A CHARITY worker whose sister and father were murdered in Cookstown 19 years ago, is calling for new regulations to cover the reporting of murder and manslaughter cases in Northern Ireland.
By PATRICIA DEVLIN
Mrs Pam Surphlis MBE, who helped set up the group Support After Murder and Manslaughter Northern Ireland (SAMM NI) in 2006, is also seeking the appointment of a press ombudsman to help families thrust into the media spotlight.
Last week the SAMM NI chair launched a University of Ulster commissioned report, set to form the basis of the charity’s submission to the Leveson Inquiry into culture practice and ethics of the media.
Mrs Surphlis’ father, Rev Eric Davidson and sister Judith, were found murdered in his Cookstown home in 1992. She said she was moved to doing something on the issue after working closely with families across the province who had suffered a smiliar loss as herself of a loved one due to murder or manslaughter.
“I started SAMM NI in 2006 because of the lack of support after the death of my father and sister in 1992.
“I felt that I was sidelined because their deaths weren’t associated with the Troubles. I contacted SAMM in England and started the Northern Ireland group and what I found when I got speaking to families who had lost a loved one through manslaughter or murder was that there were issues about how they were being approached by the press.
Pam continued: “I really didn’t decide to do anything to about two to three years ago when an article went into one of the daily newspapers here in Northern Ireland showing a photo of my father and sister - and it rekindled everything 17 years on from their deaths, and I did not know anything about it.
“I remember ringing the journalist and I am sorry to say that I did lose my temper.
“After coming off the phone I decided that something needed to be done, so I contacted the University of Ulster and asked them if it would be possible to do a piece on our families only.”
University researchers worked with ten families who sought advice from SAMM NI during the compiling of the report. From the research SAMM NI worked together with the families in putting together a code of conduct for the press, and have requested that a regional press ombudsman be appointed.
Mrs Surphlis continued: “During the research period I spoke with a group in the south called Survivors after Homicide, and they told me that in the south there is a code of practice and an ombudsman who investigates complaints against the press.
“If found guilty newspapers must make and apology and print it on the front page, not in the same style that is used here where bit is printed deep within the paper. And that is something that families want to see here.
“I can understand that we are attacking the press, but it only relates to some journalists methods. And actually, we have found that the younger journalists show more sensitivity to families,” said Pam.
“I know last week when we went public with our submission to the Leveson Inquiry we did get a lot of flack because the University of Ulster findings was based on ten families, but in 2010 we only had 52 families with us.
“A lot more families wanted to take part but due to circumstances could not do so at the time.
I was handed this report from the University of Ulster just before the hacking scandal broke and I remember speaking with our patron Mike Nesbitt on what to do with it. Then the Leveson Inquiry was launched and that was then that we took the decision to submit it.
Pam concluded: “The people I represent never wanted to be in the media, never mind because they have just heard a loved one has been killed. They are in shock, some are deeply traumatised, none has experience of dealing with the press. All we are asking is some sensitivity, a recognition that journalists can add to the pain and suffering of victims if they go about their business in the wrong way.”