Exploiting one tragic prison suicide to fake a crisis. Yes, it’s Reporting Scotland again.


Reporting Scotland today at 1.30pm

‘The family of a young woman who took her own life in a young offenders’ institution has called for the Scottish Prison Service to be prosecuted. Her parents say 82 prisoners killed themselves in the last ten years and the rate of suicides is increasing.’

This is not news by any stretch of the imagination. Either the parents have contacted the media, or the media have contacted them. Nothing has actually happened to be reported as news. Using this single case of trauma to then supposedly lead into a wider crisis in the SPS, using utterly unreliable data and carefully attributing it to the parents, is scandalous churnalism.

Why did Reporting Scotland, a well-funded state broadcaster with a royal charter requiring it to inform and to avoid reliance on single sources (see below) unless they are particularly authoritative, not access easily available official statistics?

It took me ten minutes. Here are the official data

Official SPS Suicides Data

Year                             Suicides Determined

  • 2009                            6
  • 2010                            10
  • 2011                            6
  • 2012                            8
  • 2013                            7
  • 2014                            6
  • 2015                            4
  • 2016                            9
  • 2017                            4
  • 2018                            All awaiting determination
  • 2019                            All awaiting determination



There were 60 confirmed cases of suicide in Scottish prisons in the period 2009 to 2018. The rate is clearly NOT increasing. Indeed, you could say it has fallen since 2010.

BBC Guidelines:


We should try to witness events and gather information first hand.  Where this is not possible, we should talk to first hand sources and, where necessary, corroborate their evidence.  We should be reluctant to rely on a single source.  If we do rely on a single source, a named on-the-record source is always preferable.


I’ll put in a complaint, sigh.



10 thoughts on “Exploiting one tragic prison suicide to fake a crisis. Yes, it’s Reporting Scotland again.

  1. Alasdair Macdonald April 2, 2019 / 4:51 pm

    Yes, this is, indeed, exploitative. It is possible that the distraught parents have contacted the BBC. While the staff would like to be humanely sympathetic regarding the tragedy, they also have a duty to provide the kind of accurate contextual data which you accessed very easily. This suggests laziness, poor journalism or, more cynically opportunistically attackig a public service.

    I worked out 3, 4 and 5 year rolling averages using your data. These all indicated a gradual REDUCTION in the numbers over the period. This conclusion is most likely not statistically significant, but it does not merit a claim of INCREASING.

    We would need data on the number of prisoners to provide a fuller context.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Alasdair Macdonald April 2, 2019 / 7:44 pm

        This particular case, as every one is in their own ways, is a genuine tragedy. The young woman found it impossible to cope with the consequences of her actions. There was no malice or intent on her part but as a result of her impaired judgement another young person died. This young an’s parents would probably like stronger action against driving while under the influence of drink or drugs.

        The complexity and near impossibility of resolving the competing demands require this to be dealt with sensitively and by seeking to set a tone where the issues can be teased out and, I hope a better way worked out, but I think it would take a combination of Solomon, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela to scratch the surface.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. gavin April 2, 2019 / 6:04 pm

    This hearse/ambulance chasing is their modus operandi. Find a tragedy and push it as a norm—without UK- wide context ( a repeated BBC Trust complaint), and no proper perspective—so declining figures are claimed as the opposite.

    Hard cases make bad law. Reporting Scotland makes bad journalism.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Legerwood April 2, 2019 / 8:06 pm

    There is sympathy for the family but the language the parents used – genocide, death penalty – was way over the top. Language that certainly damned those in charge of the prisons and was quite unnecessarily emotive..

    The report offered no context eg situation elsewhere. This article from the Guardian in November 2018 gives some context. Within the article there is a breakdown by age


    Liked by 1 person

  4. heisker April 3, 2019 / 2:14 pm


    It is so weird that similar tragic episodes within public services in Wales (or England or NI) are very rarely politicised by the BBC. You can imagine how today’s tragic story above would be treated by RS ……….

    Liked by 1 person

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