Ms Karen McHugh and The Irish Times
Decision of the Press Council of Ireland
At its meeting on 22 May 2015 the Press Council considered the newspaper’s appeal.
In December 2014 The Irish Times published a four-part series "Anatomy of a car crash” which examined the first fatal car crash of 2014 in which two people were killed outside Ballina, Co Mayo. One of those killed was the partner of Ms Karen McHugh.
Ms McHugh complained that the articles breached Principle 5.3 of the Code of Practice.
Principle 5.3 reads: "Sympathy and discretion must be shown at all times in seeking information in situations of personal grief or shock. In publishing such information, the feelings of the grieving families should be taken into account. This should not be interpreted as restricting the right to report.”
In his decision the Press Ombudsman accepted the newspaper's assertion that the articles were published in the public interest. In his view the author acted appropriately in trying to involve the family and friends of those killed in the accident, including Ms McHugh.
However, he upheld Ms McHugh's complaint because he did not believe that the newspaper exercised sufficient sympathy and discretion towards her and the family of her partner in publishing the articles, especially as Ms McHugh and her partner's family did not wish to be interviewed for the series.
The Irish Times appealed the decision to the Press Council which addressed the case and the issues involved. It considered the reported events of the night of the accident; all aspects of the articles; the journalist's approach to them and his requests in writing to Ms McHugh to participate in the series.
At the outset the Council recognised the great distress that the accident and the fatalities had caused to Ms McHugh and expressed sympathy to Ms McHugh on the death of her partner in such difficult circumstances. It also recognised that publication of the articles some eleven months after the event would have rekindled her distress.
It noted that in its appeal The Irish Times deeply regretted the distress and anxiety which Ms McHugh had undergone in the course of a year in which she lost her partner, and had been obliged to face a public inquest following the crash as well as the reports published in The Irish Times of which she had complained.
It also noted the assertion in the appeal that the articles were important, responsible and insightful.
In considering all of the above, and in the light of the fact that the findings of inquests are on the public record and may be reported in full, the Press Council upheld the newspaper’s appeal and decided that Principle 5.3 of the Code had not been breached.