A week ago primary school teacher Lucy Meadows was found dead at her home.

Over the last week there has been a great deal of interest in the case.  There has been a vigil outside a national newspaper office; there are petitions calling for an individual journalist to be sacked; there is the prospect of a House of Commons debate; and various groups have claimed the tragedy supports their objectives.

In all this, there is little concrete information. This post sets out, as of today, what we know and – more importantly – what we don’t know about what happened to Lucy Meadows before she died.  This post deals with these points in broadly chronological order, and as this is not a “blame” piece, I have anonymised the names of all but Lucy Meadows.

The full sources and other links for what follows are here.

 

What happened with the school

We know Lucy Meadows was a primary teacher at a certain school and that she was transitioning from male to female.  We know she had the support of her headteacher and of the diocese.  It appears she was popular and highly regarded.

We know that the headteacher put thought into how to communicate this news to the school, and it appears the headteacher decided to do this by means of a low-key announcement in the “staff changes” part of the school newsletter.

 

The local press

We know that the local press covered the story before the national press were aware of it.  We know that the local press – one paper in particular – were able to get a quote (and a photograph) of a concerned parent.  We know that claims were made that other parents were concerned, but there is no explicit evidence of this.

We do not know what either Lucy Meadows or the School did about this local news coverage, other than to provide statements.  Lucy Meadows and her headteacher released statements asking for privacy to be respected.

(26/3/13 ADDED: See Dan Waddell’s two detailed posts http://dan-waddell.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/here-there-be-monstering.html and http://dan-waddell.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/here-there-be-monstering-follow-up.html on how the news story went from local to national level.)

 

The national press

The national press picked up the story soon after it was published in the local press.  We know that the national press sought “before” and “after” pics of Lucy but had to settle for unauthorised Facebook pics and a child’s drawing.  We know that the national press took the decision to publish a story in December 2012 based on the adverse reactions of the parents.  However, there were still no more named concerned parents.

Once the story was covered in at least two national tabloids as a news story, we know that a controversial columnist used the information acquired by others for a critical main piece in his weekly column.  We do not know what Lucy Meadows thought of this column, as it is not mentioned in any of the emails which have so far been published.

 

The complaints of harassment and press intrusion

We know that Lucy Meadows complained of the press intrusion in emails sent to another trans person.  These emails have not been published in full.  In these emails we are told that Lucy Meadows was concerned at the presence of photographers at her school and the attempts to obtain private information (and pictures).  We are also told that the press seemed uninterested in the parents who wanted to say positive things.

Lucy Meadows also wrote that she had to significantly change her routine to avoid the press attention, arriving at school early and leaving late.

We do not know whether this is correct (though there is no reason to doubt it). We also do not know whether the press which were present were freelance or were staff journalists/photographers.

We know that Lucy Meadows submitted a PCC complaint in January 2013 and it is understood that there were others.  We know that her complaint was “resolved” but we do not know on what basis.

We know that the columnist’s piece was edited on-line on or before 12 March 2013 and that it appears text and photos were removed.  We do not have a reason for that edit.

 

The death of Lucy Meadows

We do not know the cause of death, though very early reports said it was suicide.  We do not know the relevant circumstances if it was suicide, and the Samaritans caution that no suicide should attributable to one factor.

We know that the police do not believe there were suspicious circumstances and that the death was unexpected. We know that a file has been passed to the coroner and that the coroner is expected to have an inquest.

We do not know what, if any, relationship there was between the press coverage/conduct and her death.  And even if there was a relationship, we do not know what aspect of the press coverage/conduct is of most importance.  In particular, we do not have any evidence that the columnist’s piece was directly relevant.

 

The significance of the death

We do not know the significance, if any, of the death.  We do not know whether it supports “press reform” or is irrelevant to it.  We do not know whether it is linked to transphobia or to any other cultural point.  We do not know whether it justifies the sacking of any reporter, photographer, picture desk editor, or news editor.

We simply do not know.

 

But what we do know is that the press coverage/conduct in December was personally unpleasant to Lucy Meadows and that she complained of it both to a contact and the PCC, and that it appears that the press coverage/conduct was in breach of her own stated preference for privacy.

And we are also entitled to form a view as to whether the press coverage/conduct in December was humane and decent; and in my personal view, it plainly was not.  In particular, what one can only call a “monstering” was wrong on its own terms, regardless of what happened afterwards.

 

 

COMMENTS MODERATION

Comments are pre-moderated. No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters. Other comments published at my absolute discretion.

14 Responses to What we know – and what we don’t know – about the death of Lucy Meadows

  • Guy Chapman says:

    You are very charitable, calling Richard Littlejohn a journalist. A polemicist would be closer to the mark, a loudmouthed bigot perhaps the more informal judgment. But sacking him would not make the Daily Mail any less obnoxious. I say we take off and nuke the entire site form orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

  • Julie Carpenter says:

    Well said Jack – it is essential we bear in mind all the points you make so well.

  • Sarah May says:

    Thank you for a steadying piece. Lucy Meadows treatment by the press and death is such an upsetting set of events its difficult to think clearly. I’m glad you have laid it out without losing sight of the importance of a personal view on the behaviour of the press, which was wrong for its unkindness to a vulnerable individual. Why are people being so careful about this though. I heard noone mention that there is never one reason for suicide (though there can be triggers) when the nurse in the DJ hoax committed suicide. That was a much less intrusive and personal ‘attack’ and yet the DJ’s were considered guilty from the beginning – what’s the difference.

  • Thank you for this. I’m planning on writing to my MP ahead of the debate that appears will be happening about this, both in my personal capacity, and in my role as a trans* liason officer for Reading Pride, so it’s useful to see a reasonably definitive list of what is known, and what is not known.

  • Robyn Duckworth says:

    We don’t know what happened. What’s not well known is how vulnerable trans people are. So many of us suffer self esteem issues, loss of valued relationships, self hatred, worries about the future and what it holds and then get told by people who are supposed to care about us that we are making mistakes. I bet there are not many trans people who have not felt really low and thought about a way out just to stop the pain.

  • Jilly Bermingham says:

    Having volunteered for the Samaritans, I know the devastating effect of suicide and the decision made by the individual who has decided it is their only choice.

    It is also true to say that it is rarely one reason, however if you add the Littlejohn article onto the pressure she was under from the monsters in December it can certainly be described as the last straw.

    I can imagine how important the support was from the school and how dare anyone (Littlejohn) assume the views of children, they are the most accepting of anyone, to then have the Press turn against her en masse must have been very hard to take especially when at her most vulnerable.

  • I am one of the co-authors of the change.org petition, I know that we are partially responsible for some of the misinformation by spreading it after we had first head about her death. Using your main points I will explain what we did and what we are trying to do.

    1. School Announcement/Local Press: we have said absolutely nothing about the Schools announcement, We have linked to the local press story both in December and the one which announced the death. I have heard the arguments since starting the petition about the dangers of the Local press. As someone in the younger generations National Newspapers I see as important but slow and Local newspapers I see just as an extra place to search for jobs.

    2. The national press: I had not checked the timeline myself – I thought that he was the first national paper to report it because of Sam’s quickness in starting the petition, with the link to the taken down daily mail article. If I had knew that he wasn’t the originator of the Nationalised headlines I would not of gotten on board of the petition at the start.

    But now that it is going, there is momentum behind it – I feel that there is a need for me to see this through to the end and then maybe go back and think about how it can be done better in the future. I have a plan of doing maybe a follow up but I will have to discuss it with TransMediaWatch because I don’t want to do it if they think it will cause problems.

    4. The complaints of harassment and press intrusion: This is actually one of my main reasons to wanting to help out, There is a lot of complex things about Cameras in our society these days and with things like Google Glass coming out it is going to get a whole lot more complicated.

    My main stance on it is a camera can be used in an offensive (Opposite of Defensive not obscene.) manner and this case is an example of it. Even if there was no press camera in Accrington during the time when Lucy was fearful – the fact the media attention had made her afraid of them to being there is a problem. Pictures existing was not the problem the problem was that any pictures which were taken was going to be attached to another article calling her a monster, This is evidenced slightly by the few post Christmas pictures which have been seen on the news stories about her death.

    There is many things I hope the PCC reformation does, one is make the decisions public especially in “resolved” sort of circumstances – It tells you nothing about what did actually happen in Accrington during the months before. How many papers had staff photographers there, how many staff reporters, How many freelancers contacted the papers telling them they were there – That is knowledge which would be useful to know.

    4. The death of Lucy Meadows/significance: This was something I tried to make clear when discussing the petition and I tried to fix with my editing of it – The initial headline that Sam found was calling it suicide and directly Attributing it. I tried my hardest to saying it might be a suicide. But unfortunately with both of our grammatical mistakes added to the petition this became a point lost in the detail.

    I will state it here as a fact: “At the moment of my writing this to the best of my knowledge there is no known cause of death publicly available and there is no causal connection between her death and the press.”

    Still saying this I believe even if she suddenly just had a blood clot kill her or something – the fact her last months were filled with dread and hatred directed at her from the monstering is enough reason of a reason for the petition to exist.

  • Joanne Mason says:

    Thank you so much Jack, for this post.
    I think the least we can do now is make sure that Lucy’s death will not be for nought.
    Littlejohn is almost an irrelevance, it is the behaviour of the media and society in general that is having the spotlight cast upon it here. We should hang our collective heads in shame – a person’s life has been cut short by 21st century society, how backward and shameful is that?
    The BBC (as of 27-Mar-2013) has only just reported the death of this lady and then only in terms of the Littlejohn petition.
    We simply cannot let Lucy’s death be for nothing. We must use the momentum which this tragic event has created to ensure that every other transgendered person is treated as a human being, no more and no less.

  • M Harris says:

    An excellent article indeed.

    I just wanted to make the point that when I was at school 7 or 8 years ago, we had two teachers who changed from male to female about a year or so apart, and continued teaching at the school. While there was the inevitable sniggering from some pupils, they were generally well respected and admired among the pupils and the staff. The announcement was made on the first day of a new term with respect and tact, and that was the last we heard of it.

    I may be looking back with rose-tinted glasses, but I remember no local/national press coverage. No complaints by parents (if there were, they were few and far between because the issue was never raised as a concern in PTA meetings). Even the pupils forgot after a month or two.

    The whole thing was handled very well by the school staff and the majority of pupils, and the two teachers integrated extremely well after what must be an incredibly stressful time in their lives. They both went on to teach at the school for a few years until my younger sister left and we lost contact with the staff. I would imagine if they are not still there, they are continuing to teach somewhere else.

  • David says:

    Yes, this is helpful and clear.

    The Daily Mail is full of nastiness and trivia about the lives of private and insignificant people. It is its stock in trade. It is also the reason that it is really rather disliked as a paper – but that many people who profess to hate it cannot help but look at it.

  • John Gilmore says:

    The Mail has previous in this area.

    Around a year ago another of their “journalists” wrote a piece about a trans individual which was riddled with inaccuracies about so many things, from gender issues to mental health disorders and the nature of mental health services (NB I am not linking gender issues with mental health disorders). I complained to the PCC about the piece and its inaccuracies, but the complaint was not upheld as it was an “opinion ” piece.

    Littlejohn’s items are of a piece with the earlier one and regardless of whether he contributed to Lucy Meadows’ death he definitely contributes to misunderstanding and prejudice.

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