Getting the ok to intrude

Brown condolence letterThe PCC code warns that “In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively.” But in some cases, the distressed and bereaved will have reasons for actively welcoming publicity – and Jacqui Janes appears to be one such case. The mother of a guardsman killed on duty in Afghanistan, she is grieving and angry over her son’s death, and those feelings have been compounded by what she feels to be the offensively illiterate way in which Gordon Brown wrote to express his condolences.

Up until this, I didn’t know that Brown was handwriting letters to the families of fallen soldiers. And personally –despite many misgivings I have about the way the government has managed the war in Afghanistan – this makes me think better of Brown. He appears to experience his responsibility to bereaved families deeply. But I understand why Ms Janes would feel differently on receiving what she considers a deeply inadequate letter.

What I don’t understand is how Dominic Mohan can justify making a spectacle of one family’s grief. Loss of a child is a dreadful, crushing thing – and however cathartic it might be to attack the government responsible for that death, grieving in public can be a cruel process. In the worst cases, people can become fixed as professional mourners, and the process of recovery is made horribly protracted. That’s why the PCC’s guidelines on intrusion into shock and grief are there, and every publicity approach from a bereaved family ought to be handled with huge tact and discretion. It doesn’t work like that, but it should.

It seems unpleasantly likely that The Sun has consciously recruited the Janes to the paper’s anti-Brown cause at a time when the family is deeply distressed. Publicising the reaction to the letter is one thing; encouraging Ms Janes to act the reporter and challenge Brown when he rang to apologise is something else. I hope that the Janes family do not feel exploited. But watching The Sun rack up the politicised covers, making a shattered family the front for its partisan campaign, it looks like something awfully close to exploitation.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009

14 thoughts on “Getting the ok to intrude

  1. It makes me LOL that Dominic Mohan is now some kind of senior reporter on something as highly politicised as this. He used to write the awful bits of fluff for The Sun’s celebrity nonsense, and I once wrote him a letter of complaint over a Craig David quote (forserious), where Mr. Bo Selecta said he didn’t drink, smoke or take drugs and that he wasn’t “too rock n’ roll”. To which Mohan cleverly responded “It doesn’t make you very rock n’ roll David, but it does make you very boring!”

    So, a responsible journalist all round.

  2. It’s disgusting. The Sun are shamelessly exploiting anger and grief. ‘You want someone to blame? some place to put those terrible, horrible feelings you are experiencing? It’s Brown’s fault! Pin it on him!’

    Are the family being naive? maybe, but it would be cruel to have to point that out to them right now. It’s just sad that this whole horrible thing has come about.

  3. The Sun used to the same thing when Myra Hindley was alive. Whenever there was an even tenuously-related story, they leveraged the grief of one of the murdered children’s mothers to criticize the government/judiciary/probation service/BBC/whoever. Surprised they never offered her a column.

    Yes, that cartoon was excellent.

  4. It’s not ‘awfully close’ to exploitation, it is exploitation. I think the Sun has miscalculated this as badly as Hillsborough. And Brown looks better for this. Have you seen the Quentin Letts train wreck on Germaine Greer and other stuff he doesn’t like? Not that I even attempted to read it beyond the odd paragraph here and there, but you may feel compelled to. Blood pressure raising idiocy seems a generous summary.

  5. What idiots. The guy shows the respect to write in his own hand, not passing it on to some helper: that is good.

    Why do I get the feeling Brown would not be subject to this if he were a public schoolboy from England, instead of a dour Scot?

  6. There would have been something else. “Toff Brown uses posh computer to write letters of condolence. Pen and paper too ‘common’, claims grieving widow”

  7. I skimmed it – I’m trying to avoid blogging the Mail’s most obvious trolling at the moment, but it certainly got me riled up enough to nearly break my resolve.

  8. If any of the opposition gun for this during PMQs tomorrow, I am going to puke in my fireplace. And then set fire to my electoral register papers.

  9. God, no. Don’t do that. Just vote Lib Dem.

    I’m trying to organise a realistic grass roots campaign on their behalf. So far the only slogans I can muster are “Vote LD – vote hung Parliament” and “Vote LD – Vince Cable wears the hats that people aren’t wearing enough of.”

  10. I would like to preface my remarks with the fact that I don’t vote Labour, lest anyone think I’m the party faithful defending Brown. I just think that this is the most disgusting Tabloid crap from Murdoch’s Satanic brood and wants tamped on by all decent people. Whatever faults Brown may have, callousness and lack of compassion does not seem to me, to be among them.

    Gordon Brown is partially sighted and yet is still handwriting letters, presumably because he knows first hand, the pain involved in losing a child.

    I think most people would prefer a handwritten letter and would make allowances for Mr Brown’s disability. How easy it would be to have a standardised letter printed, which Mr Brown could sign – but no – he writes each one himself by hand – out of a sense of duty and respect.
    I think this is the least he should do as it happens – but it’s not the least he could do and that’s an important distinction to make.

    Also – if we wanted proof of a concerted campaign by the Sun, over this – the recording of the telephone conversation is it.
    After all, who the hell has telephone recording equipment kicking around the house? The Sun had to know that Brown was likely to call her personally and hoped to embarrass him. It’s a revolting ‘gotcha’ and this woman will likely feel massively exploited at a later date, when her life has settled down.

    One final point – this woman’s pain and grief is understandable – but her son did not die from lack of helicopters.
    He was picked up and taken to hospital by a helicopter, within an hour.

    She’s entitled to be devastated but she’s not entitled to make things up.

  11. Everything else considered I managed to take some joy from this story. Namely this part of the phone conversation:

    JJ: There was 25 spelling mistakes.
    GB: No there wasn’t.


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