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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Wednesday 27th February 2013

The death of any young person is a tragedy for their friends and family and, when that young person is a celebrity of any degree, the media attention resulting from the death can only add to the distress.

Without wishing to add my own, albeit tiny, contribution to that distress the way the media reported the inquest into the death of the cricketer, Tom Maynard, demonstrates, once again, how prejudice trumps fact in these sorts of stories.

These are the facts as presented to the inquest. Maynard was seen driving erratically by police and when pursued abandoned his car and was found, later, dead on a railway line. The post mortem examination revealed him to have been drinking very heavily, well over the level at which driving becomes an offence. The presence of the cocaethylene metabolite suggests he had also used cocaine at the same time and he had a small amount of MDMA, ecstasy, in his system. Based on examination of his hair, it was suggested that he was a regular cocaine user.

Use of cocaine or MDMA is not an offence. Possession is an offence and for that to be prosecuted, the police have to find the substances in the accused’s clothing or vehicle. None of the reports I have seen suggest that any drugs were found so the only reason for Maynard to flee was fear of arrest for driving while drunk. It was that flight that led to his accidental death, in the view of the inquest.

Clearly, the most significant substance in this tragedy was alcohol. If Maynard had not been drinking he would not have come to the notice of the police and if driving when substantially over the legal limit was not a very serious matter, Maynard need not have fled.

So, that being so, how did the media report the matter?

To be fair, all the reports I read did include references to alcohol though there was some confusion over how much he had drunk. I assume the inquest was given the scientific measure of so many milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. In medialand, alcohol is measures in ‘times the legal limit’. I suspect that it was slips with the calculator that led some reports to say he was ‘nearly three times over’ rather than the ‘four times the legal limit’ appearing in most.

Given that the reports did not ignore the drinking, I’ll stick to looking at how the stories were headlined. Save for the last, there is no order in these.

The Independent went with;

‘Tom Maynard was 'habitual cocaine user', batsman's inquest hears’

The Guardian had;

‘Cricketer who died on railway line was high on drugs and alcohol, inquest told’

Before adding a follow-up piece focussing on the drugs;

'Cricketers to be drug-tested more in light of Tom Maynard's death'

The Evening Standard started well by headlining its news story;

Cricketer Tom Maynard, high on drink and drugs, was killed accidentally, jury decides

But, once it had time to think about it, it added a follow-up headlined;

'Cricketer Tom Maynard had taken cocaine and ecstasy when he died on Tube tracks while fleeing police'

Sky News kept it short with;

'Tom Maynard: Inquest Verdict 'Accidental Death''

And added the sub-head;

'An inquest returns a verdict of accidental death for Tom Maynard, who was high on cocaine and ecstasy when he died.'

The BBC seems to have left it to its regions to deal with the story so, on the basis that Maynard was born in Cardiff, BBC Wales went with;

'Tom Maynard: Train death cricketer 'took drugs''

And BBC London, where the death occurred, had;

'Train death cricketer Tom Maynard was high on drugs'

The Telegraph had this while the inquest was still in progress;

'Tom Maynard inquest: cricketer consistently took cocaine and MDMA in months before death'

And this, after the verdict;

'Tom Maynard inquest coroner wants hair samples used in drug testing after jury returns accidental death verdict'

The Sun kept it short with;

'Tube death cricket ace ‘took coke every day’'

Mail Online managed to include both aspects of the story but succeeded in making the drinking a ‘by the way’ with its headline;

'Cricket star killed on rail track took cocaine every day: Batsman also four times over drink-drive limit'

Only the Mirror got the balance right with its;

'Cricketer was drunk and had cocaine and ecstasy in system when he died running from police'

The response from the English Cricket Board was to issue a statement   about drug use and drug testing with no mention whatever of alcohol.

As I explained earlier, Tom Maynard died because of alcohol. He may or may not have been a problematic drug user but that is not why he is dead. Reading the headlines, however, you would be hard-pressed to get that core point.

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