One line in a coroner’s inquest

I DON’T pretend to have the solution to this – maybe nobody does – but there are sometimes when you wonder whether holding a public coroner’s inquest in some cases is really for the best. The purpose of the inquest is honourable. Nobody would want foul play explained away as a suicide.

But the style and course these investigations take could surely be adapted for an extra ounce of privacy. Just an ounce. I’m thinking of the media reporting of the inquest into the death of the writer/photographer J.C. Andrews last week, who several of us wrote about after his death earlier this year.

One line uttered in the inquest about whether J.C. and his girlfriend had argued about taking viagra dominated the resulting coverage. Suddenly, J.C., from Finsbury Park, became ‘Viagra row man’, a man ‘jilted by a ballerina’. Here was a whole life and death – a life we all could see was creative and thoughtful from his internet presence alone – reduced to one disagreement. I thought about whether it was a good idea repeating it here, but it’s hard to make the point without doing so.

If you look up the Ham & High‘s report, you will see that the tragedy of his death could be reported without mention of the subject of the argument.

Meanwhile, one national newspaper ran with a giant picture of his partner, a dancer from the Olympics ceremonies at work, which eclipsed the size reserved on the page for the actual words of the story. I can point you in the direction of 20 people who could have filled some of that space with something nice to say about James.

At this stage, it is fair to say that the New Journal has over the years printed inquest stories where fragments of information that come out a coroner’s inquest may, in the absence of other information, have gathered heightened emphasis. The kind of thing where relatives look back at the coverage and think: he or she did so many things with their lives, yet if you search their name on the internet all that comes up is a newspaper mention of the puzzling sequence which made up their last days.

But I’d like to think that we’ve always tried to be as sensitive as we could. Families are always welcome to add their thoughts to these articles. Certainly, if we printed a picture of J.C. for instance it wouldn’t be smaller than one of his girlfriend.

Coroner’s inquests still hold some importance. Think of the inquest into the death of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson. I also think of the inquest covered by West End Extra reporter Josh Loeb in which it was learned that the body of a man with a fixation on royalty was found on the duck island close to Buckingham Palace. We wouldn’t have known about it and it wouldn’t have been investigated further by a stage show if he hadn’t been there with his notepad. But I couldn’t help feel some industry guilt for the treatment reserved for James Andrews last week. We’re all a bigger than a row we once had.

In a small effort to redress the balance, here’s a link to his website: Short stories about life in London.


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