A story with the headline “Starving pet starts to devour pensioner” has led to the Rhondda Leader being criticised by the Press Complaints Commission.
The PCC has upheld a complaint under Clause 5 of the Editors’ Code of Practice, which covers intrusion into grief or shock. The story was about a 72-year-old man who collapsed and died at his home, trapping his dog by the lead. He was discovered two days later by police and the newspaper report of his death included details about which parts of his body the dog had started to eat.
The man’s sister complained to the PCC that the article was distressing and included “unnecessarily sensationalist” details.
The Leader, a Trinity Mirror title with weekly sales of 13,000, said its information was provided by a member of the public and then confirmed by two sources. Given the unusual circumstances of the case, the Leader argued it would have been easy to publish a sensationalised article. But it argued the story and its headline had been handled sympathetically and with appropriate sensitivity.
In its adjudication, the PCC said protection of the vulnerable was at the heart of the code and the commission recognised that close relatives of the deceased were particularly vulnerable in the immediate aftermath of a death.
“That is why Clause 5 relates both to the manner in which news is gathered and to the publication of the news, requiring that newspapers handle stories ‘sensitively’ at such times.
“Any judgement about whether such pieces are sufficiently sensitive will inevitably be subjective to some degree, but the commission felt in this case that the overall tone of the article and the gratuitous inclusion of some of the detail resulted in a breach of the code.”
In upholding the complaint, the PCC noted that the article had been written shortly after the death and that the details had not been officially put into the public domain, for example as a result of an inquest.