In Brief

Caroline Flack: the repercussions for the media, CPS and Love Island

Media and prosecutors criticised after ‘dogged’ pursuit of television presenter accused of domestic assault

The suicide of TV presenter Caroline Flack has seen questions raised about the role of the tabloid media, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and reality TV in her demise.

British tabloids have faced a barrage of criticism following the death of the former Love Island presenter, who took her own life on Saturday following months of press intrusion.

The 40-year-old had been the victim of intense scrutiny after being charged with assaulting her partner Lewis Burton last year. She was due to stand trial in three weeks.

The CPS has also been criticised for its “dogged” pursuit of Flack, while her death is the third suicide linked to the controversial ITV reality show she previously fronted.

The media

Since allegations of domestic abuse were levelled at Flack in December 2019, she has been the subject of intense media coverage.

The Sun, which led the blanket coverage of the assault allegations against her, has deleted at least one article about the TV host since her death was announced. The tabloid posted a news article as recently as Friday about a Valentine’s Day card mocking the presenter’s alleged assault of her boyfriend, “but that article is no longer available on its website” says Variety.

Channel 4 News says the news of her death “prompted questions about the pressures TV celebrities face from social and traditional media and her management company criticised the Crown Prosecution Service for pursuing assault charges against her”.

“In the raw, shocked aftermath of the news, many on Twitter – high-profile comedians and entertainers such as Jack Whitehall and Carrie Hope Fletcher, media types with dozens of thousands of followers – are pointing their fingers at the trolls and the tabloids,” writes Alice Vincent in The Daily Telegraph.

“It all feels strangely reminiscent of what happened after Amy Winehouse died,” Vincent adds. “How we all flocked to celebrate the woman we had merrily read denigrations of in the press just days and months before.”

Flack’s successor as host of Love Island, Laura Whitmore, hit back at the “paparazzi and tabloids looking for a cheap sell” and “trolls hiding behind a keyboard”.

“To the press, the newspapers, who create clickbait, who demonise and tear down success, we’ve had enough,” she said in an impassioned speech on her weekly BBC Radio 5 live show.

Labour leadership frontrunner Keir Starmer criticised mainstream media outlets for “amplifying” damaging social media posts about Flack, and signalled he would take action to “diversify” the press if he won the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn

Fellow leadership contender Lisa Nandy said social media companies could not be left to police themselves, suggesting the current situation was like the “Wild West”.

A petition on the online campaigning site 38 Degrees, dubbed “Caroline’s Law”, which calls for new laws around media regulation in the wake of the presenter's death, has attracted over 500,000 signatures.

Despite the backlash, “there is little sign that change is on the cards”, says The Guardian.

“Individuals who work at leading British tabloids privately pointed out on Sunday that many of the people now criticising press intrusion into Flack’s life were likely to have been among the millions of readers who had previously rushed to click on articles about the presenter’s arrest in December for allegedly assaulting her boyfriend.”

Reality TV and Love Island

ITV cancelled the scheduled broadcasts of Love Island on Saturday and Sunday but said that the show would return on Monday night with a tribute to its former presenter. 

While it remains a wildly popular show, Love Island “has raised issues about mental health”, says The New York Times.

Two previous contestants died by suicide, Sophie Gradon in 2018 and Mike Thalassitis in 2019. “Their deaths stirred a debate in Britain over the ethics of reality television and the duty that broadcasters have to care for contestants,” says the paper.

As the Daily Mail notes, “the hugely popular money-spinner had already been under intense scrutiny… prompting calls for producers to take more care of its stars”.

Amid growing criticism of the show, and following increased scrutiny after the cancellation of the same network’s The Jeremy Kyle Show, ITV released an updated set of “duty of care” guidelines last May.  

This included a minimum of eight therapy sessions for each Islander on their return home, as well as “proactive contact” from the team for 14 months afterwards. Contestants were also offered “training on dealing with social media” and “advice on finance and adjusting to life back home”.

However, according to the Daily Mail, a source close to Flack said that there was “little to no support” after she was axed from her presenting role on the show.

“She went from hosting one of the most popular shows on TV to being effectively cast out. It was crushing.”

Flack’s suicide coincides with a period during which the reality TV industry is under intense scrutiny. Following its cancellation, The Jeremy Kyle Show was the subject of a parliamentary inquiry into the treatment of reality TV contestants.

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Crown Prosecution Service 

The CPS is also coming under fire, with lawyers accusing it of ignoring its own guidance on mental health in order to pursue Flack as a “high-profile scalp”.

The Daily Telegraph reports that leading lawyers have suggested the CPS “doggedly” pursued Flack on domestic abuse charges and went beyond “satisfying the public interest”.

The CPS defended its decision to pursue the case, despite her partner, Lewis Burton, withdrawing his complaint and asking them to drop the charges. The paper adds that Flack was described as “extremely vulnerable and suffering from mental health issues”.

Flack's management released a statement on Saturday, hours after she was found dead, saying: “The Crown Prosecution Service pursued this when they knew not only how very vulnerable Caroline was but also that the alleged victim did not support the prosecution and had disputed the CPS version of events.

“The CPS should look at themselves today and how they pursued a show trial that was not only without merit but not in the public interest. And ultimately resulted in significant distress to Caroline.”

A CPS spokesperson responded to the criticism by saying: “The role of the CPS in deciding whether to charge an individual with a criminal offence.

“We do not decide whether a person is guilty of a criminal offence – that is for the jury, judge or magistrate – but we must make the key decision of whether a case should be put before a court.”

Sky News reports that the CPS added that the withdrawal of a complaint does not automatically stop the case.

Nazir Afzal, a former chief CPS prosecutor, also defended the decision to pursue the case against Flack, writing on Twitter: “Last year there were 750,000 reports of domestic abuse to police [and] only 75,000 were prosecuted and 75% convicted. There were 120+ domestic homicides, each of these were obviously prosecuted without victims’ evidence.

“It’s to avoid the latter that prosecutors pursue the former… Sometimes you need to protect someone even when they can’t see it themselves.”

If you or a person you’re worried about expresses suicidal feelings, you or they should contact a GP or NHS 111. You can also call the Samaritans free on 116 123 for confidential, 24-hour support, or Mind, the mental health charity, on 0300 123 3393.

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