Parents ‘in no doubt’ their son’s suicide caused by misreporting

The Scots mother of a boy who took his own life after reading derogatory articles about his murdered sister has told the Leveson Inquiry that the dead should be protected from “the will of a sick journalist”.

Margaret Watson told the inquiry into press ethics her teenage son, Alan, “could take no more” after reading articles critical of his sister, Diane Watson, who was stabbed to death at school in 1991. He killed himself 18 months after his sister’s murder. Cuttings of the offending articles, from the Herald newspaper and Marie Claire magazine, were found in his hand.

The Herald and Marie Claire published pieces James and Margaret Watson believed besmirched their daughter’s name. Diane, 16, was killed at Whitehill Secondary in Dennistoun. Her killer, Barbara Glover, 15, was convicted and sent to Kerelaw Secure Unit in Ayrshire. She was released in January 2000.

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Yesterday Diane and Alan’s parents called for a change in libel laws so newspapers could be sued for defaming dead people. They told the inquiry they were “in no doubt” that misreporting of their daughter’s murder “contributed directly” to Alan’s suicide in December 1992.

Mrs Watson criticised stories by Herald journalist Jack McLean, whom she accused of misreporting Diane’s case to support his campaign for young offenders.

She said: “He picked an individual case he knew nothing about to spearhead this campaign, which he’s absolutely no right to do. If journalists want to do campaigns for anyone about anything, they must ensure they have all the facts before they start delving into people’s private lives and causing other tragedies to take place.”

Mrs Watson said Mr McLean’s articles had painted the murderer as the victim. She said: “He [Mr McLean] said we came from an upper-working-class background and Diane had looked down on Barbara with disdain.”

She said the journalist had no right to portray Diane in the way he did, adding: “We didn’t have a memory left of her because of people like him [Mr McLean].”

She said she received no apology from the Herald or from Mr McLean and it took more than a year to receive an apology over the Marie Claire article.

The Watsons are now campaigning to have the law changed to make it an offence to defame the deceased. She said the Scottish Government was consulting on the proposal and she urged the UK government to do the same for England and Wales. Currently the law does not protect the reputations of the dead – it is deemed that they cannot be defamed.

Mrs Watson was also critical of the Press Complaints Commission which she said “wasn’t interested in what we had to say”. She called for it to be replaced.

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Written evidence on behalf of the Watsons said: “The toll of these events upon parents Margaret and James Watson cannot be overstated and include serious illness.

“Nevertheless, over the years they have made considerable efforts to secure retractions and apologies from the Glasgow Herald and Marie Claire, as well as seeking a change in policy, regulation and/or the law relating to convicted criminals being able to profit from publishing accounts of their crimes.”

Last night the publishers of the Herald said in a statement: “The Herald & Times Group, which publishes the Herald, is committed to the highest quality of journalism and accuracy in its reporting and analysis and adheres to the Press Complaints Commission code of conduct.

“Comments critical of Herald columns published after the 1991 murder of 16-year-old Glasgow schoolgirl Diane Watson were made at today’s Leveson Inquiry … The Herald & Times Group deeply regrets any action which added to the Watson family’s grief over the tragic loss of their daughter and later their son.

“The columns were published some 20 years ago when the group was under different ownership and editorial control, and the freelance columnist involved has not worked for the company for some years.”

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