Anorak | Daily Mail fails to mention Richard Littlejohn’s part in the trial and death of Lucy Meadows

Daily Mail fails to mention Richard Littlejohn’s part in the trial and death of Lucy Meadows

by | 2nd, June 2013

lucy meadows

IT’S time for Richard Littlejohn to show remorse and if we think coroner’s attack on the Press was out of order , then we still haven’t learnt our lesson

Admitting that you were wrong can be unpleasant. Admitting that you have done something bad can be terrifying.  Remember staring at scuffed sandals rather than at the teacher who ‘could wait all day’ for some hapless culprit  to put up their hand?

Newspapers don’t like admitting it when they get something wrong. Most have a corrections and clarifications slot, but this is for misspellings of names or inaccurate historical dates. When they get something seriously wrong it generally goes upstairs to the lawyers, who will wriggle a bit and haggle a lot until money changes hands and suddenly it all goes away.

Newspapers almost never admit it when they have done something bad. Something that hurts real people, causing them to lose their jobs, their families or their lives.

So it was always going to be instructive to look at how the  Daily Mail reported the Lucy Meadows inquest today.

Lucy Meadows was a transgender primary school teacher who killed herself in March after one term of living as a woman. She was 32.

In a suicide letter addressed to the coroner, Miss Meadows wrote of her sorrow at the deaths of her parents, grandparent and a friend. She had debts. She loved her school and her job, even though it was stressful. She had issues with her trans. But, she wrote, she was dealing with all of these. She was rational and had decided that the path she had chosen was the right one for her. “I have simply had enough of living. She blamed no one and, indeed, thanked friends, family and colleagues for their support, concluding I wish you all the best.

The letter is extraordinarily touching and generous, and you might expect the local paper to run it at greater length than I have here. As for the nationals? Probably not,  a nib at most.

Except that Lucy Meadows had become a national figure, largely thanks to some loose talk in her home town, which inspired a Richard Littlejohn column in the Daily Mail.

The school had announced at Christmas that a male teacher would be returning after the holidays as Miss Meadows. This had been explained carefully to the children and parents were told via the staff comings and goings section of the school newsletter. Some took exception to the low-key approach, others fretted about how their children would deal with such a concept.

The new term was never going to be easy for Miss Meadows or her pupils. But it was made unnecessarily difficult by the fact that her story was picked up by the national Press and, in particular, by Littlejohn .

Miss Meadows told friends that she had taken to going to school early, leaving late and using her back gate to avoid the press pack waiting for her outside. As her letter to the coroner shows, she was struggling with various problems, and twice attempted suicide in the early part of this year.

It is Littlejohn’s job to be controversial. It is not his job to pick on ordinary members of the public, particularly at a time of extreme vulnerability. His column, published in mid-December, was a disgraceful bigoted rant about something he clearly did not understand. On January 3 the first possible date after the Christmas shutdown Miss Meadows reported him and the paper to the Press Complaints Commission, accusing them of inaccuracy, harassment and invasion of privacy.

Letters went back and forth between the  Mail  and the PCC, and on March 11 the paper offered to take the Littlejohn column down from its website. It did so the next day. Exactly a week later, Miss Meadows killed herself.

Having carried out what can only be described as a character assassination, having sought to ridicule and humiliate Lucy Meadows and bring into question her right to pursue her career as a teacher, the Daily Mail’s response was to offer to remove the article from the website. Yesterday the coroner Michael Singleton tore into the paper’s attitude to the complaint:

It seems to me that nothing has been learnt from the Leveson inquiry or subsequent report. 

Lucy Meadows was not someone who had thrust herself into the public limelight. She was not a celebrity. She had done nothing wrong. Her only crime was to be different. Not by choice but by some trick of nature..and yet the press saw fit to treat her in the way they did.

Had it been in the note she left to me of any reference at all to the press, I would have had no difficulty in summoning various journalists and editors to this inquest to give evidence and be called into account.’

Mr Singleton also told reporters at the hearing: “To the Press I say Shame. Shame on all of you.”

Such a pronouncement seems odd, given the evidence to the hearing and the letter, which indicated that there were many factors at play and

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Posted: 2nd, June 2013 | In: News Comment (1) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink