‘It seems nothing has been learned from Leveson’: Inquiry into sex change teacher’s suicide critical of Daily Mail and Richard Littlejohn
Charlotte Philby is a writer at The Independent with a weekly column on motherhood in The Independent Magazine. She was shortlisted for the 2013 Cudlipp award for excellence in popular journalism for her undercover investigative work, and writes for various cultural magazines.
Tuesday 28 May 2013
Newspaper coverage of a transgender teacher who later killed herself was “sensational and salacious”, a coroner has said.
Nathan Upton, a teacher at St Mary Magdalen’s CofE Primary School in Accrington, Lancashire, was going through transition to become a woman before being found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in March. The school’s pupils were told last December that Mr Upton, 32, should be addressed as Miss Lucy Meadows.
Irate parents tipped off the media, parts of which reported the story, Blackburn and Hyndburn Coroner Michael Singleton said. The coroner said he would write to Culture Secretary Maria Miller recommending she implement the Leveson Report “to ensure that other people in the same position as Lucy Meadows are not faced with the same ill-informed bigotry as seems to be displayed in the case of Lucy”. “Unless action is taken it could leave to further fatality,” he warned.
Mr Singleton said he had been “appalled” by press interest in the case. The inquest heard that Lucy Meadows contacted the Press Complaints Commission in January complaining about harrassment and a Richard Littlejohn column published in the Daily Mail commenting on her gender transition. The coroner criticised the Daily Mail’s offer to remove the article from its website and delete photographs of Miss Meadow’s wedding to her former wife.“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. It seems to me that nothing has been learnt from the Leveson Inquiry,” Coroner Singleton said.
Miss Meadows’ estranged wife Ruth Smith said the press coverage of Lucy's operation had been an “intrusion” into both their lives. Miss Meadows’ body was discovered in Accrington in March. A number of letters from her were found nearby, one of which was addressed to the coroner.
In it she wrote: “It used to be that people asked me why, and say things like ‘You can’t do this’. Some people asked ‘Why you are still here’. I tried to do things the right way to make people more comfortable with it. I see only one path which is right for me.”
The letter mentioned her financial debts as well as the “overwhelming” support of “family, friends, colleagues and people from other countries”. She added: “I have simply had enough of living. I am not depressed or mentally ill in some way. I have no regrets other than leaving behind those dear to me and causing them pain in doing so, for which I am deeply sorry. I would like to thank everyone who had an impact on my life.”
Coroner Singleton said: “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.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 summonsing various journalists and editors to this inquest to give evidence and be called into account, but Lucy Meadows rose above that.”
A Daily Mail spokesman said: “Richard Littlejohn’s column emphatically defended the rights of people to have sex change operations but echoed some parents’ concerns about whether it was right for children to have to confront such complex gender problems at such a vulnerable young age. Among the many reasons Ms Meadows gave for taking her actions, none blamed the press coverage.” Cause of death was recorded as carbon monoxide poisoning.
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