Belfast Telegraph

Buncrana pier tragedy mum Louise's pain after being duped into interview by Irish Mail on Sunday

By Cate McCurry

A Sunday newspaper has apologised to a Derry woman who lost five members of her family after publishing an "interview" without her consent.

Louise James's mother, sister, partner and two little boys perished in the Buncrana pier tragedy.

She was left in further anguish after a journalist posed as a well-wisher to infiltrate the family home.

Last weekend the Irish Mail on Sunday claimed it had secured an exclusive interview with Louise, publishing the story on its front page and inside.

The paper proclaimed in a headline: 'The courage and dignity of Louise James moved us all this week as she buried five members of her family. She speaks to the Irish Mail on Sunday'.

The "interview" and story was spread over pages 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the newspaper.

The report appeared under the byline of Alison O'Reilly, who says she is a journalist with the Sunday paper and has an email address there.

However, heartbroken mother Louise said she never consented to it. She claimed the journalist who wrote the article did not identify herself as a member of the media until much later in the conversation.

The reporter had arrived with her two children, with Louise believing she was a well-wisher.

She was said to have been left "hurt and angry" after unwittingly speaking to the reporter about her loss and grief.

Louise's partner Sean McGrotty (46) died on March 20 alongside eight-year-old Evan and 12-year-old Mark, Ruth Daniels (57) and 14-year-old Jodi-Lee Daniels when their car sank after sliding off the slipway in Co Donegal.

Yesterday the Irish Mail on Sunday printed an apology.

It read: "We wish to make it clear that Louise understood she was speaking to our reporter in a purely private capacity and had not consented to being interviewed. She did not wish to give interviews to any media outlets."

It added: "We are happy to make this clear and to apologise to Louise and her family for any upset caused."

However, the interview also ran in the national edition of the Mail on Sunday last week, but it did not carry the apology, despite the "interview" taking place in the UK.

Family priest Fr Paddy O'Kane told the Belfast Telegraph he believed the woman may have claimed she was visiting from the Dublin area.

Fr O'Kane said: "She (Louise) felt very hurt, she could not believe the journalist could stoop so low. She was angry and hurt by it.

"The woman came to her home with two young children and pretended she was also a mother and wanted her children to meet her daughter.

"She went into her home and talked with Louise. Then she began asking for photographs of her children with Rioghnach-Ann (the infant who survived).

"But they are such nice people that they didn't tell her to get out of the house. They just told her they had to leave the house as they had something to do.

"As if she doesn't have enough to go through, then she has this to deal with.

"It calls into question the ethics of journalism.

"She has had to deal with some journalists whose work has been done in very bad taste. I could not get over the extent of what some of them would do. Some were hiding then taking photos of family members, and others were taking photos through the kitchen window.

"She is relying on her faith."

It is understood the family may lodge a complaint with the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso).

Under the harassment clause, it states that a reporter must identify themselves when asked: "They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave, and must not follow them.

"If requested, they must... identify themselves and whom they represent."

Ipso also enforces the Editors' Code of Practice, which states: "In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively."

It also states: "Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means."

The National Union of Journalists' code of conduct states a journalist should do "nothing to intrude into anybody's private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest".

Belfast Telegraph


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