Lucy Meadows story not in the public interest

Claire Black. Picture: Jane Barlow
Claire Black. Picture: Jane Barlow
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MONSTERING. It’s not a word I’ve had call to use. It’s not even one that I’ve read very often, until recent days, that is.

Tomorrow there will be a demonstration in London outside the offices of a UK national newspaper, which is being described as a “vigil against monstering”. It’s being held to remember primary teacher Lucy Meadows.

Meadows was a popular teacher at a primary school in Accrington, Lancashire. Last Tuesday, she was found dead at her home. Her death is not being treated as suspicious but at present it’s not known if she committed suicide, nor is it known (if she did take her own life) what pushed her to such a desperate act.

What we do know, however, is that some months ago, a story in a local newspaper revealed that Meadows was transitioning from male to female. It was picked up by national tabloids and suddenly the 32-year-old found herself at the centre of a media storm whipped up by prurience and prejudice, yet conspicuously devoid of that which the media trumpets as its get out of jail free card: public interest.

Meadows was a valued member of staff at her school. She had the support of her headteacher and board of governors. She was liked and respected. Of all the reasons to name and most deliberately shame her, public interest did not feature.

Of course, this tragedy takes place against a backdrop of gum-beating about the dangers faced by newspapers post-Leveson. That I believe a free press is vital in a healthy democratic society probably goes without saying. What seems necessary to state, though, is that if the media really wants to convince people that it must be free in order to hold the powerful to account, then it must also be judged on how seriously it takes its responsibility to those who are vulnerable.

A person in transition is likely to be going through massive psychological and emotional changes. In 2012, the Trans Mental Health Study produced by the Scottish Transgender Alliance, found that 48 per cent of respondents had tried to commit suicide. Some of Lucy Meadows’ emails have come to light since her death. They reveal the stress of the situation she found herself in – along with the complaints of parents who claimed that their attempts to provide positive comments to reporters were ignored, being forced to use the back door to avoid the press pack.

As speculation grows and recriminations swirl, some papers commit a final insult, referring to Meadows as “he”. I can think of only one word for that: shameful.

WHOEVER has the unenviable job of looking after PR for bankers might just want to do what they can to sabotage the website which is running a feature called “Twenty money-saving tips from bankers and their wives”. I give you tip six: start ironing. “The wife is doing the ironing. She’s not loving it, but she doesn’t want to get a job herself so is having to accept it.” Other tips include making your children pay for their own university education and ensuring holidays are cheaper by staying with friends. Lucky old friends.

I DON’T mean to media bash, but it’s hard to avoid it when editors of national magazines, in this instance Esquire’s Alex Bilmes, go and let the cat out of the bag about the reason magazines like his are filled with photos of women with hardly any clothes on. It’s not that women just tend to dress like that, no, it’s simply this: “I could lie and say we are interested in their brains as well but on the whole we’re not. They are there to be a beautiful object, they’re objectified.” It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. «

Twitter: @Scottiesays