Following the comments by coroner Michael Singleton at the inquest into transsexual schoolteacher Lucy Meadows, who took her own life in March, which excoriated the behaviour of the press, with the Daily Mail and their unfunny and talentless churnalist Richard Littlejohn attracting most of the opprobrium, the activity of the nationals has come under the spotlight once again.
And, while it is only right that the intrusive reporting, especially by the Mail, and also by the Murdoch Sun, receives severely adverse comment, one paper has thus far managed to get away with it. This is quite an achievement, given that the title concerned is the one that started the ball rolling in the first place: step forward the Accrington Observer, and reporter Stuart Pike.
One might have thought, reading the paper’s report of the coroner’s comments, that they were a disinterested third party, reporting the deeds of the national press while keeping well out of it. They were not: the Accrington Observer was the paper that broke the story, such as it was, in December. Pike’s article is dated December 19, the same as those in the Mail and Sun.
In it, he goes over the same ground which would be shamelessly mined by the nationals: the heading, “School's letter to parents tells them male teacher will return to class as a woman after Christmas”, says it all. Everything the tabloids needed – the location of the school, all the names, the outraged parent – was in that one article. Only then did this story take off.
The Mail time-stamps its online copy: their original article is timed at 1333 hours on the same day that the Accrington Observer ran Pike’s article. The Sun would have either taken its cue from the local title, or lifted the Mail’s effort, adding a number of flourishes to suit its own inimitable style. And during the afternoon, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre would send word to Littlejohn.
Only after that did the Sage Of Vero Beach take a break from lounging poolside at his gated compound to pen the column which the Mail has tried its damndest to erase from the narrative, but over which it spent over two months before offering to remove the online version. And it was the Accrington Observer’s coverage of Ms Meadows’ death that gave the nationals their cue.
The paper’s report was timed 1524 hours on March 21. The Mail’s online copy is timed 1933 hours. Only when the coroner criticised the press did the Accrington Observer follow the nationals. Yet we are repeatedly told that local titles do not indulge in the kind of bad behaviour that led to the Leveson Inquiry being set up, and that it would be unfair to include them in any new system of press regulation.
The Accrington Observer shows that, as ever, it’s not quite that simple.