Shame On You, Coroner

 

Michael Singleton, the coroner who presided over the inquest into the death of Lucy Meadows has been informally advised of his failings by the Office For Judicial Complaints. This informal advice has been notified to a journalist, Gavin Drake, who complained about his closing comments to the press gallery, “Shame on you all.” The following day the Daily Mail wrote an article that is clearly based on the blog post. Nevertheless, the Daily Mail article overstated the case by describing Singleton as receiving an official rebuke, as no such judgement has appeared on the Office For Judicial Complaints website in the intervening three weeks. The article did balance the report by noting that the “official rebuke” was delivered as informal advice to the coroner. It is ironic that there is a clash between the formal judgement and informal comments, for that is precisely the nature of the complaint that Drake made against Singleton, that the formal judgement on Meadows’ death conflicts with the acerbic closing comments about press intrusion during her life.

Meadows was a teacher in Accrington about whom Richard Littlejohn of the Daily Mail wrote an article in December 2012 that questioned the wisdom of her teaching at the same school at which she had previously taught in a male role. At the time the trans activist community had shown limited interest, which was in stark contrast to the response after her death three months later, which resulted in a demonstration outside the office of the Daily Mail, which unlike most such trans protests was reported in mainstream media. That media interest was largely because a petition on Change.org garnered over 40,000 signatures for calling for Littlejohn to be sacked, while a similar Sum of Us one gained over 200,000.

Ultimately, it was that media interest that was the coroner’s undoing, for they were keen to report on Meadows’ inquest and he gave into the temptation to engage in some political grandstanding on behalf of the Leveson Report. The most complete account of the inquest appeared in The Huffington Post, with The Lancashire Times giving a fuller rendition of the letter than Meadows left addressed to the coroner. On the basis of this letter and evidence from both Meadows’ gender counsellor and her estranged wife, the inquest concluded that press intrusion was not a contributing factor in her decision to end her life. That conclusion, however, became clouded in doubt when Singleton engaged in what The Huffington Post described as a “furious tirade against the press.” He stated in that tirade that he would be writing a Section 43 Letter to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport, asking her to implement the Leveson Report findings in full. The problem with that promise is that a Section 43 Letter is only valid if it is based on the evidence of the inquest, and changes are recommended to the letter’s recipient in order to prevent a further fatality. Regardless of whether the full implementation of Leveson Report would prevent a future suicide based on press intrusion, the letter (if it was ever written) would be invalid, as the inquest had already concluded that the press intrusion had been no more than an annoyance to Meadows. Indeed, in the anti-press tirade Singleton had noted that if Meadows’ letter to him had mentioned the press that he “would have had no difficulty in summonsing various journalists and editors to this inquest to give evidence and be called into account.” The fact that he was unable to call them to the inquest establishes that the inquest provided no evidential basis for a valid Section 43 Letter.

Shame on you, coroner. Not for political grandstanding, nor for ignoring the evidence of your own findings, nor for misunderstanding the requirements of a Section 43 Letter. Shame on you, coroner, because your closing comments allowed campaigners to ignore the request of the family to stop using Lucy Meadows’ name for campaigning against media intrusion. Shame on you, most of all, because you all but obliterated from the inquest reporting your own conclusions that her letter showed that she was not distressed, depressed, bitter, or anger, but highly intelligent, articulate, and so meticulous in her planning that she even thought to warn those entering the house of the danger. Hopefully, your shame in being informally advised of your indiscretions will allow the legacy of Lucy Meadows to shine through the smokescreen you covered it in.

© Mercia McMahon 2013