The Guardian vs Lucy Meadows

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memorial plaque on Manchester's transgender memorial

Image copyright Mercia McMahon - Editorial Use. Plaque copyright unknown.

The Guardian media outlet, primarily through its online presence, has continued to wage its campaign to malign the reputation of Lucy Meadows, who successfully fought an action against the Daily Mail in early 2013 and appears to have postponed her suicide until the Press Complaints Commission found in her favour. In the week after her death a media furore was sparked by a petition that like the Guardian ignored the fact that Meadows had succeeded in having an unwelcome article removed. The Guardian were the first paper to publish direction quotations from a letter sent by Lucy Meadows to an unknown recipient three months before her death in an article by Helen Pidd and the same journalist later misreported the outcome of the inquest as the coroner blaming the press for Meadows' suicide.  After wider press interest it was mostly the Guardian who have maintained interest in the story and in the process appear to confirm that their primary interest from the outset has not been a grieving community in Accrington, but an opportunity to attack their bête noire, the Daily Mail.

This article documents in reverse order the Guardian's ongoing campaign to perpetuate their misreporting since March 2013 in their desire to attack the Daily Mail. This article began life as a response to Sally Weale's November 2015 article when my article was entitled The Guardian Resumes Campaign Against Lucy Meadows and incorporates my earlier article The Tide is Turning about Paris Lee's November 2014 article.

It is long past time for the Guardian to stop hounding Lucy Meadows in death and to acknowledge that in life she is a victor for press regulation, not a hapless victim.

9th March 2016 14:07 PM Mark Sweney, Daily Mail denies trying to force Matrix director to come out as trans woman

The Guardian have not retracted their misreporting earlier the same day, but in Mark Sweney's article on the Daily Mail denying the claims of Lilly Wachowski they have built a firewall to say that they do not always misrepresent the outcome of the Meadows inquest. Quotations from the Daily Mail about the inquest result are left to set the record straight, although the Daily Mail are not entirely correct because Meadows' letter ruled out her stressful job as a suicide factor:

It was reported at the time that a note left by Meadows made no mention of press intrusion, citing instead her debts, a number of bereavements including the death of her parents, and her stressful job as a primary school teacher.

She insisted she was not depressed or mentally ill and thanked her friends, family and colleagues for their support.”

The Guardian did not however miss the opportunity to insert a link to the erroneous Helen Pidd report on the inquest into the Daily Mail statement.

9th March 2016 05:00 AM: Caroline Davies and Mark Sweney, Film director Lilly Wachowski comes out as transgender woman

Late on 9th March 2016 this Steph Harmon / Reuters article was replaced with a much longer article by Caroline Davies and Mark Sweney (the author of the article about the Daily Mail setting out what actually transpired at the Meadows inquest). The article now appearing as written at 05:00 AM is neither the article written then, nor was it written by Davies and Sweney. This drop in replacement article acknowledges the time gap between the Daily Mail article and Meadows' death and that Meadows' suicide letter did not mention the press. It does assert (incorrectly) that the coroner ascribed some blame to the press for her death and continues to link that claim to Helen Pidd's erroneous reporting of the inquest.

In 2013, Meadows, 32, a primary school teacher and transgender woman, took her own life. The Daily Mail had previously published a column by Richard Littlejohn headlined: “He’s not only in the wrong body … he’s in the wrong job”.

It was reported at the time that a note left by Meadows made no mention of press intrusion, citing financial worries, bereavement and workplace stress. However the coroner was insistent that the unwelcome media attention had contributed, telling the press “shame on all of you” while criticising the “sensational and salacious” coverage.

What the coroner did was criticize press coverage of both her transition and her death, but he did not make the press harassment part of the cause of death, in fact he emphasized that Meadows won a case against the Daily Mail through the Press Complaints Commission. He also took evidence from Meadows' estranged wife Ruth Smith that shows how little effect the press coverage had on her mental state.

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."

9th March 2016 05:00 AM: Steph Harmon / Reuters, Film director Lilly Wachowski comes out as transgender woman

In the original article in this time slot Steph Harmon wrote about the claims by Lilly Wachowski that she was forced to come out due to a threatened outing by the Daily Mail online sister paper in the United States. The Reuters sourced article claims that Wachowski cited the Lucy Meadows case. I suspect though that the following paragraph was not from Rueters, but part of the ongoing campaign against the Daily Mail via continued misreporting of the Lucy Meadows inquest verdict. The details about the inquest are certainly not present in the article in the Windy City Times that the Reuters report is based on.

In 2013 a primary school teacher and transgender woman, Lucy Meadows, took her life after the Daily Mail published a column by Richard Littlejohn titled “He’s not only in the wrong body … he’s in the wrong job”. Michael Singleton, coroner for Blackburn, Hyndburn and Rossendale, criticised the “sensational and salacious” coverage which he blamed for her death.

The link in that quotation is original and points to the Guardian's Helen Pidd misreporting the result of the inquest that she had been live tweeting to the delight of the trans press regulation activists whom she had cosied up to. It is past time that the Guardian stops sparing Pidd's blushes and admits the misreporting and changes the original inquest report so that other Guardian journalists can cite what actually happened at the inquest as opposed to what occurred in Pidd's imagination.

10th November 2015 Story of a Transgender Teacher

The Guardian has returned to misrepresenting the result of inquest into Lucy Meadow's death in. Article author Sally Weale is not writing about Lucy Meadows, but includes the following paragraph:

Trans people working with young children in schools seem to attract an even greater level of interest and – from some quarters – opprobrium than those in other settings. Two years ago, primary school teacher Lucy Meadows took her own life after her gender reassignment became national news. The headteacher of her school had sent out a supportive letter informing parents that Meadows was transitioning to live as a woman. The media picked up the story, reporting that some parents felt their children were “too young” to deal with such a complex issue. The coroner handling the inquest condemned the “sensational and salacious” nature of the some of the coverage.

Technically, there is only one factual error in that paragraph: so far as is known Lucy Meadows did not undergo gender reassignment, which a term used to indicate a surgical procedure. The main problem with the paragraph is in what the otherwise factually correct statement implies. Meadows did take her own life three months after transitioning, the headteacher did send out a supportive letter, the press did report the negative reactions of some parents, and the coroner did condemn some of the coverage. To someone unfamiliar with the case that would imply that press exposure drove Meadows to suicide, while nothing could be further from the truth.

The inquest verdict was based on three primary pieces of evidence: testimony from Meadows' estranged wife that press intrusion was a mere annoyance, written evidence from a counsellor Meadows had last met two months before her death, and a suicide letter that Coroner Michael Singleton read out to the court. The verdict was that Meadows took her own life while of a sound mind. The criticism of the press came in the coroner's closing remarks and were not part of the hearing's evidence. Indeed the remarks to the press gallery make it quite clear that the coroner felt that there was no cause to summon any members of the press as relevant witnesses. The coroner's remarks clouded the media coverage and activist responses to the inquest, which largely ignored the verdict. In fact Singleton appears to have been spoken to about his remarks, although not disciplined. 

It is reprehensible that the Guardian allowed the paragraph about Meadows to stand twelve months after they had appeared to have improved their behaviour when they corrected a Paris Lees article that claimed that the coroner had blamed the press for Meadows' death. Weale does not directly claim that the coroner ruled that that press led to Meadows' suicide, but nor does she point out that the inquest verdict was nothing of the sort. She is indulging in exactly the same subterfuge that the Lucy Meadows' plaque does on the transgender memorial in Manchester's Sackville Gardens. That Plaque states:

Lucy Meadows

Hounded by the press

Suicide 2013

We will remember you

By juxtaposing hounded by the press and suicide the plaque implies that the two events were linked, when Meadows' suicide letter made clear that they were not. Weale's Guardian article is equally misleading in stating that Meadows took her own life after gender reassignment (actually, after transition) without mentioning that it was three months afterwards and that in the meantime Meadows suffered the death of a very close friend, who according to some reports was a lover. It is particularly reprehensible for the editor to let this Meadows comment pass, because its removal would not unduly affect the meaning of the article, which is about another transgender teacher.

The Guardian has a lot of ground to make up in its treatment of Lucy Meadows. It was the media outlet that first quoted directly from a private email that she sent seeking support in advance of her successful complaint to the Press Complaints Commission against the Daily Mail. That article was co-authored by the northern editor Helen Pidd, who two months later compounded the error by claiming erroneously that the coroner had blamed the press for Meadows' death. Indeed, it was probably that article that led to the Weale's gender reassignment comment as it is very similar to the opening sentence of Pidd's latter article.

20th November 2014 Paris Lees, Why we should all celebrate life on this Transgender Day of Remembrance

Yesterday was Transgender Day of Remembrance which is held each year on 20th November to remember those who have been murdered in the past year with their trans status suspected as a motivation in their murder. I had the interesting experience of being at a Transgender Day of Remembrance event in Seattle last year that was deliberately seeking to shift the focus away from a naming of the dead towards affirming the life of trans and gender variant people. Yet when contributions were invited from the floor it was quickly brought back to the origins of the event. One of the first to speak had been at the original vigil in Boston for Rita Hester after her murder on 28 November 1998. That vigil inspired a website Remembering Our Dead that in turn inspired this international Transgender Day of Remembrance (brought forward 8 days from Hester's death date to reduce clashes with US Thanksgiving). It is important to remember that Transgender Day of Remembrance is about murder victims, especially as there are continuing attempts in the UK to link Lucy Meadows to this day, despite the fact that she was neither murdered nor a victim. The most egregious example of this in 2014 was trans celebrity Paris Lees's article for The Guardian "Why we should all celebrate life on this Transgender Day of Remembrance." The article had to be corrected because of Lee's erroneous claims about Meadows as is noted on the editorial statement at the bottom of the page:

This article was amended on 20 November 2014. It originally said in the third paragraph that Lucy Meadows’ coroner had blamed the media for “hounding her to death”. He did not say this, but had said “shame on all of you” to the assembled press.

That editorial intervention was in response to my comment:

"Or beloved primary school teacher Lucy Meadows, whose coroner blasted the press for “hounding her to death” last year." No he didn't. He condemned the press reporting of Meadows' transition and the reporting after her death. He found that she had taken her own life while in full possession of her mental capacity, after writing an eloquent suicide letter detailing that there was nothing left to keep her in this life (i.e., nothing drove her to death) and taking great care to consider the needs of those who would chance upon the suicide scene. As there are so many victims to remember at TDOR why is there the need to turn Meadows into a victim instead of affirming her as the strong character whom the coroner commended? One who took on the press via the PCC and won her case.

It is pleasing to see the prompt response from The Guardian to correcting Lees's article as their reporter Helen Pidd had played a major role in spreading misinformation about the inquest verdict in May 2013. In a rush to be the first to file copy on the day she submitted a report seeking to use the coroner's closing tirade against the press and claim that they formed part of the verdict. Pidd had form as she was the journalist who first quoted directly from a private email that Meadows had sent requesting support from someone (possibly the charity Trans Media Watch). Pidd was not the first to breach Meadows' confidentiality that was trans campaigning journalist Jane Fae, who quoted indirectly from the email. Meadows died at her own hand on 19 March 2013 three months after she experienced a brief period of press harassment. Her death came on the day that the Press Complaints Commission determined that her complaint against the Daily Mail was settled in her favour. It also happened just as press regulation was being debated in Parliament. There was an immediate rush of trans activists (and Littlejohn haters) to put two and two together and get themselves all at sixes and sevens. In the week between Meadows' death and funeral there was an international campaign to have Littlejohn sacked for driving Meadows to her death, despite the fact that the coroner would not rule on her death for a further two months. In addition to the anti-Littlejohn campaign there was a flurry of trans journalists writing about Meadows, including Paris Lees. In the first article that she had in the print edition of The Guardian she wrote that Meadows' death would not be in vain. That meant that she was passing a value judgement on Meadows' death long before the inquest and she seems determined to continue to do so, despite the findings of the inquest being the opposite of what Lees presumed (death by suicide unrelated to press harassment). Lees is far from being a lone voice in seeking to rewrite the inquest verdict to fit a press regulation agenda. When The Observer media commentater Peter Preston wrote about the inquest and criticized the school for publicizing Meadows' transition the previous December, Lees was one of five prominent trans activists who commented critically in the article's feedback feed, the others being Christine Burns, Natacha Kennedy, Jennie Kermode, and Jane Fae. They all wanted the inquest result to focus on the press harassment of Meadows in the Christmas and New Year period rather than the coroner's correct focus on the death three months later and Meadows' suicide letter. For Lees that desire to reword the inquest verdict remains as strong as ever eighteen months later.

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