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The press and impossibility of legal highs

3:46 pm - January 27th 2010

by Guest    

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contribution by Left Outside

Last year a girl died following allegedly consuming a mixture of Ketamine and Mephedrone.

A following coroner’s report established that there were no drugs in her system and that she died of broncho-pneumonia following a streptococcal A infection.

The reporting of this at the time should have been described as scandalously irresponsible by any sensible definition of the term.

Both the Daily Mail and The Sun led with the above “dishonest” headlines. Even the supposedly respectable The Telegraph claimed that “Miss Price’s death is not the first harrowing account of the devastating effect the drug can have.”

The Telegraph come closest to the truth here, but only because the coroner’s investigation revealed that Gabrielle Price’s death wasn’t the result of the drug at all.

None of the above provided a reliable source for the accusation she had been taking the drugs but they ran the story anyway.

At the time I speculated that this poor reporting was down to something other than malice or propaganda. But this weekend’s papers have caused me to reconsider my position.

The Telegraph reports that Children as young as 12 are turning up at school under the influence of a “legal high” drug, teachers and health workers have warned just as The Mail reports that the death of Ben Walters at a house party in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire was the latest tragedy to be linked to the drug.

The two strands were then later combined into this story from The Daily Mail Legal but lethal: The drug snorted by school kids which is sweeping Britain.

All three stories reference Gabrielle Price’s death [1] despite it having been made clear she did not die as a result of taking the drugs discussed.

The primary source for this weekend’s stories is an article in the Times Education Supplement quoting extensively from Jeff Bower. He is Headteacher of Ben Walter’s school and has called for the drug to be made illegal.

Unfortunately for Mr Bower’s credibility he also uses the death of Gabrielle Price to back up this demand. As cited above, the coroner’s report does not back up this assertion.

The worrying inaccuracies continue. One of the prominent sources for the alleged drug taking of Ben Walters is a college friend of Ben’s who describes the drug taken.

Nobody thinks it’s dangerous because it’s legal. It’s a substitute for heroin but you can get it over the internet

The drug described is Methadone, not Mephedrone. Methedone is a substance which recovering heroin addicts take to wean themselves of the dangerous opiate, it is not related to Mephedrone.

I do not doubt for a second that she had the best of intentions but the inaccurate information given by her has been repeated unchallenged by the papers above. In an area where accuracy is paramount the reporting of this death poses more questions than it provides answers.

The efforts of The Telegraph, The Sun, The Mail, The Times Educational Supplement, Mr Bower and many others make a rational discussion of the use and abuse of Mephedrone impossible.

Drugs affect everyone’s lives either directly or indirectly and it is important that they are discussed honestly. Lies, smears and misreporting are not the way to go about it, but it is what we have become used to.

[1] In the last story she is referred to as Gabrielle Wood, I am not aware if she went under both names of if this is a further example of the Mail’s lax editorial standards.
[2] No clarification on the true circumstances of Gabrielle Price’s death has been issued by any of the papers discussed above.
[3] I have not checked all the print editions since but there has been no clarification online.
[4] In fact as they’ve made clear in their latest articles, they are still linking her death directly to Mephedrone in contradiction to the coroner’s own report.

First posted at the Left Outside blog

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Reader comments

Very good work. One thing that makes this site worth visiting is the fact checking of shock media stories, especially ones that appear to have no basis in fact.

There is a very good argument for not believing anything that has references (at least when the IPCC get things wrong, we can track this down through the bibliography).

2. astateofdenmark

Sensible debate on drug that is taken for fun? Not very likely I’m afraid. Mephedrone has already been banned in a number of european countries, who don’t even have the Mail, so I expect we’ll be up soon for a ban.

@2 Too true. I concluded the slightly longer original:

We need to know how dangerous Mephedrone is, but we do not, and it is becoming progressively more difficult to find out. I think it is inevitable that this drug it is going to be made illegal but also inevitable that this will only lead to it be replaced by another legal high.

How dangerous this replacement will be will again elude us, until it is replaced in turn and fades from view. It is no way to protect young people and it is certainly no way to treat grown adults, yet our press and politicians seem to think they are entitled or obliged to obscure even the most important of topics.

@1 That missive at the IPCC is worrying off topic, but I’ll let it slide as the rest of your comment is largely complimentary. The referencing point is rather important, on the web I don’t believe shit if its not linked to

But in print I am meant to take it all as gospel without reference, and when that print is put on the web, even though it takes no more than minutes to add links, I’m still meant to. Pah.

Yet another example of our newspapers telling out and out lies.

Sad thing is that they’re considering charging for this type of piss poor reporting. Is it just me that feels the quality of investigative journalism is sometimes better in the blogosphere?

@6 It can be, Unity springs to mind of course. But, this post certainly doesn’t represent investigative journalism.

I heard about Gabrielle Price and noticed no one had “confirmed” anything and I thought I’d find out a little more.

I typed “Gabrielle Price” in to google and set up an alert. After one week or so I got an e-mail with a link to the Brighton Argus article above quoting the findings of the coroner.

Anyone interested could have done this. If a journalist were planning to write on it you certainly would do this, if you had any integrity.

this Daily Mail report:



“In November it was linked the death of 14-year-old Gabrielle Wood, from Worthing, West Sussex, although a post mortem gave the official cause of death as cardiac arrest and bronchopneumonia.

The Home Office said tests on Gabrielle Wood had revealed several substances in her body, including mephedrone.”

This seems to contradict previous reporting re police statements (mentioned in the Guardian) and coroners report as mentioned in the Argus and elsewhere.

Any details on this? Is there some home office info not made available or is this a Mail mistake?

right – just checked with the Home Office and they claim to have never said any such thing – which means that the Mail would appear to be guilty of multi-tiered misreporting.

Thanks Steve. I was wondering how the hell the Argus would have missed something major, like drugs being in their body.

The reporting on mephedrone is such that any ommission can speak volumes.

The Mail have yet again proved they can sink lower in my opinons.

I think a polite letter to Paul Dacre is in order…

I’m going to blog on this – hopefully tonight.Thanks for your excellent ground work

Mephedrone is not an opiate, it is a brother of the amphetamine family like MDMA. ‘Mephedone’ is the opiate that is a substiute for heroin.
Both are legal but very different. Mephedrone is what the article is in reference too even though referenced the wrong drug.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  2. Chris Coltrane

    Sterling fact-checking on our newspaper's constant lies about this "new party drug". http://bit.ly/9jtM2n

  3. Left Outside

    RT @libcon: The press and impossibility of legal highs http://bit.ly/aouclg

  4. Elizabeth Fellowes

    RT @chris_coltrane: Sterling fact-checking on our newspaper's constant lies about this "new party drug". http://bit.ly/9jtM2n

  5. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

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  7. Miffed Letter: re “Fife woman dies after taking ‘bubbles’” « SarahMcCulloch.com

    […] about the media frenzy on mephedrone and how it’s factually dodgy: “The press and impossibility of legal highs“. Keep watching the press on this issue. SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Miffed Letter: re […]

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