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This is a blog of liberal stance and independent mind

Thursday 20 January 2011

Danger In The Retelling

Today, the Daily Mail has published an excellent example of how this paper uses selective reporting to follow its own particular agenda: “I could have been dragged to my death” begins the article, about an incident that happened around midnight at the wayside commuter station of Rayleigh.

What is not in dispute is that Mark Simpson and his girlfriend were intending to get off their train at Rayleigh after a journey back from London, and that the girlfriend remained on the train until Hockley, its next stop. But then the Mail tells that, when Simpson tried to alight at Rayleigh, “the automatic doors suddenly snapped shut”.

Automatic doors, however, don’t just snap shut: there is an audible alarm – usually a series of beeps – accompanied by a visible warning as the door control buttons flash. Only after this do the doors close, usually after three to five seconds. And, if Simpson and his partner were waiting by the door as the train arrived at Rayleigh, they would have had ample time to alight after the doors opened.

So maybe the couple were not waiting to alight, or, more likely, they did not realise that it was their station until the train was about to leave. After all, they had been at a party in London and then had to get to Liverpool Street, with 40 minutes on the train to follow, and may have just been tired. But what about the claim that Simpson was dragged along the platform as the train moved off, with his leg still stuck in the partially closed doors?

If the driver could have released the brakes and moved the train with a door partially open, that would be worrying: only when the doors show as closed can trains be moved when in passenger service. So there may indeed have been some kind of fault with the coach concerned, as Simpson suggests, or perhaps just his clothes were stuck in the door, allowing it to show as closed. The station’s CCTV will be crucial in the inevitable investigation.

But taking a measured approach does not fit the Mail agenda, which is to give the impression that rail travel is dangerous, alien, and out of its users’ control. After all, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, who is routinely chauffeured from home to city pad to work and back, would not soil his 2.8 million pound a year presence on such things.

Hence an article designed to frighten his readers first, and deal with facts second. Inconvenient details, such as no passenger fatalities for the last three calendar years, and only one in the last six, do not enter.


Anonymous said...

May I suggest that it is Tim Fenton of Zelo Street, the writer of this a blog which claims to be of 'liberal stance and independent mind' who uses selective reporting. Tim, I address this to you personally, if you had bothered to speak to the people involved (you obviously didn't!) you would have found out that this is exactly what happened. How do I know? you might ask. Ms Stone, Mark Simpsons girlfriend, is my sister. Mark and my sister are both people of integrity and have nothing to gain by lying about what happened to them. They only wish for this (or worse) not to happen to anyone else in the future, indeed they should be commended for bringing this to the attention of the public.

Tim Fenton said...

I note that you do not address my analysis in the third and fourth paragraphs of the post, and nor do you address my point about (a) fitting the story to the Mail's agenda, and (b) cautioning against judgement until the inevitable enquiry has been conducted. Also, I have not suggested that anyone was other than honest.

As I posted, doors do not just snap shut. If you look at some of the comments on the Mail article, this point, and that about brake release, are made time and again.

Finally, one point I did not make, but which clearly needs to be made, is that, whatever may or may not have happened, you should not go to the Daily Mail. Your sister and her partner will come to regret that, whatever the outcome of the upcoming investigation by the Train Operator. The Daily Mail's purpose is to sell copy: the sensitivities of those featured in stories like this comes a distant second.