ECU Ruling: Great Lives, BBC Radio 4, 2 February 2010

Complaint

The subject of the programme was the biologist WD Hamilton. During the programme, the invited expert (who was also a sister of his) attributed his death to complications arising from malaria (contracted because he believed he had acquired immunity to the disease, and consequently did not take anti-malarial medication during what proved to be his final expedition). Another sister complained that this was inaccurate, citing the Coroner's finding that the cause of death was "Multi-organ failure due to upper gastrointestinal haemorrhage due to a duodenal diverticulum and arterial bleed through a mucosal ulcer".

Outcome

The programme-makers made due efforts to verify a claim which, as far as they were aware, was uncontroversial. They consulted a number of reference sources and contemporaneous obituaries, which appeared to confirm that WD Hamilton's death was due to malaria or malarial complications, and the ECU's investigation established that he had indeed contracted malaria during his final expedition. However, the ECU also established that the conclusions of the pathologist who conducted the post mortem were as stated in the Coroner's finding. The pathologist had suggested the possibility that the ulceration and consequent haemorrhage had resulted from a pill (which might have been taken because of malarial symptoms) lodging in the diverticulum; but, even if this suggestion were correct, the link between malaria and the observed causes of death would be entirely indirect.
Partly upheld

Further action

The programme will not be repeated in its present form. The finding was discussed at meetings attended by Radio Network Controllers, Executive Producers and Editors, and the programme-makers themselves.

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