Home News Blog Dan James Nigel Barnes Books Children's books Biography Contact Links

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Here There be Monstering - a follow up

My blog about the reporting of death of Lucy Meadows, published yesterday, is already pretty lengthy and I don't want to keep adding and adding to it. But a few things have come to light since and I want to put them down. First of all, a few things that haven't happened:

i) The Accrington Observer and its reporter Stuart Pike still haven't responded to my attempts to contact them.

ii) No word from The Daily Mail yet either, beyond their reporter's promise to refer me to the Managing Editor's office.

I amended the original blog late last night when a reader emailed to point out that Mail Online had updated the Lucy Meadows story on March 12th. It seemed strange for them to have done so, eight or nine weeks after the story first appeared. I managed to find a cached version of the story and there were no obvious differences in the text. But there were four additional photographs. Three of them had been taken on Lucy's wedding day; two of them featured her wife. There was also another shot of Lucy when she was known as Nathan Upton, credited to Cavendish Press, the news agency who were involved in the story but won't comment on day-to-day operations.

It's not entirely clear why Mail Online took the photos down (though I have asked them.) But I do know their use caused Lucy great distress. They were lifted from the Facebook pages of members of her family without permission. Their use consitutes a clear breach of section 3 'Privacy' (i) of the Editors Code of the Conduct (in respect to Lucy and her wife). Lucy was aware of this. It seems likely that she complained to the PCC and as a result, on March 12th, the Mail removed the photos.

I contacted the PCC to try and find out details of Lucy's complaint. All they would say is: 'A complaint was resolved. We are not able to comment further at this point.' The resolved complaint is not on their website.

It's not clear what else might have formed the basis of Lucy's complaint. Let's face it, she wasn't short of things to complain about. She was clearly and understandably upset about the harassment by the press pack before Christmas, which forced her to leave her house by the back door first thing in the morning and stay at the school until late at night. Parents were also offered money to grab photos of Lucy (yet another clear breach of the Code of Practice). The drawing of Lucy by one of her pupils, which was widely used, was lifted from a cached version of the school website. Lucy had taken it down a few weeks before. Having that dredged up - ignoring all questions of copyright - when she had deleted it, must have felt like yet another intrusion. However, it had been on a public website viewable by all, so I presume the PCC must have ruled it was fair use (if, indeed, Lucy complained of its use...)

It also seems that many parents tried to offer supportive comments about Lucy to the press that were sniffing at the school gates, but these comments went ignored. I suppose it didn't fit their narrative of shock and outrage.

These new details make the monstering of Lucy Meadows even more troubling. Richard Littlejohn's piece was appalling, but the main sticks and stones were wielded by the press in those days before Christmas when the story first broke and Lucy's life, past and present, was invaded and ransacked.

The PCC appear to have acted when Lucy complained. We may never find out what she thought of the way they handled her complaint. If they did resolve her complaint on or around March 12th, that was little more than a week before her death. There is no obvious link between the two events, but it does seem the matter took some time to resolve.

Some people might take comfort in the fact that Mail Online took the photos down, particularly if it was based on a PCC ruling or request. They might believe it proves that self-regulation can have an effect. But it would be cold comfort. As this terrible story shows, the existence of the PCC and its Code of Practice does nothing to prevent serious breaches of the code. News agencies and newspapers often do as they please to present and illustrate a story in the way they see fit, regardless of the code. If a smack on the wrist comes along, as it seems to have done in this case, they'll take that chance. It merely means taking down photos on a story that's nearly two months old. That's not mjust closing the stable door when the horse has bolted - it's locking up when it's in a Tesco value burger.

The press needs a truly independent regulatory body whose existence and power forces a change in press culture, with teeth and sanctions that compel newspapers to think of the impact their stories will have on people's lives. Before the damage is done.

 *Thanks for people who have contacted me about the blog. I'd also like to thank Jane Fae (please visit her blog here) and Trans Media Watch.


  1. Hi Dan, an anonymous reporter has written a blog in response to the reaction. Some interesting rationalisations in there - would be interested to read your views.


  2. Hi Julie,

    Thanks. I'm going to respond to a bit later on here...

  3. It's really very sad that we need regulatory systems designed to coerce certain journalists into treating people like human beings.

    I realise, of course, that these two blog posts - which are excellently written - get at an entirely different point. But I was momentarily struck by the horror of the fact that we need to discuss these things at all.

  4. I agree nysha. But we have reached this point because of years and years of newspapers behaving appallingly without any punishment. The culture is rotten and it will take real effort to change. It may need regulation, or rather a regulatory body with some teeth that isn't treated as a joke in the newsroom, but it will also need a change in training. Wannabe hacks need to learn ethics, as surely as they learn shorthand. If they do indeed still learn shorthand...

    Hopefully then these kinds of events won't happen, or will be very rare. At the moment they happen with depressing frequency.