Bereavement due to traumatic death
Often the media take an interest in what has happened; local papers often cover road mayhem, while murders, and especially terrorist attacks, are likely to attract national interest. People we talked to had had varying experiences with different sections of the media and offered advice about how to cope with media interest in the days and months after the death.
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After Matthew died a local reporter asked the family for a draft article and a photo. Tamsin felt...
Did you get involved with the press at all?
No I didn’t. I think they contacted my mum and she gave an interview. And oh and we drafted the article, the sort of “in memorial” article. And the local paper was very good. They allowed us to draft it. And they allowed us to choose a photograph and put that in, which, which was really important to us because we felt that there were a lot of people who wouldn’t have known. And we wanted everyone to have an opportunity to come [to the funeral] if they wanted to.
This was before the funeral?
Yes. And so we were able to say in that and in the funeral announcement a week later that we would like people to come and we would like to share memories with them.
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At first Julie did not want to talk to journalists, but a liaison officer advised them that it...
After Shirley had died we were approached in court in the January by a magazine, asking us to do an interview. And we said, “No”, you know, “We don’t want to do that.” And one of the liaison officers said to us, “You’d be better off [doing an interview].” He said, “I’ll check them out for you.”
And he came back the next day and he said, “They’re legitimate. You know. I really think you should talk to him.” And I was like, “But we don’t want to.” He said, “But,” he said, “Newspaper people are worse than coppers, they’ll find you.” He said, “And they’ll just harass you until one of them gets your story.” He said, “So you might as well do it with these and do it, you know, do that like that.” So in the end we gave them an interview. And from the money that they gave us for it, we got the headstone done and we paid what was owing on Shirley’s funeral.
The media can be important in the investigation, for example in appealing for witnesses. Some people bereaved by a traumatic death want to campaign to bring attention to the cause of the death and know that the media can help them. Godfrey wanted to publicise safety issues on railway platforms.
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Linda invited a newspaper and a magazine to write about her son, Kevin, and about his death; she...
One thing we haven’t discussed at all is the press. Did the newspapers …?
Well we went the other way round it, because I was collecting for, for this trust fund for Kevin, and it was important for me to contact the press so I did it the other way around and I invited one particular newspaper, local newspaper to do the story which of course they leapt at. But the agreement was is they had to put the piece up about our campaign, “Climbing for Positive Change”. So I did that. And I also did it with a magazine as well.
Although it was more focused on my daughter and the tragedy between the, the, the, the brother and the sister link. But any donations that come from that will go to his charity.
Did you get a chance to write what you wanted?
Yes. Yes we, we were I mean some of it was glamorised a little bit. There were, there were a couple of things, especially in the magazine that you know was there for full effect; that I didn’t say or didn’t do. But you kind of know that they sensationalise things. And it was a way that viewers will, you know, send cheques to the hospital for a good cause.
I mean, that’s the reason that I did it. But I suppose any other way I’m not quite sure, I suppose that’s what your family liaison officer’s for.
Would be to shield you and when you come out of court you can go the back way if you’ve got press out the front. And you, you do get, you, you get inundated; you get letters coming to you.
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After Lloyd died Adam started a website called Stand Against Violence. He has had great support...
...but then like I say, it never made national news because there was a lot going on with the war in Iraq and stuff, and so it didn’t really make national news, and now as far as the campaign goes, and things, I have real support from the press. If I ever want the local gazette to print anything, they all print it, and if I ever, if I ever want the BBC to come and do something they will quite often agree to it, I quite often go on the local BBC radio.
Local ITV West they do a lot as well.
And they often keep in touch with me as well as me keeping in touch with them, to see what’s happening and whether there’s anything they can do to help. So I have so much support from so many different people, including the media. And they’ve never, not once has the media let me down in terms of said something, or printed something that I didn’t, that I’ve asked them not to print, they’ve never done that to me, and that’s why I will never, that’s why I never mind talking to the press, I don’t mind talking to people because generally speaking I’ve not had that experience of being screwed over, if you know what I mean.
You know because some people have that experience, don’t they? And they think, “I hate the press,” because you know they, you know print this, that and the other, but I think what they’re really thinking of is celebrity paparazzi people who will ignore your wishes, but they’re all very good, and they’re all very sensitive.
After Mark died in a workplace incident Dorothy found a few journalists who helped publicise her...
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What’s your experience of the press been like, the media?
We’ve actually been, well again the media not really, on the whole the media are not interested in deaths at work. It’s if you, we have actually tried to get publicity for workers memorial day, and deaths at work and how it’s happening every day and they’re not, we have been told a few times that it doesn’t sell papers, but having said that we actually have, I have some contacts who have actually been very good, some journalists who do feel quite strongly about it who have actually printed some articles, not so much the detail obviously of how Mark died etc, more you know into the campaign, you know our campaign to try and get the law changed so that directors are held accountable when people are killed at work, you know, in order to try and stop it, so that they’re, you know, I’ve had a few articles printed like that.
But, we haven’t had any, I mean perfectly honest you know, we’ve probably had less publicity than we would have wanted because you know the more publicity there is, we feel that it brings it to public attention. I think, I think the press is more interested in, I don’t know sleazy murder cases and things like that, you know that might titillate readers rather than the actual issues you know.
Martin was vaguely aware of a flurry of press interest in his wife’s death but it hardly affected him – he was too busy trying to cope and support his children.
Some people were advised to prepare a statement for the media to discourage them from becoming intrusive. If they did not give the media a quote the reporters would ask neighbours or colleagues to comment, risking inaccuracies. Adam’s father read a statement to the press after the court case, relieving the rest of the family from the need to answer questions. Adam thought that the press were generally OK after the case.
The police family liaison officers can help and advise families on how to deal with the media and when appropriate may introduce people to the police Press Officer, who can advise people before they speak to the media. A police Press Officer or senior Investigating Officer could read a statement on someone’s behalf.
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A policeman advised Sarah to prepare a statement. One of her sons gave it to journalists when...
And finally, you haven’t said anything about the press. Did they get involved?
Yes. On the very first day on the night at the hospital I actually said to the policeman who was there, “Can you keep this out of the papers?”, because at the time I thought, at the time I was thinking this dreadful thing had happened, I don’t want my children opening a newspaper and reading about it. And he said, “That’s not possible you will find that there’ll be reporters on your door wanting to know about it”, and he actually advised us, he said, “The thing to do is to prepare a statement, if you don’t want to be part of all of this, and you don’t want the press.” And so what we did was, that very first morning when we woke up the next morning, we actually wrote a thing that said something like, something very simple about, you know this has happened and the family want to be left alone to deal with it. And so when the press did turn up on the doorstep one of the sons just went and handed out this piece of paper that just said, “He was a quiet and gentle man, we want to, we’ll miss him and we want to be able to be left alone”, and to be fair, that actually was fine.
But what we didn’t, I didn’t realise when I spoke to the policeman, because I was there on my own at the hospital, that time when the other children hadn’t arrived, was that actually they were practically obsessed by looking at what the papers said, and they cut out and kept every article, every photograph, there was a lot of stuff in the commercial, in the specialist press as well, which they’ve collected and kept, so there is a file there, but I think that was the first sign of what developed into this obsessive need to know absolutely everything about what had happened in the accident.
So did the press bother you again after that?
After, no after that, nobody else came near us.
Not individually, the only other time was after the inquest, there was a reporter at the inquest.
After a disaster such as the Bali bombing, bereaved relatives may also appoint a spokesperson on their behalf.
Jocelyn chaired the UK Bali Bombing Victims Group. The group had a media spokesman, but Jocelyn...
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Well obviously when I was the Chairman of the UK Bali Bombing Victims group I had quite a lot to do with the media, although we had a particular media spokesman. I was interviewed quite, I was interviewed on a number of occasions for television and for radio, gave interviews to people, and I generally I found the media interest very, very proper actually. And I was always tried to give a sort of balanced, you know balanced verdict on whatever the particular issue was at the time, sort of appropriate to, because they weren’t, we had in the group, you know, extremities of views. I mean there were views that said, you know, “The government is totally at fault,” you know, “The Foreign Office should be dumped into the sea,” and “This is appalling,” I mean we, and, and, and I perhaps you know, temperamentally I think that was not correct, it was much more to be more engaged, so we had a very good press spokesman, and I, I gave that person back up and from time to time I was asked to give opinions as the chairman of the group, which I did, and hopefully you know properly and appropriately.
In some circumstances, such as when there are police investigations, the police may ask people not to speak directly to the media and to leave all media involvement to them. This happened after Karen’s mother died in a fire (see Karen’s account in ‘The Police Liaison Officer’s role). In such cases it is important for family members to understand this.
Susanna found much variation in the behaviour of journalists: many were extraordinarily supportive and understanding after her brother died in the Bali bombing but some asked bizarre and insensitive questions. William commented on patchy relations with the local press – some were very good, others intrusive. Carole described the press as behaving like ‘vultures’; journalists had written sensationalised accounts of her son’s murder.
Recently bereaved people can be very upset by misleading press reports – especially if articles imply that the deceased was to some extent responsible for the death. Ian was upset that the newspaper misspelt his brother’s name.
The press have helped Peters drink-driving campaign. Inaccuracies in a report of the fatal crash...
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I saw your newspaper cuttings, did the press bother you, how did you get involved with the press and how much were they too much sometimes?
Well, I was able to cope with them because we get them turn up for various times with regard to drink driving episodes.
At the time, at the time?
At the time I was able to cope, yes. We had three papers, there was a problem with them yes, my wife was very cross about just one or two words they got wrong with regard to what one of them suggested that Tim was older than he was and that he was driving, you know, and she was furious about it. In the whole scheme of things, it was a typing error and no harm was meant but, I think it’s very important not to take too much notice of what the papers say, but you can’t help it, you interrogate every word they write and you judge one column against another, you know, and, because it’s your, it was my boy they were writing about, you know, and everybody was reading it. And we had one or two people say, “I didn’t think Tim was driving” and we’d say “Well, he wasn’t” and so that was awkward but I will say that the people [journalists] were, well two of them were very young and inexperienced but quite pleasant and one of the chaps had been around the circuit quite a few times so he knew how to handle things, but you’ve got to handle these people, you know, it’s in your control to handle what you’re doing and you just have to take charge of things, I think, you know, and only do what you’re able to do.
Ian was upset that journalists spelt Dorries name wrong, but he understood that a change of name...
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There was one thing that was very, very difficult for me personally, My brother’s name was Dorrie, and when the media announced his death they referred to him as Donny, and that had to continue even though we highlighted this, “Look his name’s not Donny, it’s Dorrie.” We gave them the spelling and everything, but the police had unfortunately said, “We’re going to have to continue running it as Donny for now because once a mistake’s already made, to change it means that people are going to think it’s somebody else”, so they have to continue until the period of time, so we had to go through this whole two weeks of referring to him, having referred to him in the media as Donny, and you know people are constantly coming and saying, you know, and I’m coming back to work and people are calling him Donny at work, I said, “His name’s not Donny, it’s Dorrie.” I mean it’s all, and the other thing is that my brother was so proud of his name, he so loved calling himself Dorrie, that that added to that you know, sorry, that just really was an awful you know.
It really was an awful experience, to have to see it in the media as Donny and then have people referring to him as Donny when he was, you know, how proud he was of his very, very unusual name which was Dorrie.
Apart from the incident with the name, that was the only thing I think was difficult. I think we were very, I think we were very, very fortunate really because I, because I’ve worked supporting families. I know the experiences, some awful experiences that people go through with the media, and even with the police, but I’ve got to say that my experience of the media and the police were very, very good on the whole, the only thing that was very difficult to accept was the name, the printing his name wrong at the beginning, and then the need to continue to print, but I understood why they needed to do it, because I could, I could understand that the change of name would have actually hindered finding his killers and you know because, a change of name would sometimes confuse people and therefore people wouldn’t come forward so it was important to continue printing the same name for that period of time. So apart from that, there was no other problem with the media. I think most of the stories that went into the papers we had already been briefed by the police before they went in, so we knew they were going to be there, the pictures they used of him were pictures that we sort of like sanctioned and we never saw a picture in the paper that wasn’t one that we thought was appropriate. They used the same picture, which was a picture that we had, not quite pleased with but, so yes, the media and the police on the whole were very good. You know we had a very good experience.
Some people were cynical about the tendency of newspapers to illustrate articles with photos of pretty young women. Rosemary felt it intrusive of reporters to photograph her grieving niece.
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After the London bombing those who died were remembered in a two minute silence. Reporters...
Generally though I think the press, you know, the press is insensitive at the wrong times. I mean after it happened they were hanging around, loads, all of them were hanging around the main hospitals in London waiting to see whether they could talk to anybody who might possibly, possibly be bereaved. I think the other thing that, I think it was the day that there was, when they had the two minute silence, I can’t remember we weren’t in London at the time I don’t think, or the same month there were a lot of people in Trafalgar Square and they just happened, my niece who’s a pretty little blond, she was about 17 at the time, they took a photograph of her when she was crying and it was in the paper and I just opened The Metro and there was a picture of her crying, you know, and you think, “This is awful”, you don’t know how traumatic this has been for her and it was just, I mean it was a good picture I suppose if you want, you know, grief and all the rest of it, that kind of thing, it’s intrusive and all the things that we all know about. But possibly I think initially it was worse than I imagined, I still find it very difficult to understand how people can really, I’ll not say job, I mean really, really trade in other people’s pain and grief, I just find that, you know, totally repellent.
Matthew criticised the biased approach of the media. He found that journalists only wanted to write about grieving relatives who wanted revenge on the terrorists. Relatives who believed that executing the terrorists could compound the problem by making them martyrs were not often written about.
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Matthew found that the press were sensationalist, selective and reported events out of context....
The media are horrible. I did occasionally [talk to them] and, you know, they’re sensationalist and they’re selective. It’s possible to sort of play them at their own game if you like, but they’re good if they want to get a story out of you, but they’re, they hound you. They’ll only hear what they want to hear.
You know you can say something to them which in context is perfectly reasonable but they’ll, they’ll edit it and they’ll bite chunks out of it, and it’ll tell you what they want to tell you, and that has been a little bit annoying. But I think you, you deal with them with caution, and probably through a spokesperson if you, if you’re really concerned to get your story out for whatever reason you want to do that, and you’re probably better doing it either in writing, or through a third person who can be dispassionate about it. And perhaps be a little bit more lucid, and less emotive.
Do you still get bothered with journalists?
Not really. Occasionally, I did when the executions took place a few weeks ago.
But you know they’re not interested in my, “I wish they hadn’t been killed.” They’re interested in, “They’re dead and I’m pleased,” kind of stories, which is purely to sell papers.
Occasionally there are more objections to press behaviour. It may be possible to persuade a newspaper editor to withdraw a comment or to print an apology. Elizabeth complained when a paper printed a picture of a pretty girl sending a text message next to an article about her daughter Marni’s accident. To Elizabeth this suggested that Marni was responsible for her accident and complained. A very small apology was printed deep inside the paper.
Journalists were intrusive and kept phoning the house. Terris brother emailed the local paper to...
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What about the press? How’s that been?
At the time I couldn’t stand it because they were ringing up and wanting to speak to people and my brother works for Yorkshire Television and he’s quite high up there and he was very annoyed at some of the coverage that, not the coverage, the intrusion of people who kept phoning the house. And so he emailed a very, very abrupt email from work to the local paper. And, and I think he must have put some, whether it be legislation or not to, to be intrusive and as from that moment they backed off. They rang up my liaison officer to say, ask if they could take pictures of the funeral and I said no.
I didn’t want all that. I don’t like all that intrusiveness. I’ve never had my picture in the paper or anything, I didn’t want it.
You know, because I think I’ve got two children here that need protecting and I didn’t want everything to be hyped up. So I, I said no to that. And I said no to anybody coming to the house and speaking to me. Yes.
You said there was a lot in the papers…
Was it accurate?
Yes it was. It was all accurate. And it was very nicely written. The local journalist is a lady and she wrote some lovely, lovely tributes to Ben and everything was 100%. Yes. I did give them some pictures. They asked for some photographs. Not of me or my children, of Ben.
And things like that. Because they even put the, they even put your house, the front, your front door in with the number on. So everybody knew where we, what, what, what number we lived at because of, it’s just little things like that. And we had people calling round, I’d never met before in my life, and knocking on my door. It’s really difficult.
But, they were only doing it out of goodwill.
Complaints can be made to the Press Complaints Commission.
Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated October 2011.