The late Stephen Gately

Britain’s press watchdog has rejected complaints about Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir’s offensive article dealing with the death of singer Stephen Gately.

Moir’s October 2009 column was headlined “A strange, lonely and troubling death” and was published online under the title of “Why there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death”.

An autopsy later found that Gately died from natural causes related to an undiagnosed heart condition.

She also described the circumstances around his death as “more than a little sleazy” and questioned the “happy-ever-after myth of gay civil partnerships”.

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) received 25,000 complaints from the public, as well as a formal complaint by Gately’s partner, Andrew Cowles.

Despite the record number of complaints the PCC said that freedom of speech was its primary consideration and that “it should be slow to prevent columnists from expressing their views, however controversial they may be”.

“This was a difficult but important case for the Commission to deal with,” commented PCC Director Stephen Abell.

“In the end, the Commission, while not shying away from recognising the flaws in the article, has judged that it would not be proportionate to rule against the columnist’s right to offer freely-expressed views about something that was the focus of public attention,” he said.

British gay rights group Stonewall said that “the decision of the Press Complaints Commission is a sad outcome,” adding that it “would hesitate to send any lesbian or gay person towards the PCC with any confidence they would uphold their complaint”.

In November last year, Moir was named Bigot of the Year at the annual Stonewall Awards.

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell also expressed his anger at the PCC’s ruling, saying that it is adopting “double standards on homophobia”.

“If Jan Moir had made similar comments about a black or Jewish person, and disparaged their race and community, the PCC would have ruled against her,” Tatchell suggested. “She may well have been arrested and charged with inciting racial hatred.”

He further called for the commission to be disbanded and that a new press regulator “with principles and teeth” be set up.

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