We have seen a number of reports dealing with the sad story of a young father called Christopher Brown who took his own life by hanging. The reports follow a Coroner’s Inquest into the death and most have similar copy which suggest they are based upon a single syndicated news report.

Whilst, as far as we can tell, there is nothing inaccurate in the main reports, the headlines that the various publications have run with are quite varied – but they all share similar themes :

The battle is bitter, the child is taken away, the father is heartbroken and kills himself.

The reports all repeat the views of the deceased’s family, probably quoting from their evidence to the Coroner, and they set out some of Mr Brown’s own view of things by quoting from his suicide note. None of the reports we’ve seen link to or give details of earlier reports of the background to Mr Brown’s restricted contact to his daughter and his previous convictions or conduct. There is no objective information about why Mr Brown’s contact was restricted, only his view that he was not being allowed ‘proper’ contact. The combined effect arising from the headlines and the selection of quotes from distraught family members is to elicit sympathy for Mr Brown and his family, and implicitly to give an impression that something not just tragic but also unjust has happened that has contributed to or caused the tragedy.

Typically, the headlines use link words such as ‘during’ or ‘after’ which suggest but don’t state a causal connection between the suicide and the move away or the ‘custody battle’. This is a technique we often see in headlines which can mislead readers but leave newspapers with a ‘get out of jail free’ card, because they didn’t actually say anything inaccurate.

A little digging produces these news reports from some years ago, which give a broader context :

This article from 2014 in the Blackpool Gazette explains that Mr Brown had been made the subject of a two year supervision and restraining order because, shortly after separating from the mother of the child (from the dates probably shortly before or after her birth), he had lunged at someone in the mother’s house with a knife, smashed up items with a crowbar and tried to kiss the mother against her will – resulting in a raft of convictions and the restraining order.

This article from the same newspaper only a month later explains that Mr Brown had immediately breached the order, resulting in a fine.

That order must have been extended or replaced with a similar order at some point after its original planned expiry in late 2016, because the recent reports have Mr Brown allegedly breaching the ‘protection and harassment’ order* in February 2018. Whilst we don’t have details, that subsequent order is likely only to have been put in place because of some further incident(s) of harassing behaviour. Mr Brown never stood trial for the February 2018 alleged breach because he took his own life. We know that in October 2017 Mr Brown went to the family court, probably because he was being refused contact, or wasn’t getting to see his daughter as often as he thought he should – or possibly in response to the move further afield. We know that the contact was supervised by Mr Brown’s mum, which is an indication that either the mother or the family court (or both) had taken the view that there was a need for supervision, possibly in light of the longstanding mental health problems reported by the Coroner.

There is little more to be gleaned from publicly available information but what is clear that none of the newspapers that ran these reports have considered it necessary to make clear to their readers that although this was a tragic case of a desperate and unwell father – and a child who has now lost her daddy – there was a broader context to why his relationship with his daughter was so restricted.

What we can’t say is whether the mother moved out of vindictiveness, for practical reasons (for example for work or support of family), or for the safety and security of herself and her child. Many readers seem to have assumed the former.

There is no direct criticism of the mother or the Family Court in any of the news items we’ve seen, but that really isn’t the point. The pieces were unbalanced by what they left unsaid, and have led many readers to make such criticisms, suggesting that the mother was using the child as a weapon, that the family courts are a ** disgrace and that men are marginalised cannon fodder. See for example the comments on this tweet.

As many have commented in support of their view that this represents a disgraceful failure on the part of the mother or the court, this little girl will read these reports one day. And those who are condemning her mother without proper evidence are doing her no favours.

On a more positive note, it is encouraging to see that most of the reports include the contact details for Samaritans in a prominent place. Male mental ill health and the need to enable men to talk about it and for society to take it seriously are newsworthy topics indeed and we need more of that – as long as the reporting is fair and balanced.

NEED SUPPORT?

For confidential emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

*this probably means a non-molestation order but little turns on the label.

Thanks to @cccburysted who located the earlier news reports before we’d managed to search.