11:01 am - 11/12/2012
BBC investigation: Smearing an innocent man’s name is the real tragedy here
The BBC should prove that 'Newsnight’ was not acting with malice towards Lord McAlpine, argues Boris Johnson.
You know, I am afraid that they still don’t get it. The people at the BBC show no real sign of understanding what they have done wrong, let alone making amends. We have heard an awful lot in the past 24 hours about the personal calvary of George Entwistle. We know of the agony of Lord Patten, who has told us that the resignation of Entwistle was “one of the saddest evenings” of his public life. We have been told of the grief of hundreds of BBC journalists, the anxiety, the anger, their fear for their jobs. Everyone at the BBC is agreed on one thing: that it is a “tragedy”. Yes, it is a tragedy for the poor old BBC.
It’s tragic for us! say Beeb journalists, who are all interviewing each other in a ludicrous orgy of self-pity. In all this nauseating navel-gazing and narcissism, there seems to be no one – from Lord Patten downwards – who appears to be remotely interested in the person the BBC has injured. Has anyone even begun to apologise, in a fitting manner, to Alistair McAlpine?
To call someone a paedophile is to place them, these days, in a special category. We loathe paedophiles, as a society, because we know more and more about their crimes. They groom and manipulate vulnerable young people. They are cunning, plausible, selfish and ruthless. They cause appalling physical and psychological pain to children – people who should be getting protection and support.
Paedophiles, therefore, do the rest of humanity a sort of service, because they confer moral superiority on absolutely everyone else. A convicted paedophile is a “nonce”, and a “nonce” is the person that every other prisoner – burglar, rapist, murderer, you name it – can spit on and feel good about it. Paedophiles are there to be jostled, beaten up and shanked in the showers, and the rest of the prison population will whistle and look the other way.
To call someone a paedophile is to consign them to the lowest circle of hell – and while they are still alive. It follows that you should not call someone a paedophile unless you are pretty sure of your facts. It is utterly incredible that the BBC’s flagship news programme decided to level this poisonous allegation against Lord McAlpine when it had not the slightest evidence to support its case. It was sickening yesterday morning, at 7am, to hear the BBC radio newscaster claim – as if it were some kind of mitigation – that Newsnight did not “name” McAlpine. Is it really claiming that it protected his identity?
If so, it shows utter contempt for its listeners and for the intelligence of the British public. On the afternoon of Friday November 2, it was “tweeted” that a senior Tory politician was to be exposed on Newsnight as a paedophile. It wasn’t a vague allegation about a “ring” of paedophiles. It was about a particular individual, who was supposed to have committed a series of specific and vile crimes against a former occupant of the Bryn Estyn children’s home in Wales. “McAlpine” was the name of the mystery millionaire who had surfaced in the 2000 Waterhouse report into the scandal. “McAlpine” was the name the programme’s makers fed out to various Left-wing tweeters and bloggers; and within hours of Newsnight’s bizarre broadcast, people such as Sally Bercow and George Monbiot were pointing the finger at the bewildered and utterly blameless figure of Alistair McAlpine, 70, who is spending his retirement running a B&B in southern Italy.
You can’t really blame the tweeters and the bloggers. “McAlpine” was the steer they were given, and it was Alistair McAlpine that Newsnight had in its sights. It was no protection of McAlpine that he wasn’t explicitly named in the first broadcast – and it should be no defence of Newsnight, either. A twitstorm, a blogstorm, an internet hurricane howled around the former Tory treasurer. The whole of Fleet Street started to torment their readers with ever more prominent stories about this Top Tory Paedo, while those who used the web could see who was intended. The Prime Minister was dragged in, and immediately instituted an inquiry.
The whole thing became so unbearable that Lord McAlpine was forced to break cover, and point out that Newsnight was wrong. It was not just wrong: it was a slander more cruel, revolting and idiotic than anything perpetrated by the News of the World. The programme makers hadn’t taken account of the real anxieties about the reliability of their witness, as expressed by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, who led the inquiry into Bryn Estyn. They hadn’t shown him a picture of McAlpine. They hadn’t even put the allegations to McAlpine! Unbelievable! And why not? It was, as they say, a story that was too good to check. It wasn’t just that it showed Newsnight taking up the cudgels against paedophiles, after the embarrassment of the axed Savile exposé. It went one better. It pushed all the buttons. It was like a dream come true for any vaguely resentful and Left-of-centre BBC producer. It was a chance to pour unlimited ordure on a man who – in their book – jolly well had it coming. He is rich, he is a toff, he is a Lord, he is a Tory, and – joy of joys – he is an EX-AIDE TO MRS THATCHER.
The journalism was so shoddy, so cretinous, so ready to let the wish be father to the thought that the Beeb really now has to show that Newsnight was not acting with malice. The BBC cannot minimise what the programme has done. There will be people out there who will continue to believe that there is no smoke without fire, that Newsnight would never have broadcast such allegations unless there was something in it. The BBC owes it to McAlpine to grovel and keep grovelling until the public gets the message. Everyone associated with the “paedophile” segment on Newsnight should be sacked instantly. Then Chris Patten should make a penitential pilgrimage to McAlpine’s Italian B&B, on his knees and scourging himself with a copy of the BBC charter. This tragedy is not about the BBC; it is about the smearing of an innocent man. The BBC needs to grasp that first.
Yes, Newsnight screwed up, but let’s remember who the real victims are – and listen to them
In a rush to condemn the BBC it seems one of the most horrendous cases of child abuse is being overlooked
They were little children, gang-raped and beaten till they bled by those charged with their care. “Buggery, rape, bestiality, violent assaults and torture,” is how Labour MP Ann Clwyd summed up the findings of a pulped report by Clwyd County Council into abuse at children’s homes in north Wales. Steven Messham was sent to Bryn Estyn – supposedly a care home, in reality a rape factory – at the age of 13. Those who, like him, had been hand-picked to satisfy the perverse needs of sexual monsters were sent to flats and hotel rooms in their pyjamas to be raped. By the time Messham escaped on the eve of his 18th birthday, more than 50 men had abused him.
The psychological effects of child abuse are profound. Shock, fear and disbelief come immediately, psychologists note; in the long term come anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Abused children often start wetting the bed again; as they become adults, they can be plagued with self-hatred, an inability to form meaningful relationships, and a tendency to “escape” through drugs or risky sex.
Some of the abused simply cannot cope with the brutal theft of their childhood. Nearly two decades ago, Mark Humphreys was found in his north Wales bedsit, hanging from a staircase. Simon Burley and Peter Wynne hanged themselves, too; Robert Chapman toppled to his death from a railway bridge; Brendon Randalls drank himself to death; Leo Homberg’s life ended in a drug overdose.
It may seem needlessly macabre to retell the horrors of abused children, but it has become necessary. The story is now all-out war against the BBC, much to the undisguised delight of its opponents. It is difficult not to picture the relish on the face of Rupert Murdoch when he tweets: “BBC getting into deeper mess”. When criminality on an industrial scale took place at his News of the World, this monstrous mogul sacked those he deemed responsible and remained in place; when the Beeb make a serious mistake, the Director-General is out pronto. But in the mounting crusade against the BBC, the stories and the voices of the abused have been purged: this no longer has anything to do with them.
Let’s be clear, Newsnight screwed up. Its report alleging that a senior Tory was implicated in the abuse of children – widely, and wrongly, named on the internet as Lord McAlpine – did not stand up to scrutiny. It is a mystery why a recent photograph of Lord McAlpine was never shown to Steven Messham – although the police have largely escaped scrutiny for seemingly wrongly identifying him to Messham in the 1990s as one of his tormentors.
The consequences of all this could be far more disastrous than the possible termination of one of the few television programmes that can be described as a national institution. This is where we have ended up. Steven Messham – a victim of systematic rape – has been forced into a humiliating apology. The Mail on Sunday has produced a two-page hatchet job on him. On the BBC’s Daily Politics show yesterday, ex-Tory MP David Mellor smeared him as a “weirdo”. A survivor of abuse who bravely spoke out now faces a smear campaign against him. Lord McAlpine was wronged, but he is receiving more pity than those buggered when they were very young.
What message will this send to other victims? We already know that the vast majority of child abuse goes unreported and – on many occasions when it does come to light – it is after the abusers have died. Many children are already too terrified to step forward to reveal their experiences. According to a report in the medical journal The Lancet in December 2008, abuse of children in developed countries such as the UK is far higher than reported by child protection agencies, and usually committed by those close to them. The proportion of cases that ends up being reported is as low as one in 10. According to the NSPCC, at least 64 children are sexually abused every single day in England and Wales, and one in four are aged under 11.
And yet the narrative that now risks being fuelled is not under-reporting, but rather the false accusations of rape – even though the Home Office believe they make up 8 per cent of reported rapes at the very most. Following Newsnight’s humiliating apology on Friday night, I appeared on BBC 5 Live with the former Tory MP Jerry Hayes; we were both shocked when, prompted by the Lord McAlpine crisis, an interview was aired with a man discussing his experience of being falsely accused of rape. Is this really where the emphasis should lie in the current climate?
What is happening is no longer about securing justice for children who have been raped and tortured, left traumatised, their lives ruined. It is now about undermining victims of abuse, and an ideological crusade to dismantle the BBC by its opponents.
I hesitate to use the word “disgraceful”; it does not begin to cover the shameful depths currently being plunged. Steven Messham was let down badly by the police and by journalists; he is now re-living his abuse while being publicly smeared. This must not be allowed to continue. The focus must return to the victims; to bringing all those responsible to justice; and to encouraging others to speak out. If not, children will continue to be silently raped and abused.
Those twisting this saga have probably not given that any thought. Those with decency and empathy, on the other hand, must – before more damage is done.
A little from Column (article) A, a little from Column B seems to just about cover it.