Sometimes people find it helpful to get involved in a campaign about the circumstances of their relative’s death. Some people find it helps them to help others going through the same experience. Others want to campaign for changes to prevent similar deaths happening in the future.
Some of the most powerful voices for change are those of the people most directly affected by a death. It is important that you feel comfortable with whatever you decide to do, and that you don’t feel under pressure to do anything you don’t want to. Not everyone wants to be involved in a campaign or to be in the public eye. It might instead be a comfort to know that INQUEST or other organisations will raise the issues arising out of the death or your experiences of the inquest system more generally on your behalf.
Campaigning can mean meeting your MP and/or local councillor, talking to the media or taking more direct action. INQUEST does not run individual campaigns for families, but can give support and advice to families who do. Casework informs our policy, research and campaigning work and the organisation tries to ensure that the collective experiences of families are central to its work for changes to the inquest and investigation process and for greater state and corporate accountability. INQUEST supports families to present their cases directly to parliamentarians and policy makers.
INQUEST’s website has a page for family campaigns as well as other information about some of the more general campaigns that INQUEST is involved in. You may be able to find information on the website that will help you in what you are doing or link you to these other campaigns.
What should I do if I want to campaign about my relative’s death?
There are many ways to campaign. It is always sensible to talk to your lawyer, particularly if you want to take any action before the inquest. You must be careful not to make allegations about the circumstances of the death or about anyone involved with the death that others involved might disagree with before the inquest. You should be careful about giving out personal information about your relative during a campaign. Any of these things could have a negative effect on what happens at the inquest or in any other legal proceedings.
Some family campaigns have set up their own websites or use other facilities on the internet. You could look at how they have done this and consider setting up your own. It is also a good way of making contact with people who might be willing to support you or who have had similar experiences.
Can I speak to the press before, during or after the inquest?
Yes, but be careful about what you say and when you say it. For many families it can help to speak to the media about the death, but you must be aware that they will not always be sensitive or sympathetic, and they may not understand your concerns or even agree that they are important. Despite all this, speaking to the media can still sometimes be a very important way for families to raise their concerns.
Can my MP help?
Sometimes MPs can be very helpful, and they may help you raise the profile of what has happened in the local press. They can sometimes raise concerns in parliament or with other politicians or ministers and they may be able to help you to meet other people with influence or power. So it can help to contact your MP.
Of course not every MP will be able or willing to help you. If you would like to know more about your MP, it is worth reading about them on www.theyworkforyou.com. This is a website which can help you identify who your MP is, what their interests are, how they vote in parliament and what committees they sit on. If different members of your family live in different constituencies you might want to think about which MP is likely to be more sympathetic to your concerns.
Dealing with the media
When there is a sudden or controversial death there is often media interest of some sort. Their interest will depend on the nature of the death and what else is going on in the news at the time.
In many cases there will be interest from the local press immediately after a death. Local papers will often report a controversial death, such as a death in custody or workplace death, even if it is only a brief paragraph, but there is no guarantee that they will keep reporting on what happens over time. The national media is much less likely to report a sudden death, unless there is something particularly controversial or unusual about what has happened. You should be prepared for the possibility that there may be no interest from the media, even though you may feel it should really be of interest to them.
Sometimes families can feel hounded by journalists and it is a good idea to get advice before speaking to them. If you have a solicitor, or are being supported by INQUEST, they may be able to help protect you from journalists if you do not want to talk to them at certain times.
Because an inquest is a public hearing, it is not possible to prevent journalists from attending and reporting on what happens. This can often be distressing because private details about the person who has died may be revealed during the inquest. Things may be said by witnesses attempting to damage the character of the deceased and these can be reported, even though they may be unfair. This is why it can be a good idea to put out a press release before the inquest. That way you can include details about the deceased which you want the public to know and have more chance of getting journalists to see the things that you know are important. If you think the media might be interested in the inquest, it can also be a good idea to have a prepared statement to read out at the end of an inquest.
INQUEST advises families to say only very general things before the inquest about the circumstances of the death and any concerns or questions you have. You may be convinced that something has happened which later turns out not to be true or you may say things in anger or hurt that you will later regret. Sometimes the media can be very helpful and will investigate and raise concerns about the circumstances of a death. It is often a good thing to work with organisations like INQUEST who have experience of working with a lot of journalists to try to get sympathetic press interest for coverage of the inquest.
A word of caution though: for every family who loses someone in contentious circumstances it is the worst event that has probably ever happened to them, but the media do not view things in the same way. Whilst sometimes they are interested in the death, often they will not cover it unless there is a new problem or a particularly dreadful circumstance. They will also often cover the news of the inquest but not explore in a more considered way the issues that arise. You may meet sympathetic journalists who are genuinely interested but cannot convince their editors to take up the story. There is no guarantee that because a journalist interviews you that their newspaper will print it or the television or radio will broadcast it.
Sometimes a journalist may offer you a fee to run a story about your situation – be very careful and think hard about whether this is a good idea. If you are being offered money, there is a real possibility that the magazine, newspaper, etc, is much more interested in entertaining than in serious reporting and you may feel unhappy with the final version. They may also want you to sign a contract, for example preventing you from talking to other journalists, which may not be a good thing.
Campaigning can be a powerful way to achieve something positive after a sudden death. But you also need to be prepared that it can be time consuming and take over more of your life than you had expected. It is important to think about the impact it will have on you and your family and to feel able to stop when you think you have done as much as you can cope with.