Wednesday, 23 December 2009

It's that dastardly Human Rights Act again!

Shocking news in the Sun - a Premier League football manager has been caught visiting a brothel! It isn't the amazingly banal story we're interested in though, but the paper's claim as to why it can't name him:

Creeping privacy laws in the UK, based on the Human Rights Act, mean we are barred from naming him.

A nice try, but no. I might end up eating my words, but my guess at what's happened here, based so far on how there seems to be no specific news from other sites, no postings of rulings on bailii or boasts about representation on the usual media law firms sites, is that the Sun has been given an injunction barring it from naming the man until a full hearing has been heard, something which has been standard for years and has nothing to do with the HRA as yet. Indeed, yours truly was given an injunction back in 2006 by the lawyers of News of the World hack Mazher Mahmood for the heinous crime of posting photographs of the man over on my main blog. Also key here is that the Sun has not received a so-called "super injunction" like that which the Guardian did in the Trafigura case which prevents the paper from even mentioning the fact that it has been gagged.

Still, always worth a go blaming the Human Rights Act. That Times Newspapers (prop. R Murdoch) were one of the first to use the newly passed HRA to try and get out of a libel payment is neither here nor there, OK?

Monday, 21 December 2009

This man deserved brain damage.

Every single time there's a "controversial" case of someone attacking a burglar or a criminal, almost always when said intruder has been fleeing the scene, as now in the Munir Hussain jailing, or previously and most notoriously when it came to Tony Martin, either the government or the opposition review the law of "reasonable force" or promise they'll change it, only to later quietly drop it or decide not to because the law as it stands is perfectly adequate. Every single time the tabloids and the occasional broadsheet get on their high horses and complain bitterly, often invoking that an "Englishman's home is his castle", and that in said castle said Englishman should be allowed to rip the intruder's head off and spit down the hole and receive a medal for removing from the gene pool such a disgusting piece of human filth. Every single time said tabloid and broadsheet also quietly drop it.

I'm not sure though that any publication has gone so far in the past to say that either the deceased or injured person deserved the treatment they received. The Sun however thinks this is exactly what Walid Salem needed:

It was never better exposed than by the scandalous jailing of Munir Hussain for chasing and battering a burglar who had tied up and terrorised his family at knifepoint.

How many fathers brave enough, strong enough and angry enough would have held back?

Career criminal Walid Salem richly deserved his beating.

The Tories are proposing that only "grossly disproportionate" behaviour towards someone should result in their being prosecuted (as David Cameron suggested as long back as 2005, only for it to be quietly put at least on the back-burner). Isn't chasing a burglar who is fleeing and then adminstering a beating so severe that the person attacked suffers brain damage "grossly disproportionate"? Not according to the Sun. It was however according to a jury, who heard all the mitigating circumstances involving the case and how Salem had threatened to kill Hussain's family, yet still felt that the attack on Salem justified a conviction for grievous bodily harm with intent. This isn't just a case of a liberal namby-pamby politically correct judge deciding that Hussain's crime was serious enough to warrant a relatively light in the circumstances 30 months in prison, of which Hussain will probably only serve a third, but of a jury of members of the public, among them doubtless Sun readers, who felt that it warranted a conviction. True, they didn't decide on the sentence, but 30 months is hardly the harshest sentence which could have been passed. Salem also didn't "walk free" from court, as the Sun has it: he was given a two year suspended sentence for the very reason, as the judge pointed out, that he couldn't adequately plead as a result of his injuries. Otherwise he would received a substantial custodial sentence himself.

As Catherine Bennett asked on Sunday, what sort of society is it that praises vigilantes with cricket bats and iron bars? Ours, of course. The self-same newspaper (and indeed tabloid media as whole) that regards yobs that use violence on the slightest of whims as the scum of the earth turns to the other side when it's a beating that was, in the Sun's terms, deserved. The judge, about the only person who comes out of this with any credit, noted exactly what would happen after his verdict:

"It may be that some members of the public, or media commentators, will assert that Salem deserved what happened to him at the hands of you and the two others involved, and that you should not have been prosecuted and need not be punished."

And then, in lines which no newspaper or commentator has been able to adequately deflect, he explained exactly why they needed to be punished:

"However, if persons were permitted to … inflict their own instant and violent punishment on an apprehended offender rather than letting justice take its course, then the rule of law and our system of criminal justice, which are the hallmarks of a civilised society, would collapse."

Which is it seems what some would clearly like to happen.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Barry George wins against Sun & NOTW

Barry George has accepted "substantial" damages over claims he was stalking women and articles suggesting he murdered Jill Dando.

He accepted the undisclosed amount at the High Court against News Group Newspapers - owner of The Sun and The News of the World.
Following Wednesday's brief hearing, Mr George said: "I am pleased that the matter between myself and News Group Newspapers has been amicably settled following a successful mediation without the need for litigation."

He was at London's High Court with his sister, Michelle Diskin, who led the campaign to prove his innocence.

His counsel, Gordon Bishop, told the court he had brought the action over a number of articles in The Sun and the News of the World between August and November 2008.

He said News Group had withdrawn the "false allegations" and apologised for making them.

septicisle adds:

Once you've been fitted up by the police (sorry, I remember, the case was "fit to be put before a jury"), being fitted up by the tabloids is probably something to be expected. In the case of Barry George though, the way in which three major outlets of Murdoch media attempted to cast doubt on his innocence was quite something. After having received a "six-figure sum" in damages today at the High Court from News Group Newspapers, along with the now customary confidentiality agreement (hopefully one which the Guardian will be able to breach like it did the one that Gordon Taylor signed after his massive pay-out over the Screws' phone-hacking), it's worth reflecting on just how they did it.

A classic of the genre is making someone comfortable, thinking they're going to be given a soft soap, friendly interview and a sympathetic piece, as you might expect having it just been confirmed that you were the victim of one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice of recent times, and then either going on the attack or, as in this case, making the quotes up. The News of the Screws, which bought George's story, today admitted that George had not told the paper that "he couldn't have murdered Jill Dando, as he was stalking someone else at the time". Unlike most made-up quotes in the tabloids, which you can spot a mile off, this was an actually believable one, especially when the tabloids had painted a picture of George as a notorious oddball that spent all his spare time following and frightening women. Along with the Screws interview, George also went under the forensic gaze of the ever fragrant Kay Burley on Sky News, which was probably the biggest mistake of the lot. Burley it seems decided that George, on the basis of possibly asking for her phone number and contact details after the interview (it's unclear how much of what was reported at the time was true, now that so much has been retracted) and cycling to the Sky News studios to ask for a copy of it was either stalking her or about to start, her fears of which, as well as being reported to the police, were also published in all the nation's leading titles. Whether they began in the Murdoch titles originally or not is now difficult to ascertain, but it wouldn't exactly be surprising.

Those attempts at casting aspersions on his innocence were however nothing compared to the treatment he got in the Sun the day after he was acquitted. Mike Sullivan, the paper's crime editor (featured previously here on a number of occasions) drew up a list of 10 "facts" which the jury didn't hear, a run-down which had quite obviously been provided by the police and which was in any case just as the flimsy as the case which was presented against him, as I detailed on the day. Also published that day, and still available on the Sun's website, was a "warning" from the woman George raped in 1982, of which these three paragraphs stand out:

"I was angry that despite what happened to me, Barry George had been left alone. No one had seen the signs or done anything about it.

"I have seen George portrayed as some kind of harmless eccentric. But he is far from benign.

"He knows how to work the system and look like a sad case. I think he always craved notoriety."

He knows how to work the system, a rather dubious claim about someone with a personality disorder and an IQ of 75, who in the words of Paddy Hill you wouldn't trust to go to Tesco - but not one that the Sun felt like tempering. Over a month later and the paper was still at it, making an issue of George sharing a hotel with mainly women, along with quotes which look highly suspect. Around the only piece that was even sympathetic towards George was a comment from the Scottish Sun columnist Martel Maxwell, and even that emphasised that George could still be a "nasty piece of work".

Whether George will be having the last laugh, having received between £50,000 and £100,000 from the Screws and Sky for the original interviews, and with now a likely further £100,000 for what was to all intents and purposes a smear campaign is unclear. It is however beyond low, and shows that the media has learned absolutely nothing from the way it went after Colin Stagg in similar circumstances, motivated then as now by the exact same police force which had brought the ridiculously dubious prosecution in the first place. George, you get the feeling, will also not be the last to be subject to similar treatment.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Rolling back the lies.

Tabloid Watch has the lowdown on a story which I'm sorry to say we missed:

On 29 October, The Sun ran a story with the headline Asda till snub for Hope for Heroes mum. It claimed:

Mum-of-three Beth Hoyle claims an Asda till worker refused to serve her because she was wearing a wristband backing injured troops.

Beth says the checkout lad told her the band for Help for Heroes - aided by The Sun - meant she supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And when she complained to a supervisor, he BACKED the Asian youth, saying he was entitled to his view.

Beth, 40, who has two brothers in the services, said the checkout worker told her he didn't want to serve her because of "what she was wearing."

Asda responded by apologising to the mother (based on the allegations) and launched an investigation.

Two weeks later, Asda issued the following statement:

We’ve come to the end of our investigation at Asda Rochdale and can’t find any truth in the allegation that one of our colleagues refused to serve a customer for wearing a Help for Heroes wristband.

Our regional operations manager Paul Rowland said: “We’ve completed our investigation and it’s clear this exchange never happened. We’ve interviewed over 400 colleagues in the store, examined over three days worth of CCTV footage and talked to other customers and we can find absolutely no evidence that a colleague said what was alleged.”

Of course, they would say that, wouldn't they? But as the spokesman quoted in the Sun article says Asda sell the Help for Heroes wristbands and badges in store, the story never made much sense.

They continued:

“We are disappointed and angry that right-wing groups are using this mythical incident to whip up racial hatred,” said Paul. “Thankfully the people of Rochdale will see straight through that. We remain big supporters of the work our troops do serving our country.”

Some of the comments on the ASDA statement suggest the rumour started on right-wing Facebook groups. If you Google 'Beth Hoyle and Asda' the first result is the 'Exposing Islam' blog. The National Front comes up a bit later. It's very hard to find the results of the Asda investigation.

But using mythical incidents to whip up hatred? Surely the Sun wouldn't do such a thing?

Would they?

(hat-tip to Paul Bryant)

45 min from Doom

I was going to write something about the fact that the infamous Iraq/45 min from doom claim has been shown to be simply made up by a taxi driver.

At the moment, there doesn't appear to be any coverage on the Sun's website (I'm sure it's currently being written up and will be splashed over the front page tomorrow...)

However, you might as well read the coverage on A Tiny Revolution.

Friday, 4 December 2009

£75,000 libel damages to Mo George.

Oops. Had to run an article on it as well:

FORMER EastEnders star Mo George has been awarded £75,000 libel damages over a Sun article which a jury ruled wrongly branded him a woman beater.

The actor's lawyer Ronald Thwaites, QC, told the High Court the article left Mr George depressed and unwilling to go out.

After the case, Mr George, 26, said: "I want to thank all my friends and family who have supported me through all of this."

Publishers News Group Newspapers had denied libel, claimed justification and maintained the article was true.