It is always difficult to blog about a child dying. Gabrielle Price died last month, I understand there’s a small chance that some of Gabrielle’s friends may find this site and I would like to make clear that I mean no disrespect by discussing her tragic death.
What I would like to take aim at is the disgraceful speculation which has followed her death. Most notably, scaremongering in the gutter press, such as The Daily Mail and The Sun and cheap moral populism from papers such as The Telegraph.
From the BBC we know that the events of the night of her death included: the arrest of a 17 year old man and 39 year woman on charges of possessing and supplying drugs; drug taking at a party and the death of a 14 year old girl. Further details emerged that the drugs in question were Mephedrone, a legal high, and Ketamine, a horse tranquilliser.
This is all that was known that this point. However, bastion of investigative reporting that they are, it appears that The Sun found “a neighbour” and The Mail found multiple “neighbours” to come forward to claim that:
[T]he student had taken the clubbers’ drug [mephedrone] – which can be bought legally – mixed with illegal ketamine
Of course following Gabrielle’s death The Daily Mail made it quite clear that “a post-mortem examination had failed to pinpoint the cause of death and that toxicology reports had been ordered to establish what the girl had taken.” Sadly this did not stop their cynical attempts to capitalise on her death.
The Daily Mail helpfully put its idle speculation in speech marks and I am sure this was of much consolation to the girl’s family. Likewise The Sun’s “tasteful” headline was also written with the “best” of intentions.
Of course a subsequent article left little doubt about what The Mail had decided had happened to Gabrielle Price. “Mephedrone menace: The deadly drug that’s cheap, as easy to order as pizza… and totally legal.”
Disgracefully, The Telegraph claimed that “Miss Price’s death is not the first harrowing account of the devastating effect the drug can have.” As reported in The Argus Gabrielle Price died of natural causes so it most certainly is “not the first harrowing account” it is not an account of a drug related death at all.
Teenager Gabi Price – whose death triggered fears over the dangers of ‘legal highs’ – died of natural causes, a coroner has revealed.
A pathologist’s report showed the 14-year-old died of broncho-pneumonia following a streptococcal A infection.
Mephedrone is not a controlled substance but has effects similar to ecstasy and cocaine, it was originally manufactured by a “legal high” company called Neorganics in Israel but was discontinued in 2008 when Israel made Mephedrone illegal. Production has since shifted around the world, with much of it now produced in China. It is available over the internet for as little as £7 a gram, and that includes Royal Mail recorded delivery.
Since Gabrielle’s death interest in the drug has surged as has the incidence of dreadful newspaper articles bemoaning those that take, sell or fail to regulate legal highs.
I certainly do not want to engage in the same proselytising here. While I hope my own views on drugs and drug use have been made clear elsewhere this is neither the time nor the place to advocate one drug policy regime over another.
As Professor Nutt discovered it is difficult to discuss drugs in anything other than the most derisory terms. Our press have meekly followed – as well as helping to create and enforce -this rule in the articles discussed above but in doing so they have descended to out right speculation and evidence free moralising.
What this death offered was a chance to be be honest and nothing more; nobody was forced to write an article with any more detail than that which was put up by the BBC, linked to above. As has become clear Gabrielle’s death was linked to drugs only by proximity and hearsay but this did not stop a string of articles in the quality and gutter press taking advantage of the circumstance of ther death.
I can see at least three reasons why this may have happened. First of all, paper’s staffing levels have dropped significantly while they have maintained a similar word count to a few decades ago. On top of the erosion of fact checking and real investigative journalism, this means that personal tragedies which can be given a wider angle have become essential to creating a full newpaper at the expense of journalistic integrity. See Flat Earth News for more on this.
The angle given to this story, that of the menace of drugs, has become something which is guaranteed to increase sales and hence revenues. Provocation has become one of the most important ways to sell papers. For example, every Express front page has this element, but this stands out for me.
Lastly there is of course the moral certitude of those working and running these papers that means they thought they already knew what had happened before the coroner or Sussex Police. It turns out their “spcualtion” was incorrect yet don’t expect to see correspondingly sized retractions, or any retractions.
My heart goes out to her family – I am truly sorry that her death has became a good way to sell papers and a talking point for illiberal reaction.