UK

Lucy Meadows Inquest: Coroner Tells Press 'Shame On You'

28/05/2013 20:39 BST | Updated 28/05/2013 21:53 BST

A coroner has launched a scathing attack on the "sensational and salacious" press coverage of a transgender teacher who later killed herself, calling it "ill-informed bigotry" and urging the government to implement the Leveson Report's recommendations.

Blackburn and Hyndburn Coroner Michael Singleton was carrying out an inquest into the death of Lucy Meadows who had been transitioning to live as a woman in the months before she was found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in March.

Pupils at St Mary Magdalen's CofE Primary School in Accrington, Lancashire, were told last December that Mr Nathan Upton should be addressed as Miss Lucy Meadows after the Christmas break.

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The school's website after Miss Meadows' death

The story gained national headlines and comment when the news of her transition broke, with concerns from one parent reported. However the head teacher said largely all parents had been supportive.

Today, Singleton launched a furious tirade against the press and said he would be writing to Maria Miller MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, under Rule 43 of the Coroners Rules, "that unless action is taken it could leave to further fatality".

He added: "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."

Then concluding the inquest at Blackburn Register Office, he turned to reporters and said: "And to you the Press, I say shame. Shame on all of you."

Mr Singleton said he had been "taken aback" by the extent of the media interest in Tuesday's hearing.

He had decided to research the Press coverage at the time and he said he was "appalled" with what he discovered.

He said: "It came as no surprise to me to find out that Lucy had made a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

"I have a letter from them. They tell me as follows: 'Lucy Meadows first contacted the PCC on January 3, 2013. She raised concerns about i/harassment from the press, ii/ a column written by Richard Littlejohn published in the Daily Mail commenting on her gender transition.

"On January 4 the PCC opened an investigation into the Richard Littlejohn article, given Miss Meadows' position that it raised concerns it breached clause one- accuracy, clause three - privacy, clause four - harassment.

richard littlejohn

The Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn

"The PCC wrote to the managing editor's office of the Daily Mail and following further exchanges and correspondence the newspaper offered on March 11 to resolve the complaint by removing the article from its website and deleting photographs of his wedding to his former wife.

"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.

"It seems to me that nothing has been learnt from the Leveson Inquiry or subsequent report.

"Lucy Meadows was not someone who had thrust herself into the public limelight. She was not a celebrity. She had done nothing wrong. 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 they did.

"Had it been in the note she left to me of any reference at all to the Press, I would have had no difficulty in summonsing various journalists and editors to this inquest to give evidence and be called into account but Lucy Meadows rose above that.

"One may have expected that she would distressed but the note she leaves make no mention of distress, no mention of depression.

"One may have thought , particularly having read some of the outrageous material published, that she would have been very angry and bitter. She makes no reference to being angry or bitter.

"You may have thought she may have been very confused...confused in regard to the fact that she could not live as a man and was not allowed to live as a woman but she does not do that.

"Lucy Meadows presents in that letter of being a highly intelligent, articulate person who had given a great deal of thought, whose planning was meticulous and whose last thoughts were in those who might find her in order to warn them of the risk."

He continued: "I would like to think that the reporting of this inquest would be sympathetic and sensitive. I do not hold my breath. To date they have been sensational and salacious. I have little doubt under the current PCC system they will continue to be because if a complaint is made they can always withdraw it from the website, long after all the damage has been done.

"I want to make it known that I will be preparing a report under rule 43 of the Coroners Rules that unless action is taken it could leave to further fatality.

"I intend to send a report to Maria Miller MP, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

"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.

"And to you, the Press, I say shame. Shame on all of you."

Giving evidence, Mr Upton's wife Ruth Smith - also a teacher - said the couple had not divorced and they had a son but that agreed to live separate lives just before Christmas 2011.

She said it was "an amicable split" and that the transgender issue was "not the deciding factor".

Ms Smith was asked what impact an article in the local press had on her which revealed her new identity as Miss Meadows at her local school.

"She was more annoyed than anything," she replied, "that there was an intrusion on her life and our life as well."

Ms Smith said that Miss Meadows went on to make two suicide attempts in February and March this year.

She agreed with the coroner that she was "effectively rehearsing" to kill herself.

Ms Smith said she had tried to talk her round, and had asked her the cause of her distress.

"She said there was not enough to keep her here," she said.

When she was discovered at her home in Ramsbottom Street, Accrington, on March 19 a number of envelopes containing letters addressed to various people were found near her body.

One letter was left to the coroner, which he read out at the inquest.

Miss Meadows wrote: "It used to be that people asked me why, and say things like 'you can't do this'. Some people asked 'why you are still here'.

"I tried to do things the right way to make people more comfortable with it. I agreed with myself to find another solution to my troubles.

"I see only one path which is right for me."

She described the "loss and pain" she had suffered following the deaths of her parents, a close friend and her grandfather.

She said: "I have issues around my trans. My job is stressful and I have debts.

"To be honest I feel a fraud in mentioning these things.

"It was my decision to distance myself from my parents. Me and Ruth would never have gone the distance. I am delighted that she has found her new partner."

She described as "overwhelming" the support she had had from "family, friends, colleagues and people from other countries".

She said she "loved teaching" and was fortunate to work at the school she did. She said she had a strategy to pay off her debts.

She added: "Also, I have had many amazing experiences and good things in my life that I am truly grateful for.

"So why then my decision?

"I have simply had enough of living. I am not depressed or mentally ill in some way.

"I may have different world views to others to the point that most may not consider this a rational act.

"But it is right to me.

"All the things I have wanted to achieve I have done.

"I have no regrets other than leaving behind those dear to me and causing them pain in doing so, for which I am deeply sorry.

"I would like to thank everyone who had an impact on my life, and thank them for doing so. I wish you all the best."

Mr Singleton recorded a verdict that Miss Meadows had killed herself.

The cause of death was established as cardiorespiratory failure as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The inquest was told Miss Meadows was referred to a psychosexual therapist by her GP in June 2010 and that last summer she decided on the transition.

On her last appointment with the therapist in January, she spoke of her "distress" about the media coverage but had found it easier to deal with than she thought because she had been distracted by the death of someone she had fallen in love with, the inquest heard.

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