the Code, but they had not been included.

‘This was a difficult balancing act, but the Commission was satisfied that the newspaper had published a suitably limited level of detail.”

There was no breach of the code, the Commission said, adding that newspapers should remain vigilant in this area.

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