Page last updated at 17:41 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

PSNI chief 'shocked' by picture

Editor Jim McDowell has apologised for any distress caused

The chief constable of the PSNI has said he was "shocked" by the publication of a picture in a newspaper of a man who had taken his own life.

Matt Baggott said such issues should be treated with "more delicacy".

Jim McDowell, northern editor of the Sunday World, defended his decision to print a photograph of the man hanging from a bridge in Bangor, County Down.

He said it was in the public interest. The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) said it had received 70 complaints.

The police have been criticised for leaving the body in public view for so long. Mr McDowell said the body was left hanging for three hours.

The chief constable defended the police response.

"Sometimes, unfortunately, there are circumstances which make it very difficult for us to deal immediately with those distressing situations," said Mr Baggott.

"I am satisfied that these circumstances meant that it was impossible to deal with it any quicker.

"I believe our watchwords, both in the media and as the police service, should be compassion and kindness and I would not support the publication of photographs of that distressing nature."


While he defended the publication of the picture, the newspaper editor apologised if people had been distressed by the picture.

"That is what newspapers do," Mr McDowell said.

"They lift stones and they look underneath the stones and they publish the stories."

"I took the decision to run this picture because this poor man had been left hanging in public view for such a long time.

The guidelines for journalists are clear when they are reporting suicide, that care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used. This has been completely disregarded
Malachy Toman

"It wasn't meant to be voyeurism."

He added that the picture used by the newspaper meant the dead man was not identifiable.

Graphic photographs of the scene were provided to media organisations by a freelance photographer on Saturday.

Malachy Toman from the Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self-Harm (PIPS) described the newspaper's decision to print the photographs as "absolutely disgusting".

"I lost my 21-year-old son in exactly the same circumstances and when I picked up the newspaper, my stomach just churned," he said.

"This young man has a family and friends and I would say they will be feeling a hundred times worse than me when they see this photograph.

"The guidelines for journalists are clear when they are reporting suicide, that care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used. This has been completely disregarded.

"I buy the Sunday World every week. I will never buy it again."

Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd said he would also be contacting the PCC and called on the paper to apologise for its "crass and senseless decision."

Media analyst and former editor of the Daily Mirror, Roy Greenslade said he believed Mr McDowell was wrong to publish the picture.

"I think it is a matter of taste and I think that people will feel, on seeing those pictures, immensely upset at their publication."

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