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

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.

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