Lucy Meadows coroner tells press: 'shame on you'

Coroner investigating death of transgender teacher who killed herself after being outed chastises press for 'ill-informed bigotry'

A coroner told the press "shame on all of you" as he ruled that a primary school teacher had killed herself after her gender reassignment became national news.

Michael Singleton, coroner for Blackburn, Hyndburn and Rossendale, singled out the Daily Mail as he accused the paper of "ridicule and humiliation" and a "character assassination" of Lucy Meadows, 32, who took her own life in March.

He urged the government to implement the recommendations of the Leveson report on press intrusion as he criticised the "sensational and salacious" press coverage. Delivering a verdict of suicide, he told the inquest into her death he was appalled at media reports about Meadows.

As he closed the inquest, he turned to the reporters present and said: "And to you the press, I say shame, shame on all of you."

Meadows poisoned herself in her Accrington home on 19 March, three months after she started to live and work as a woman.

In a note she left, she made no mention of press intrusion, citing instead her debts, a number of bereavements including the death of her parents, and her stressful job as a primary school teacher.

She insisted she was not depressed or mentally ill and thanked her friends, family and colleagues for their support, as well as messages she had received from well-wishers around the world.

Her therapist, Zoe Hargreaves, told the inquest in a statement that Meadows had found the media attention stressful but "easier than she thought" – largely because she was distracted by the death of someone she was in love with.

But the coroner was insistent that the unwelcome media attention had contributed to her death.

"Lucy Meadows was not somebody who had thrust herself into the public limelight. She was not a celebrity. She had done nothing wrong," Singleton told the inquest at Blackburn register office.

"Her only crime was to be different. Not by choice but by some trick of nature. And yet the press saw fit to treat her in the way that they did."

Giving evidence about the media attention, her former wife, Ruth Smith, said that Meadows had been "more annoyed than anything that there was this intrusion into her life and our lives as well".

Smith, mother to Meadows's son, said the couple had split up in late 2011 but had remained on good terms. She told the inquest Meadows had attempted suicide twice in the run-up to her death. "I asked her why and she said there wasn't enough to keep her here," said Smith.

Born Nathan Upton in December 1980, Meadows went back to her Accrington primary school after Christmas in women's clothes and with a new name: Lucy Meadows.

News spread after the head of St Mary Magdalen's school sent a letter to parents saying: "Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman."

Concerns from some parents were reported in the media, with one father saying that his three sons at the school were "too young to be dealing with that".

The inquest heard that Meadows complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) on 3 January about "harassment from the press" and particularly a column written by Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail on 20 December 2012.

In a piece headlined "He's not only in the wrong body … he's in the wrong job", Littlejohn asked whether anyone had thought of the "devastating effect" on Meadows's pupils of her change of gender.

The PCC carried out an investigation and on 11 March the Daily Mail offered to take down Littlejohn's article from the paper's website, as well as a photograph of Meadows's wedding to Smith in February 2009.

Singleton said he considered the Daily Mail's gesture to be token at best.

"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," he said, adding: "It seems to me that nothing has been learned from the Leveson inquiry."

He said he would be writing to the culture secretary, Maria Miller, to urge the government to implement Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations in order to prevent a similar suicide.

Singleton quoted rule 43 of the Coroners Rules 1984, which gives coroners the power to write a report to a person or organisation where the coroner believes that actions should be taken to prevent future deaths.

He said: "I will be writing to the government to consider now implementing in full the recommendations of the Leveson report in order to seek 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."

Had her suicide note made any reference at all to the press, Singleton said he "would have no difficulty in summonsing various journalists and editors to this inquest to give evidence and be called into account".

Addressing Smith, Singleton said he hoped journalists present at the inquest had come to apologise "for the damage and distress they have caused".

He hoped media accounts of the inquest would be "sympathetic and sensitive", he said, adding: "I do not hold my breath."

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90


Helen Pidd, northern editor

The GuardianTramp

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