REPORTING on inquests is one of the most difficult jobs faced by any journalist, but there are important reasons why local newspapers attend coroner’s court hearings and report on proceedings.

Reporters are acutely aware that they are often dealing with people at a deeply distressing time and that finding a balance between sensitivity and accurate reporting is essential.

As a local newspaper it is our job to report inquest proceedings fairly, accurately and comprehensively as they are hearings held in public.

These are always a report of what was said at the inquest and as such can seem quite cold and clinical.

At no point does a reporter wish to upset or distress anyone – particularly members of the deceased’s family. However, local newspapers have a duty to report difficult subjects and we cannot shrink from our responsibility to report such hearings and nor can we censor what we publish.

What is an inquest?

An inquest will be held regarding sudden, unexplained or suspicious deaths.

Inquests determine how a person died and ensure that lessons can be learned.

Except in exceptional circumstance, inquests are always held in open court, meaning any member of the public or press can attend.

The Coroner’s Court Support Service website says: “An inquest is to determine how, when and where someone has died, but not why.

“It is an investigation to ascertain the facts concerning a death and does not apportion blame on any individual.”

Why do we report on them?

There are three main reasons why it is important to cover an inquest.

For justice to be done, it must be seen to be done - in this regard a coroner's court is no different to any other court of law.

Reporters have a duty to ensure that hearings are a matter of public record.

The aim of this is to ensure that all cases are treated fairly and with respect.

It is important to understand that newspapers do not pass judgement, we simply report what has happened.

Secondly, an inquest will often bring up topics that require examination.

There is a public interest in reporting inquests to ensure that lessons can be learned so that others can avoid the same fate.

The independent press standards organisation (IPSO) gives advice for journalists reporting on inquests, it says: “Newspapers might report on inquests for a number of reasons – to make sure that the public understands how and why a person has died; to draw attention to the circumstances of a death, in the hope that this will prevent other such deaths in the future; or to clear up any suspicions about a person’s death.”

Thirdly, there is a public interest in making clear the circumstance surrounding a person's death.

IPSO says: “There is a public interest in the reporting of inquests, which are public events in any case. In reporting an inquest, a journalist may clear up any rumours or suspicion about the death.

“They may also draw attention to circumstances which may lead to further deaths or injuries if no preventative action is taken.”