07:38, May 19 67 0 theguardian.com

2019-05-19 07:38:04
Top lawyer ready to take on Jeremy Kyle Show over guest’s death

The Jeremy Kyle Show could be subjected to detailed scrutiny at the inquest into a participant’s apparent suicide. A lawyer who is representing the family of a teenager who took her own life having viewed self-harm material on social media said she was open to taking the case.

At many inquests bereaved families do not have legal representation because of a lack of legal aid funding. But Merry Varney, a partner at the law firm Leigh Day, said she would be prepared to act for the family of Steve Dymond, who was found dead last week after appearing on Kyle’s show, and that the funding could be found.

Such a move could see ITV and the show’s makers compelled to give a detailed account of the care given to Dymond, who is feared to have taken his life after apparently having felt that he had been humiliated on the show. The 63-year-old had taken a lie detector test that he hoped would prove he had not been unfaithful to his girlfriend, but he failed it. His death triggered the show’s cancellation last week along with a pledge by MPs to launch a formal inquiry into the reality television industry.

Varney, who is representing the family of Molly Russell, who killed herself in 2017 after viewing self-harm material on social media, told the Observer: “Although few details are known about the full circumstances of the sad death of Steve Dymond, the concerns voiced about his known vulnerability and allegations of poor care by the production company highlight the importance of a proper and thorough investigation into his death and the best forum for this, in my view, is the inquest. It is required to take place by law and coroners are required to consider risks to future lives as part of the process.”

Whether Dymond’s family could or would be prepared to fund legal representation is unclear. But Varney said a number of avenues could be explored, including making an application for legal aid, which is normally available only when a death occurs while someone is in the care of the state, such as in a prison.

However, it can also be made available if it can be shown that legal representation is needed to achieve significant wider public benefits. In Molly’s case legal aid was eventually granted because it was felt there were public benefits, given the concerns raised by her family, that images the 14-year-old had viewed on Instagram had played a part in her death.

Varney said a similar argument could be made for legal representation at the inquest into Dymond’s death. She said that a perfunctory, half-day inquest would not suffice and that it would be better to have one capable of delivering a narrative verdict, a considered examination of the factors that played a part in someone’s death.

“I would say a finding purely of suicide, a one-word conclusion, is not sufficient in this case,” Varney said. “I would be taking the view that there is a need to persuade the coroner that they need to look more widely because of the concerns that have been raised about the impact on Steve’s mental health and state of mind.” A lengthy inquest could see ITV and the production company behind The Jeremy Kyle Show compelled to hand over internal emails, text messages and memos.

Much will depend on the coroner’s approach and whether Dymond’s family wants legal representation. Friends say Dymond was left devastated after failing the lie-detector test. He split up with his girlfriend, Jane Callaghan, who has praised the after-care the show gave her former partner. Dymond was estranged from his son, Carl.

“Bereaved families are routinely told lawyers are not needed for inquests and the government’s recent rejection of widespread calls to widen legal aid provision, combined with the variance between coroners, often means inquests do not fulfil the function they should and families do not get the answers or accountability they deserve,” Varney said.

A crowdfunding campaign could be one way to secure legal representation if legal aid is not forthcoming. An alternative would be for ITV to fund the family’s legal representation.

Varney said: “Morally, should they have to? Perhaps. Legally, is there any obligation for them to do so? No.”

Even if the family declined to pursue legal representation, other parties could obtain what is known as interested person status and have a lawyer represent them.

“The class of who can be an interested person includes the catch-all of anyone who the coroner considers has a sufficient interest,” Varney said. “Anyone who can say ‘there are these real concerns, we are aware of them and we want to see change’ can fall inside this definition.”

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