On Monday the 21st November 2011, a mother of a murdered child spoke these words, under oath about the statement they gave, at the Leveson Inquiry. Sally Dowler through her and her husbands dignified testimony told the world of how they thought their daughter could be alive because of being able to reach her voicemail. Sally said:
Of course, all the time we were — at first, we were able to leave messages, and then her voicemail became full and then you rang and then you just got the recorded “We are unable to leave messages at the moment”
This had gone — so I was used to hearing that and we’d gone up to the Bird’s Eye building to look at the CCTV and we were sitting downstairs in reception and I rang her phone. And it clicked through onto her voicemail, so I heard her voice, and it was just like — I jumped — “She’s picked up her voicemails, Bob, she’s alive”, and I just — it was then, really. Look, when we were told about the hacking, that is the first thing I thought.
Just imagine the relief that Sally must have felt at the moment her call went straight to her missing child’s voicemail. That glimmer of hope that started to get brighter, but sadly and cruelly dashed because of unscrupulous actions taken by the person who decided to hack their missing child’s mobile phone.
Wednesday the 23rd November came and in the afternoon we heard Kate McCann speak of how the press were harming the search for their missing daughter. Kate and Gerry McCann appeared before the Leveson Inquiry as core participants and submitted their statements (Kate McCann’s statement) (Gerry McCann’s statement). Under oath, in their testimony, Kate McCann said:
These were desperate times. You know, we were having to try and find our daughter ourselves. We needed all the help we could get, and we were faced with — I know we’ll come on to headlines, but “Corpse in the car”; I don’t know how many times I read “Body fluids in the car”. And it gets repeated that often, it becomes fact. There were no body fluids. We desperately wanted to shout out “It’s not true, it’s not true”, but when it’s your voice against the powerful media, it just doesn’t have a weight. We were desperately shouting out internally “Please stop, what are you doing? We’re trying to find our daughter and you’re stopping our chances of finding her”.
And Gerry McCann added:
The point being, which I alluded to earlier, is that we were told in no uncertain terms that if we disclosed anything publicly which we knew to be in the judicial file, ie the results which had been shown to us, which we knew were not what was being reported about DNA, then we were threatened with a two-year imprisonment for breaking judicial secrecy, so we were being tried by the media and unable to defend ourselves adequately.
Then Thursday more revelations and how the press used children to get to their parents. JK Rowling through her testimony spoke about the evidence she gave in her statement about how the press put notes in her child’s schoolbag. She said:
My daughter — this was my eldest daughter, so this would have been when I was — really, in the first burst of publicity surrounding me. She was in her first year at primary school and I unzipped her school bag in the evening and among the usual letters from school and debris that every child generates, I found an envelope addressed to me and a journalist — the letter was from a journalist.
It’s my recollection that the letter said that he intended to ask a mother at the school to put this in my daughter’s bag or I don’t — I know no more than that, I don’t know whether that’s how the letter got in my daughter’s school bag or not, but I can only say that I felt such a sense of invasion that my daughter’s bag — it’s very difficult to say how angry and how — how angry I felt that my five-year-old daughter’s school was no longer a place of, you know, complete security from journalists.
I didn’t think I could hear anything more disturbing. I thought the press had gone to the lowest level imaginable. How wrong was I. They totally amazed me yesterday. I could not believe what I was hearing.
As Anne Diamond gave her testimony about the statement she submitted to the Leveson Inquiry, I felt mortified, shocked and close to tears as she spoke of how the press intruded on them when she lost her baby boy to cot-death.
Under oath Anne Diamond stated:
I think within an hour of my finding Sebastian — I think my husband had very quickly rung the police, as you would, and however it happened, we were besieged with reporters and photographers outside the door. I actually don’t know whether they came before the policeman did or whether the policeman came first, but our front door very quickly was surrounded with hundreds of newspapers — newspaper photographers and reporters, literally just sitting there waiting for something to happen, I suppose, constantly ringing the doorbell, and there was one instance where a female reporter tried to rush the door. She rang the door. I wasn’t answering the door, as you can I understand, at the time, but friends of the family were with us by then. She rang the doorbell and she had a big bouquet of flowers to give us and when the door had to be taken off the chain in order to accept the flowers, she rushed in and two grown men had to push her back out of the door. That was the extent to which — on the day they knew we had just found our child dead, that was the extent to which they were forcing themselves upon us.
My agent at the time came around to help us deal with them, and he found a reporter climbing over the back fence as well to try and get at us through our back garden.
Anne Diamond went onto explain how they wrote personally to every single newspaper editor telling them to keep away from the baby’s funeral as it was a private family and close friends affair. On the day of the funeral Anne Diamond explained how a photographer with a long lens captured pictures of them. Then the most appalling of all things I have ever heard, was told to the Leveson Inquiry. That being how a mother and father who have just buried their baby received a call from the Sun Newspaper requesting permission to use the photograph they took of their baby’s funeral. I was gob-smacked to hear that Anne’s husband declined the Sun permission to use that photo during that phone call and how the paper just replied they were going to use it whether they had their permission or not. The Sun Newspaper, which many of us have purchased in our times, showed no respect that day whatsoever, for a little baby boy who had just been buried and his grieving family. Anne Diamond said:
In fact, my now ex-husband reminded me this morning when I spoke to him that we were aware that there was a photographer at the funeral on the public highway. Within a few hours of the funeral, the editor of the Sun rang my husband and said, “We have a picture. It’s an incredibly strong picture. We would like to use it.” And my husband said, “No, we’ve asked all of you to stay away. No.” And the editor said, “Well, we’re going to use it anyway. We’ll use it with or without your permission.”
Anne Diamond spoke of what lengths the Sun would go to to get the scoop. She speaks about the time that she was in labour with her first child and a reporter dressed up as a doctor and what extreme measures she had to take to get to her own home, after giving birth.
It was terrifying. I was actually in labour in the hospital and at one point an administrator came until and said, “Very sorry to interrupt, we don’t really want to alarm you but you do need to know that we have just caught somebody who was a reporter for the Sun who was impersonating a doctor and we’ve had to eject him from the hospital, but we do feel you ought to know”, which is why we took the decision, within hours of me giving birth safely to my first son, that I needed to get out of that hospital as fast as possible and home, where I could be private, and just as Charlotte has said, where I could be an ordinary mum with my child, trying to just be private for a while.
Upon being asked this question:
Can you tell us how you got back into your house?
Anne Diamond replied:
The only way the hospital advised us we could get out of the hospital without having to go through the paparazzi, who were outside in their hundreds, was to go out — down through — we were taken out and we were taken down through the sort of laundry lift and we were put into the back of a laundry van and the hospital laundry van drove out of the underground carpark and drove us away from the press. When we got home, we found that there was an equal amount of paparazzi outside our front door, but we did think of a way out of that, which was by entering an adjacent block of flats through their underground carpark, going up in the lift, crossing the roof — this is a woman who’s given birth just a few hours earlier — crossing the roof with a newborn baby and then down the lift into our own flat. It was ridiculous the lengths we had to go to to try and get a bit of private time.
This is not journalism, this is hounding and a clear invasion of privacy. What new mother should have to go to such great lengths in order to bring her new-born baby home? If the press are told to “bugger off”, then they should “bugger off” as far as I am concerned.
And do you know, twitter itself came at its worst yesterday. The photograph that Anne Diamond did NOT want on the front page of the Sun was then tweeted and spread through twitter. Apart from the press violating Anne Diamond and her husband’s wishes, yesterday members of the public did the same thing. They did this by tweeting the link to that emotional picture.
Anne Diamond yesterday showed us the worst of the press and she spoke about Broadcast Journalism and how they have a code of ethics. She was asked the question about whether the press should have free reign on you once you open up to part of your private life.
She was asked:
Do you think that if you write about a particular aspect of your private life, then it is legitimate for other reporters to write about that aspect of your private life?
And she replied:
I think not necessarily. I do agree that the balance is a difficult one to achieve. We all live very different lives. I mean, the McCanns, for instance, have found themselves the subject of a great deal of press intrusion. You could argue: well, as soon as they gave their first interview, they are therefore open season. That’s not the case. You could say the first time the Dowler parents gave a police press conference, they were putting themselves in the public gaze, therefore the rest of their private life is open season. That’s not the case.
And so to a certain extent we all live very different lives. People have called me a celebrity. I’m not; I’m a broadcast journalist. All of my work has been done on news and current affairs programmes on television, but by being on television, you could say I’ve put my private life out there. Not all of it, no. I think the balance is a very difficult one to always argue and to a great deal — to as great extent, it comes down to the decency and the ethics of the proprietor and the editor of the newspaper concerned.
But not so in broadcast journalism. These same dilemmas are held every day in broadcast newsrooms up and down the land, but in broadcasting, in TV and radio, you have a code of conduct. The BBC has always had a code of conduct and a producers code by which they operate, and you know that if you go out of line at the BBC or even in independent television and radio — we’ve always had the IBA, the ITC and now Ofcom — you know that if you breach those guidelines, they will come down you on like a ton of bricks and very fast, too. These things are — they hold an immediate inquiry, and it is immediate. People are very often suspended from their job until the end of that inquiry. People are very often fired as a result of findings of those inquiries, or fined, and things happen very, very quickly.
But there is still excellent journalism in broadcasting, in TV and radio. Look at Panorama or 24 Hours or This Week. There’s still some excellent investigative journalism going in, but they operate within a code of conduct that was agreed, you know, 35/40-odd years ago and has always been there in broadcast journalism, but not so in the press. It comes down, as I said, time and again, to the ethics and the values and the judgment call made by either the proprietor or the editor or both, and I think that over the last 30-odd years, I’m not terribly sure that some of those editors and proprietors have had the right values.
Perhaps that code should now be implemented by the Press. You know just because I tell my friend or my neighbour something private, it doesn’t mean that they have the right to know everything about my life. I am entitled to privacy and so should people in the limelight be allowed privacy.
Chasing mums, giving birth and gate-crashing funerals along with destroying the families of missing children and hacking phones, is not something to be proud of. And that is definitely not in the public interest.
Charlotte Church also gave testimony about press intrusion in the statement she gave to the Leveson Inquiry and her testimony was compelling and she spoke of how the press reported about her father without any consideration for her mother’s health.
Giving birth to a baby, is a beautiful, wonderful and very emotional experience. You put up with all the pain and every pain has been worth it when you hold that little bundle of joy in your arms for the very first time. No mother should ever have to fear for her privacy when giving birth and no mother should have to run away like hunted prey due to the press chasing them like a pack of wolves, just after giving birth.
On another note, over the weekend twitter was abuzz with rumours about the death of Gary Speed. In numerous tweets one tabloid newspaper was named and they have subsequently denied those rumours. However on saying that, should there be any basis to those rumours and should any newspaper be a contributory factor into Gary Speed’s death then that paper should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves and should now become part of the Leveson inquiry.
Gary Speed’s death was a shock to the world, he had only previously appeared on TV and even his closest friends said there was no signs of despair in him. Something tipped Gary Speed over the edge, to the point where he felt the only alternative left to him was to take his life. That reason needs to be found out because his children today are without a father and his wife without a husband along with a mother and father who have lost a son.