Jane Sutton, mother of teenage cancer victim Stephen whose plight made national news, has spoken out after a regional daily newspaper wrongly reported that she had been diagnosed with the disease that killed her son.
The report, made the front page of Tuesday’s Staffordshire edition of the Express and Star, Britain’s best-selling regional daily and the Sutton family’s local paper.
In a post on the Stephen’s Story Facebook page, set up by her son, Ms Sutton hit out at the Express and Star reporter for not paying attention to her speech at Lichfield Cathedral School on Saturday where she was taking part in the school’s annual “Speech Day and Presentation of Prizes”.
During her speech she said she quoted a personal statement from her son, whose upbeat approach to his condition earned the praise of Prime Minister David Cameron and a host of famous names.
She said: “Clearly, there was one person there who did not listen attentively to my speech and thought that when I quoted Stephen’s personal statement that I was speaking about myself.
“That person is the only one from hundreds who attended the ceremony on Saturday who chose to interpret it in this way. That person also had plenty of opportunity to ask me about what they thought they had heard.
“I have used Stephen’s personal statement many times over the last eighteen months and no one has ever interpreted my speech as suggesting I have cancer! Quite why anyone would think I would use the platform of a school speech day to announce such news is beyond my comprehension.”
Ms Sutton, who ran the London Marathon last year as part of her continued efforts to raise funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust in her son’s memory, acknowledged that the reporter had tried to contact her by telephone and went to the charity to stand up the story but had not heard back from either before going to print.
“Whilst I can accept people make mistakes and can misinterpret statements, what is unforgivable in my view, is to publish a story without first verifying the facts,” she said.
“There was and is no story to report! The only reason there could possibly be for publishing this morning was for the sensationalist headline.
“To be contacted by a friend… while on my way to work, saying how sorry they are to hear I have cancer, having read a story splashed over the front page of the paper and subsequently finding the story published on the newspaper’s social media platforms has angered me.”
She added: “It is not only distressing for me, but for my family and friends to read such news on the front page of their local newspaper when the story is completely untrue.
“I have been very happy to co-operate with all sections of the media and gone out of my way to conduct interviews for print, radio and television as best I can, hoping they appreciate I work full time.”
Express and Star editor Keith Harrison told Press Gazette the paper had apologised to Ms Sutton and would be making a donation to the Teenage Cancer Trust for which her son raised more than £3m before his death in 2014.
He said: “The correct checks were not made prior to publication and, clearly, there was a misunderstanding leading to the mistake.”
The story was also picked up by the Daily Mirror, which is understood to have taken it from a news agency, and Mail Online. All versions of the story have now been taken down.
Stephen died in May 2014, aged 19, but not before raising more than £3m for the Teenage Cancer Trust. His saw him awarded a posthumous MBE. Fundraising on his Just Giving page is now at more than £5m.