Why is it important for Northants Telegraph journalists to cover inquests?

There are valuable lessons that we can learn from every untimely death

Friday, 18th June 2021, 12:20 pm
Sessions House, where inquests are held in Northamptonshire.
Sessions House, where inquests are held in Northamptonshire.

We understand that the death of a loved-one is an incredibly painful time for their friends and relatives. As journalists, we have all suffered loss and the grief that goes with it so we can understand how traumatic it can be if that death is unexpected.

Covering inquests is not a job any journalist relishes. But it is a vital part of our job and one that can uncover wrongdoing, can expose flaws in systems and can ultimately help families discover the reasons behind the death of their loved-ones.

What are inquests and why are they held?

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An inquest is a formal investigation overseen by a coroner to establish how someone died. Inquests are held where a death was sudden and the cause is unknown, where someone has died an unnatural or violent death, or where someone has died in a place or circumstance where there is legal requirement to hold an inquest, for example in prison custody or while sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

The purpose of an inquest is to find out the identity of the deceased as well as where, when and how they died. It does not apportion blame.

Why do journalists go to inquests?

Anyone can attend an inquest. Since the start of the pandemic, some inquests are available on videolink so you may not have to attend in person and you may not notice that a journalist is attending via videolink. But all inquests are held in public and therefore all the information you hear at an inquest is already in the public domain.

We understand that there may be details heard at inquests that are very private, but nevertheless contributed to the reasons behind the death. We will do our very best to ensure that these details are reported sensitively and accurately.

Deaths affect communities as well as families and their repercussions can often be wide.

Why is coverage important?

It is in the public interest that people are able to hear the circumstances behind any untimely death because there may have been unfair or inaccurate rumours in the community that can be cleared up by accurate and concise coverage of the inquest.

There are many lessons that can be learned from inquests. Drawing the attention of the public to the circumstances surrounding someone's death could be key to preventing similar deaths in the future. Explaining how drug or alcohol abuse led to someone's death may encourage others to seek help for addiction. Showing how the high speed of a driver caused a fatal crash may act as a warning for those who drive too quickly. Reporting on the details what happened before a person took their own life may raise warning flags for the loved-ones of others who may be considering the same.

There is a real chance that coverage of inquests can prevent similar deaths in the future.

Coverage of inquests can often provide a platform for families to campaign about issues they've encountered or can provide relief that wrongdoing has been publicly exposed.

Because inquests are held in open court, they are subject to the principles of open justice and transparency which are a cornerstone of our justice system. Because the judgements of a coroner are not usually widely available elsewhere, newspaper reports may be the only comprehensive, publicly accessible record of the proceedings.

Why didn't you tell me there was going to be a story online?

Before any inquest a coroner's officer should always tell families that the media will be present at an inquest. You should always assume that an inquest is going to be covered by the press or wider media and that coverage will be online a short time after the verdict.

We know that the facts outlined at inquests can often be stark or upsetting and that the details sometimes do not represent the essence of a person or the many great things they did in their lives.

We are always keen to speak to relatives so that they can add tributes, or can tell us why their loved-one was so special to them. We are always happy to include extra detail in our reports to ensure that we do justice to their memory.

You can always email us on [email protected] with anything you want us to add, or even contact us ahead of an inquest.

If you do not want to speak to us then we will respect that. We will not approach you again if you tell us you do not want to speak to us.

Unfortunately we will not remove reports of inquests from our website but we are always happy to correct genuine typographical errors.

We do our best to delete any inappropriate comments on our own Facebook page but if you spot any that we have missed under the report of an inquest then please get in touch with us.

What are the journalistic guidelines around covering inquests?

As professional journalists we do not include all the evidence heard at an inquests and we do make editorial judgements in order to summarise the evidence heard.

But we won't ever publish sensationalist coverage and we will always do our best to be as sensitive as we can, while reporting the facts to maintain the principle of open justice.

There are specific guidelines around the reporting of suicides which mean that journalists cannot provide excessive detail around the method of suicide. You can find details here.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) provides best-practice guidance to journalists around the coverage of inquests. This leaflet explains more about these guidelines.

I'm still not happy

If you have worries about the accuracy of our report you can contact us on [email protected], or call the newsroom on 01536 506158 during office hours.

Should you wish to take matters further, the IPSO helpline is open from 9am to 5.30pm on 0300 123 22 20 or you can email [email protected]