Gavin Drake

Journalist

Coroner rebuked for “shame on media” comments at Lucy Meadows inquest

The coroner who presided over the inquest into the death of Lucy Meadows has been rebuked by the Office for Judicial Complaints for carrying out private research into the case and for his outspoken attack on journalists covering the hearing.

Lucy Meadows killed herself in March, just a few months after she began to live and work as a woman. Newspaper reports had previously revealed that parents of children at St Mary Magdalene primary school in Accrington, Lancashire, had been told before Christmas that teacher Nathan Upton would return to school in the New Year as Lucy Meadows.

At the inquest in May, Coroner Michael Singleton explained that he had carried out private research into the case and said he was “appalled” at the media coverage. He then attacked the journalists covering the hearing on the press benches, saying to them: “And to you the Press, I say shame. Shame on all of you.”

The evidence heard at the Inquest pointed to issues other than media coverage as being the dominant factors in Meadows’ decision to take her own life. A number of witnesses clearly stated that media coverage wasn’t a factor. Despite this, Coroner Singleton allowed his private research to sway his judicial decision making. He even wrote a Section 43 letter to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport urging far-reaching curbs on the freedom of the press.

“Section 43” refers to the Coroners Rules 1984, the legislation detailing how coroners courts work, and states that “A coroner who believes that action should be taken to prevent the recurrence of fatalities similar to that in respect of which the inquest is being held may announce at the inquest that he is reporting the matter in writing to the person or authority who may have power to take such action and he may report the matter accordingly.”

The coroner’s behaviour was appalling, As a journalist affected by his comments and his Section 43 letter, I wrote an open letter to the Lord Chancellor setting out my concerns.

The Lord Chancellor’s office passed my letter to the Office for Judicial Complaints and they have now confirmed that Coroner Michael Singleton has been rebuked for his comments about the media, for conducting his own private research, and for sending a Section 43 letter on the basis of private research.

The Office for Judicial Complaints say the issues were “dealt with by way of informal advice to the Coroner.”

Earlier this week I asked Coroner Singleton whether he wished to retract his comments about the media or make an apology. He did not respond. An official in his office this afternoon said that Coroner Singleton was “not available for any comment.”

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© Gavin Drake 2017