[Update at end of post]
Last December, I looked at the attempted arson attack on a newly completed mosque in Stoke-on-Trent, and concluded that this was a story that would not be splashed by the Daily Star. The cheapest of Richard Desmond’s cheap and nasty portfolio has, after all, come close to endorsing the English Defence League (EDL) and occasionally refers to “ethnics”.
Now, the case has come to court, with two young men being charged with arson. One of them, Simon Beech, was at the time of the attack a serving soldier with the 2nd Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment, stationed at Fulwood Barracks in Preston. He has since been discharged from Her Majesty’s Service. Beech is apparently a supporter of the EDL: they are cheering for him.
It was the Daily Star that ran the story claiming that the EDL was about to launch as a political party, quoting its leader Stephen Lennon freely and uncritically (including the EDL aim of “outlawing the Qur’an” and having Muslims “sort out their religion”), and ending its piece with the claim “In a Daily Star phone poll yesterday, 98% of readers said they agreed with the EDL’s policies”.
The splash, together with its Soviet-era poll numbers, drew adverse comment from Roy Greenslade at Guardian media, while Steven Baxter’s New Statesman blog said of the Daily Star “at least we now know where they stand”. Ian Burrell at the Independent reported that the decision to push the EDL came from Daily Star editor Dawn Neesom, and not Desmond.
Whatever the origin of the cheerleading, the Daily Star did at least let its website readers know of the attack in December, but there has been no word yet on the sad end to Simon Beech’s military career, or indeed the involvement of the EDL, whose ambitions it has so eagerly championed in the past. The Daily Star has, of course, also championed the cause of serving soldiers.
It will be interesting to see how Ms Neesom and her colleagues navigate their way through this particular moral maze, given Beech’s use of phrases such as “burn them out” on Facebook. But the lack of any coverage thus far suggests that they may be having a serious think before acting. If only they had done that before encouraging the EDL in the first place.
Egging on the racists and Islamophobes only to be wise after the event? That’ll be another Benchmark of Excellence.
[UPDATE 9 December: Simon Beech and his co-defendant Garreth Foster were yesterday both jailed for ten years for "committing arson with intent to endanger life".
Those in the tabloid press who choose to demonise followers of The Prophet and use the term "Muslim" to frighten their readership would do well to consider the remarks made afterwards by Chief Superintendent Bernie O'Rielly of Staffordshire Police.
"The community around this area have been an absolute credit. They've acted with such restraint and [have been] so dignified in the face of such provocation".
The news of the sentencing has not been reported by the Daily Star, nor the Daily Express. To its credit, the Daily Mail has carried a full report of the case]