PCC urges a review of suicide guidelines after death plunge

By Dominic Ponsford

Graphic photos showing a woman jumping to her death have prompted the Press Complaints Commission to urge a review of editorial guidelines on coverage of suicide.

But the PCC has rejected complaints from friends of American lawyer Katherine Ward that publication of a mid-air photo after she jumped from the top floor of a London hotel was in breach of the Editors’ Code.

Freelance photographer Jonathan Bushell photographed Ward on 3 January, as she jumped to her death from the Jury’s Hotel in Kensington.

The shots were made available to all UK papers, but only The Sun, the Evening Standard and The Times used them.

A friend of the dead woman, Marina Palomba, complained under Clause Five of the Code (intrusion into grief or shock) about the articles in The Sun and Evening Standard.

The Sun was first to publish the picture, on 4 January, followed by the Evening Standard the same day and The Times the following day.

Palomba described images published of her friend standing on a ledge, and then in mid-air, as "horrifying and distressing" and that it was "merely a matter of luck" that she had already been informed of the tragedy before reading the stories.

The Sun told the PCC that the decision to publish the photos was "taken after a great deal of consideration by senior executives" and that the story was "brief and factual".

The PCC said it was not its job to rule on matters of taste, but it noted that individual members of the commission felt publication of the mid-air photo of Ward "was likely to offend and upset readers".

However, it stated that such a public death was a newsworthy event and The Sun had not sought to "sensationalise or trivialise" it.

The Sun used small versions of the photographs in black and white and identified Ward only as "an American guest at the hotel".

The PCC criticised the Standard, which used a larger version of the controversial photo, for not making "specific checks" to ensure that the woman’s family were already aware of her death.

The commission reminded editors that they should take "great care in ensuring that they are not the first people to inform family of the news of a bereavement".

And it has suggested that the Code of Practice Committee, which undertakes an annual review of the Editors’ Code, should "consider the extent to which the reporting of suicide, and any sudden death, is covered by the code as it currently stands". Palomba has appealed the decision to PCC charter commissioner Sir Brian Cubbon.

Another friend of Ward, Martine Petetin, complained about The Times’s story, which also included photos of her on the ledge and in mid-air.

Her complaint was rejected, but the PCC noted in its report that, as with the other articles, individual members of the commission "regretted that publication had caused offence to members of the public".

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