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Gately column complaint not upheld

Dancing on Ice 2007

The press watchdog has decided not to uphold a complaint about a newspaper comment piece on the death last year of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately.

The Irish star's civil partner Andrew Cowles complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) about Jan Moir's article in the Daily Mail.

The PCC received a record 25,000 complaints about the article, which was perceived by many to be homophobic.

The Crown Prosecution Service has ruled the article did not break the law.

Gately died of natural causes at his holiday home on the Spanish island of Majorca on 10 October last year.

Ms Moir's article was published the day before the gay singer's funeral. It discussed his lifestyle and suggested the cause of his death had not been natural.

Ms Moir said Gately's death struck a blow to the "happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships".

She has expressed regret over her column but has denied there were homophobic undertones.

The singer's civil partner complained that the article - and a follow-up - were inaccurate, intrusive at a time of grief, and discriminatory.

The column also prompted a furious reaction on the micro-blogging site Twitter, leading to thousands of complaints to the press watchdog.

The PCC said it could "fully understand" why Mr Cowles and thousands of others had been upset by the article.

It recognised there were flaws in the article but the price of freedom of expression was that columnists said things which other people might find offensive or inappropriate.

It said Ms Moir had been right to apologise to the family for the "ill-timed nature of the article", and the newspaper had to accept responsibility for the distress it had caused.

PCC director Stephen Abell said it was a "difficult but important" case for the commission to deal with.

"The article clearly caused distress to Mr Cowles, as well as many others, and this was regrettable," he added.

Andrew Gilliver, from the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, said he was not surprised but disappointed by the ruling.

"What's really important about this is the public have said we don't like this, we're not happy with reading this kind of stuff, it isn't what we want to read about people," he said.

The column, headed A Strange, Lonely and Troubling Death, led to two complaints to the Metropolitan Police who passed them on to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

It found the article caused some offence but there was insufficient evidence it breached the law.

Tony Connell, CPS London complex casework lawyer, said: "In coming to this conclusion I have paid particular attention to Article 10 of the Human Rights Act which protects individuals' freedom of expression.

"It is an established legal principle that this freedom applies equally to information and ideas that are favourably received as to those which offend, shock and disturb.

"Though the complainants and many others found this article offensive, this does not make its publication unlawful."

 

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