The Sun named miscarriage girl, the Echo didn't. Who was right?

Two sides: the Sun (above left) identified Stacey Storey but the Northern Echo decided against it after an “impassioned debate”

A 14-year-old girl has had a miscarriage and the hospital has given her the foetus to take home in a bottle.

Should she be identified? The Northern Echo chose not to name the girl. The Sun, followed later by other nationals, named her. Both claim theirs was a moral decision.

This dilemma brought the regionalnational newspaper divide sharply into focus when the Echo broke the story on 21 July.

Northern Echo staff had a passionate debate about naming Stacey Storey after Bishop Auckland General Hospital gave her the foetus in a bottle and told her to put it in her fridge.

Editor Peter Barron’s view that it was morally wrong to identify a 14-year-old in such horrific circumstances finally prevailed. What’s more his newspaper is sticking to its decision since Storey’s name was put in the public domain.

Even though the girl’s parents had given permission for their daughter to be identified, Barron said the girl had claimed she did not want to be named.

He believed that it was only “chequebook journalism” on The Sun’s part which had persuaded her to change her mind.

Sun deputy editor Fergus Shanahan, in charge while Rebekah Wade is on holiday, said: “I absolutely dispute that. We printed the names with the express permission of all parties.

“I feel more strongly than ever that we were right not to name her.”

PETER BARRON

“The mother felt overwhelmingly there was a really serious need for this to be put in the public domain and she was entirely happy for her daughter and herself to be named. On that basis, we felt our moral duty was to put the story before the public.”

Barron also felt that naming the girl might breach Press Complaints Commission guidelines on identifying children under 16 in sex cases.

The PCC said later that a ruling over a breach of the code would only be made if a complaint was made.

Barron told Press Gazette : “We had an impassioned debate in the office about whether it was right or whether it was wrong. Initially, we did have parental permission to name. I asked the reporter to go back and check what the girl’s view was. Nobody had actually asked the girl’s opinion and the message came back that she did not actually want to be identified. I felt that confirmed my view.

“The PCC’s view was it was a matter for me, morally, because there was nothing in the PCC guidelines I would be in breach of.

“I was told that the clause in the Code of Practice was put there for court cases. I think a girl of 14 who has had a miscarriage is essentially the victim of a sexual offence and the spirit of the guidelines has been broken.

There should be some protection for children irrespective of whether the case has gone to court.”

The Sun then splashed on the story the next day, said Barron, “having used their chequebook to persuade the family to go public”.

The Sun bought the pictures and an on-the-record interview exclusively from North News agency, which negotiated a fee for the family, believed to be a few hundred pounds.

Shanahan said: “We were at the lower end of the scale – we’re not talking Big Brother buy-ups.

Newspapers constantly buy exclusive properties from news agencies.

“We feel we have performed a public service in putting the story before the nation.”

FERGUSS HANAHAN

“The mother offered the names, details and identities free of charge to the Northern Echo but it did not publish them. We are mystified by our friends at the Northern Echo.

“It does sound to me that he [Barron] has rather missed the boat because he hasn’t done the story properly and The Sun has.

“Our point of view is that this is a very important story where there has clearly been a serious breakdown of procedure at the hospital and the girl has suffered a lot of anguish and so has her mother, and it’s a serious matter for public interest and attention.

“The fact that this can happen in the health service in the year 2004 will absolutely astonish some readers who will be deeply concerned. We feel that we have performed a public service in putting the story before the nation. The mother was very anxious that the truth be told.”

But Barron still won’t publish Storey’s name: “Here we have a 14-year-old girl who has been through an horrific ordeal. She is probably still in a state of shock and a national newspaper has gone ahead and named her on page one, albeit with her parents’ permission.

“I feel more strongly than ever that we were right not to name her. There is a difference between the local newspaper being part of the community and a national newspaper doing this. I think a local newspaper has to take more responsibility than a national in circumstances like this.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Who was right and who was wrong? Give us your verdict by emailing us at: pged@pressgazette.co.uk

What the code says on children

Clause 6 – Children

i) Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

ii) A child under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

iii) Pupils must not be approached or photographed at school without the permission of the school authorities.

iv) Minors must not be paid for material involving children’s welfare, or parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child’s interest.

v) Editors must not use fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life.

Clause 7 – Children in sex cases

1. The press must not, even if legally free to do so, identify children under 16 who are victims or witnesses in cases involving sex offences.

2. In any press report of a case involving a sexual offence against a child: i) The child must not be identified.

ii) The adult may be identified.

iii) The word “incest” must not be used where a child victim might be identified.

iv) Care must be taken that nothing in the report implies the relationship between the accused and the child.

By Jean Morgan

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