Bereavement due to suicide
The press and other media involvement
The police arranged for a press officer to take a statement about Darrell and the way he died so...
And she [the family liaison officer] said, “There is a possibility that once the details of Darrell’s death is released, the inquest is opened and adjourned, while they look into stuff and the investigation into his death happens, they will be wanting to know your side of the story.” And I thought, I, we’re just private people, we don’t, there is no reason for anyone to know what’s gone on.
But the neighbours did tell me that after his details had been released there were reporters knocking on the door and we found little business cards through the door, “Please contact us and let us know your side of the story and what’s happened and …” We’d only lived there for like three months so the neighbours didn’t really know us that well. So it was a complete shock for them to suddenly see …
… a picture of their neighbour on television …
... saying that he’d taken his life. And then to have a reporter knocking on your door wanting to know, “How do you know the neighbours? How well have you known this man?” type thing. But no one gave any details out. And we were told by the police that the only way to stop these reporters, they wouldn’t stop until you’d got, they’d got my side of the story, if you like. So the police arranged for one of their press people to come and do a statement and we did a press statement from the whole family.
So that they had something to go on so they would leave us alone to, to grieve and, and bury our, our man.
Hmm. So you just prepared a short statement?
It was a full A4 page in the newspaper. With the interview from, the press from the police had worked out a, a statement of his life and, and then they did the bit at the end of how he’d taken his life and how he died and the details of, of what had happened.
And we just gave the details of Darrell’s life so that people, it was like, it, it would, so there was something for them to release.
So would you recommend doing that, so that you’re then left alone?
Yeah, because I think until, I mean it’s a hard thing, it’s different for every person but until they’ve got the information, they don’t care about the people that are involved and the family, what they’re going through.
They just want their, their pound of flesh if you like.
So if you, providing your, the whole family’s working together which we were, is to get together and release a statement and then you’re left, they’ve got something to go on.
… and, and you’re then left to, to grieve in private.
You said that the family liaison officer …
… was involved with that…
… yeah, she, she was wonderful. She arranged for the press, the police press man to come out and chat with the family to get a background of Darrell and his life. He went off and typed it all up and then brought it back for us to read and, and see that we were happy. And then he released our words effectively brushed up into, to posh speak. And a photo. And it was, it was, the police support that helped us do that.
After the inquest Margaret issued a statement via her solicitor. A reporter told her that if she...
… So the person who was there [at the inquest] from the papers, even though she’d been told to approach me through the solicitor, did come up to me, because we didn’t have a proper room to sit in. So I had to sit in the corridor when we weren’t sort of in session.
On some of the days, not all of the days. And this day she came up, very respectfully I have to say, and said to me, “Would I be interested in doing an article?” It was for the Guardian actually. And I said that I wouldn’t be interested doing anything until after the inquest and that there were several other inquests to come. And I was being respectful that anything that I said might compromise or involve inevitably the situation. So she said to me, “Do you mean such a body, such a body?” So I said to her, “I didn’t mention any names and I wouldn’t like to do anything at this point. But if you’d like to give me your card, then when it’s the appropriate time, I would contact you.” Which I did do actually ages after the inquest, only because she’d been respectful.
And I think that’s important. And I had been told, I was asked through INQUEST if I would do an article, as well. Obviously I did a, I did a statement after the inquest, which was to go out via my solicitor.
To all people who could access my statement.
… I’m just so … it’ so important to me that my daughter has dignity in death.
Yes of course.
And to me dignity is about not raking her up again all the time. Because it’s important that, how can I put it? To me it’s important that I don’t let anyone hurt her.
That’s what is important.
That nobody hurts her.
So, so that part of her whether it’s her photograph or her name or whatever, they’re not put out for people to pick over.
And, and that’s her right and privilege. And it, as one reporter said to me, “Well what harm can she come to she’s dead now?” And I said, “If that’s what you believe I’ve nothing else to say.” I mean that, that’s sort of takes your breath away.
Ohhh. Takes your breath away. But actually he also said, “My advice to you, is if you say nothing, what you don’t say, people will invent.” And I thought, “Well that’s up to their creativity. I’m not joining in.”
So that’s why when we did the statement after the inquest that was done with my solicitor there. And we faxed that, she faxed that straight through to INQUEST, to go out to the media.
You know so they had got something. And, and then they showed me before it and the person at INQUEST, the organisation had put part of my statement as part of the article. And the article was beautifully written for the cause [to improve things in prison and prevent other suicides].
Stephens death was reported in the evening paper. The huge headline Fathers grief shocked...
Did the press ever get involved? Did you ever get newspaper people talking about it?
Only at the inquest, both the inquests were actually in the local paper. Not the daily paper, the evening paper.
Was that reported in a sensitive manner or not?
Yeah, I mean for Barry’s inquest it was very very small, very very small piece of inquest, Stephen’s was quite, quite the opposite, the headlines were huge, “Father’s Grief” which hit you straight in the face, which was a bit of a shock, you know, I don’t think my husband read it actually. I can’t remember if he did or not, yeah, it was quite a huge piece. Yeah.
Do you feel that the press shouldn’t report this or…?
We did ask if they could not be available but unfortunately you can’t stop them.
They have a right to come in?
They have a right, and so do anybody from the public outside. At inquests or court cases whatever, they can actually walk in and there’s nothing they can do. Yeah, you can’t stop it.
After Chloe died the newspaper reports didnt bother Linda, but after the inquest some reports...
… you know, and, so I didn’t go [to the inquest] but my husband went and he said that he’d tell me everything that they said, so I felt quite happy about that. And he said it was really quick. So, that was OK. But the only thing was, we did have news reporters.
I mean only local ones, they knocked the door a couple of times, like just after Chloe had died, trying to find out things. And then after the inquest my husband thought that one had like followed him. They, they were asking, trying to get him to say something at the inquest and he didn’t want to talk to them but he said when he walked home they, one of them was following him.
I know. And you know, it was in the papers. That, that was, I don’t know why, when she died it didn’t seem, I don’t know whether it was because I wasn’t really concentrating very much but it didn’t really seem to bother me that it was in the papers and the, the headmaster had been in there but he’d said all these nice things about her, but when it was in about the inquest it was just horrible really. And one newspaper put some things in that were just, we felt that just not true and quite insensitive and that.
Oh. Where did that get the information from?
Well, they just like guessed it I think.
[sighs] And you know, they did phone, trying to get me …
And I think it was about a year after she died they phoned then.
Yeah, they must have had it still on their records. They phoned up and said, “It’s been a year since she died do you want to make any comment or …” [sighs]
What did you say?
I said, “No, thank you.”
Of course. Hmm.
Yeah. I mean, some, I think some people find it helpful, don’t they? But I just…
I don’t know.
I can’t see. I think once, once they’ve been and you’ve said no, then I think that, you know, they shouldn’t. If we wanted to say anything to them we’d get in touch with them.
Grahams death was reported on the radio before Marion had been told about it. His death was also...
And the headmaster was very sweet. He had already identified that there was a car outside from the local newspaper and they were obviously waiting for a report, photographs whatever I don’t know. And the headmaster also said he would keep my youngest with him all afternoon because a lot of the other children went home for, for lunch and by that time the news of Graham’s death was out on the radio and he’d been named. He was actually named at half past 9 on the radio but I didn’t hear that because I was in my friend’s car going to the vets. So the whole of the town knew before I did.
How do you feel about that?
I’m, I’m still quite shocked about it actually. He was found about quarter past 8. He lived until quarter past 9. He was pronounced dead just after quarter past 9 and on our local radio station he was actually named. The place where he died and the local newspaper office are very close and one of the reporters was walking through the grounds of Graham’s place of work when there was all the kafuffle going on. And he asked somebody who was there what was happening and it was actually my husband’s boss who told him who it was and what he’d, what had happened, what he’d done.
I didn’t know for two hours after that and the place he died is ten minutes drive away from here. So that was, that was all very difficult to cope with as well. Everybody knew. It was plastered all over the newspapers.
The press were involved from, virtually from Day 2 because the local paper was published the day after Graham died. And they splashed headlines right across, “Horror Death at local place.” And of course they, I mean they already knew that Graham had left a widow and four children and they knew the address. They knew everything about it except my bra size I think. I’m sure they’d have printed that if they’d known. They were very casual in their reporting, very careless. They didn’t report things accurately. Even after the inquest they asked for a quote and I gave them a quote and they just changed it to suit themselves, so why ask for a quote if you’re not going to use it. It’s either a quote or a statement. You know. But they were [sigh], they were very unsympathetic, very unsympathetic, to the extent that our vicar actually wrote to the editors of both the local papers and protested basically about the way they’d handled it. And they both actually responded, ‘Well it was news’. And that’s all that mattered but the horror death headline really, really upset [name] upset the youngest. He was terribly upset. ‘It wasn’t a horror that was my daddy.’
The media were heavily involved because Ann's friend was missing. The police tried to protect Ann...
I stayed at home for the first few days. And when I could see obviously she wasn’t going to be found soon and they were … they were stepping up a lot of the media, the police officer dealing with my case advised me, you know, that if I could move away for a short while and they would keep in touch. And so that was what I did. I did find that difficult because I actually wanted to be at home.
But as I say I went to my brother’s for a week. And just sort of ... you know, you’re just in a complete and utter daze, you just get through each day really.
Can you say a little bit about the involvement of the media.
Yes. On the whole I was fortunate that the police officer that dealt with it was very protective of me. And so he would keep the media at bay as much as he could and such like. The only negative experience I had was at the coroner’s court and I hadn’t really anticipated how intrusive that might be. And the particular person who was you know covering that day in the coroner’s court just wouldn’t leave me alone and I just said, you know, I just didn’t want … I didn’t want to talk about it to the media. And actually I think in retrospect it would’ve been better just to say something, because they did an inside page and made a great big issue of it with … you know with massive letters, you know big lettering that you’d normally put on the front page. And in fact one or two of my friends wrote to the paper and complained that it had been sensationalised. But I do think in part it was you know it was … it had … if I had been more cooperative … but I actually felt like that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to … it was that I couldn’t cope with it.
Yes very … in that case.
You said the policeman tried to shield you, I mean did you have people from the media come into the house trying to talk to you?
Yes. There was, you know, television crews came up and fortunately on the day the police rang me … I say the police office dealing with me and he said, “Look the media have got hold of this and they’re going to make a big issue of it “,because it was obvious this person wasn’t going to be found. And a friend of mine came to pick me up.. … well she was actually here when the policeman rang and I said I think we’d better leave now …
… before they come. And actually we were very fortunate, they were at the end of the our road and they were stopping people as they turned into the road asking them what they knew. And as we came out there happened to be a queue and they just let us by. So the very person they wanted to see; I was fortunate that I was able to leave my home and the, the area … and was, you know, was not troubled.
It was awful to feel you were hounded out of your home though.
[Laughs] Yes. At the time it is, you know, now it seems like four years since it seems less intrusive. I think if I’d had to really go back and think about it closely yes it would come back. But I don’t do that, you know you have to move on.
Did the media get hold of it because the police were asking for help to find your friend?
Yes of course. And you know you have to balance that.
You know that aspect of it and they were very supportive in that. The other thing that I recall is there was; they put pictures up everywhere. Look, you know
Kate had mixed experiences: a newspaper carried an irresponsible and inaccurate article, and a freelance journalist hounded her but another reporter was 'lovely' and sympathetic.
One of the newspapers wrote this article after Anna died about the suicide gene, that because their father had committed suicide. It was a tabloid, and wrote about it as if it … it was being said, did my girls have the suicide gene? And I never ever have said that. And I don’t believe in a suicide gene, totally. And it actually led to two mothers writing to me. They actually named my hospital where I worked and the department where I worked. And when I went to work … returned to work just a couple of months ago there were two letters from two different mums, really concerned about the newspaper report because their husbands had committed suicide years ago. And they were so worried about their child now and they were asking me, do you think my son will commit suicide?
We were hounded by one freelance journalist, hounded by him. And he, he played on my vulnerability, he played on my inability to make a decision and he actually got me to sign a contract. I was under the influence of sedatives at the time and he played on that. And it was for him to make money out of an article …. which fortunately another magazine came in and they didn’t ask me. They took it from one of the newspapers. I formed a very close relationship with one of the reporters and she was sympathetic, understanding. And I knew that the papers were going to write about them. So I invited this young reporter in and she was lovely. She was really lovely. And she’s phoned me and said, “Look, I’m going to send you the draft.” And it was in one of the national newspapers.
And she wrote a very lovely article about them. And then she said that a magazine was interested and would I agree? And I said okay. And she said that you know … and so a magazine wrote about the girls. I think the speculation of another newspaper who wrote about the suicide gene, I think that was so wrong. So wrong for them to alarm people.
A local reporter who attended Darren's inquest wrote a compassionate article.
Is there anything else about the inquest, I was asking you what it, what it felt like to be there? And you said it was alright.
Yes, in our case, in our circumstances it was fine, the coroner was very Good, and because we had friends there, as people from Compassionate Friends had gone as well and we had Darren, a couple of Darren’s friends there and their parents, so we, we had a lot of support. The press was there but it was only the local reporter, and it, again they covered it very compassionately in the paper, just a local bit in the, in the, well piece in the local paper. So we didn’t find it intrusive, or hurtful like some people can, some people have a lot more to go through if there’s a lot more doubt or as is sometimes the press don’t always help people because they like to dig up all the dirt at times but in this case it was the headline just said “depressed teenager hung himself on holiday” or something, in France or something, and that was about, that’s all it said you know.
Some people were glad to have the media involved and wrote articles themselves about what had happened. Felicity, for example, wrote a piece about her daughter, Alice, for the Guardian. Jenny wrote an article about her husband for a national broadsheet, and she talked about David on the radio and on television.
Felicity wrote a tribute to Alice, for the Guardian. If people ask about Alice she refers them to...
I was thinking perhaps I’ll write a little piece for the local paper so her friends know. Alex was away at the time and I was feeling quite low, and I began to write, and once I’d started I couldn’t stop, and I thought this is my opportunity to write my tribute to her, and also to explain about manic depression. Because so few people know. What I didn’t mention was that at her funeral my sister, who’s a doctor, my older sister had said before the funeral, she said, “I would like to speak about Alice and manic depression, at the funeral, and about our mother.” And I said, “I think that’s a wonderful idea,” and [my elder boy] said, “I think that’s a fantastic idea because a lot of my friends they talk about people feeling manically depressed and they haven’t a clue what they’re talking about, whereas if somebody explained”, and so my sister got up and she talked about our mother, and what form her manic depression took, and how she had several times tried to take her life. And then she said, tragically Alice had inherited this genetic illness. It had been very helpful to a lot of people in the congregation, to help them to understand what had been wrong with Alice. And I felt I wanted to put this on paper too, so I wrote this long piece for the Guardian magazine.
It came out at the time of the book, and so there was Alice on the front of the Guardian. And they did it beautifully. I was so grateful to them. It was very important to me. I felt now I would never have to explain again. If people ask me about Alice, I could refer them to the piece.
[holds up pictures]
This is a sweet picture of Alice with me when she was little.
Ah, that’s lovely.
They carried the one beautifully, the one of the leaf. And then there’s pictures of me with my mother, and that one of the leaf you see they used. And people, several people have said that they’ve got it on their wall. And I was showered with letters. It was very gratifying because a lot of them were from people who suffered from manic depression themselves, and what was interesting to me was what a secret illness it is. Because if you have got it and you are coping, you are in work, then you don’t tell people you’ve got it because you don’t want to lose your job. You don’t want to in any way risk things not going right for you. And I had a lot of letters from, and e-mail correspondence with quite a number of people. I got a letter from a professor of psychiatry who said it should be obliged reading to all students of psychiatry because it explained the effect of manic depression on a family. I also got a letter, which was the most important one of all, from a man called Alan Ogilvie who’s a psychiatrist specialising in bipolar disorder. He said he felt that my article was the best thing he’d ever read about the effect of bipolar on a family, and he was just starting up this NGO charity to do research into bipolar disorder and to de-stigmatise it, and he wondered if I’d like to be involved. And so I’ve become very heavily involved with that and I’ve become a trustee and I have raised some money for them. He’s become a very good friend, and it’s been very important to me to feel that I can use my experience in this way, and I think he finds it a help.
Jenny agreed to be interviewed for an article about David, partly as a tribute to him, partly to...
I have a mixed, but mostly good, experience of media involvement in my husband’s death. On the one hand, a national tabloid left a note in my postbox asking me if I’d like to talk to them, which I felt was pretty insensitive given it was just days after David died – and I felt uncomfortable that they had been snooping around where I live whilst I wasn’t there. On the other hand, a national broadsheet invited me to do an interview for them which turned out well. I decided to do the interview for the feature for several reasons' firstly, as a tribute to David and the exceptional teacher he was; secondly, to raise awareness of mental illness; and thirdly, because I suspected I would find it cathartic, which I did. I also felt it might help friends and acquaintances understand what had happened without me having to tell the long story to each and every one of them. The one thing that perturbed me a little was the article headline, which I felt gave the wrong impression. It’s as well to be aware that, whilst a journalist might write a wholly sensitive piece, a sub-editor can always edit it and/or add a headline you may not be happy with. That is the risk you take though, and I knew that before I went ahead, and on balance it was worth it.
Some people used the press to try to improve things for the local community. Lucreta, for example, was very angry that her daughter had been able to enter the block of flats from which she jumped to her death, and campaigned for the broken windows in the building to be repaired.
Steve felt angry that the Mental Health Team had discharged his sister from hospital without...
Did the press get involved at all?
Yes they did. Not really. Yes they did. They weren’t majorly involved. The local paper published a photograph. They, they had a story because there had been a tragedy on the railway lines locally and there was a picture of the train but fortunately before it was published we gave them a photograph of my sister a few days after they’d identified her and the police liaison officer, the lady, the local police lady she, she circulated the photograph so there wasn’t just a picture of a cold train in the paper, the local paper.
My anger at the time was with the Mental Health Team, I contacted a local radio station and said, put my, put my story to them and they did a live interview with me on air. And the Mental Health Team was asked for a response and they didn’t really give one. But apart from that, that really was the only media involvement.
So you had the chance to air your feelings?
I did yes but it was to no avail really because there was no response. It felt like a one-sided argument really.
Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated October 2012.