Those who have supported Hacked Off, the campaigning organisation which wants to see a free yet accountable press, with regulation totally independent of owners, editors and politicians, are generally treated in one of two ways by those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet. Either they are shunned, becoming “unpersons”, or they are smeared.
Behold Bozza's favourite poodle
For Christopher Jefferies, the retired teacher of English and latterly independent landlord in the Bristol suburb of Clifton, the former course was taken, until ITV made a “docu-drama” about his wrongful arrest on suspicion of the murder of Joanna Yeates, who had lived in one of the flats he owned. Following the broadcast of the first part last night, the press changed tack.
While Christopher Stephens in the Mail tries to mock Jason Watkins’ portrayal of Jefferies – and there was some exaggeration in this – the real hatchet job is executed by Andrew “transcription error” Gilligan at the Telegraph. Sadly for Gilligan, the light from his burning trousers is clearly visible, as is his unsuccessful attempt to dump all blame anywhere but with the press.
The hack who left the BBC in disgrace dismisses the production as a “rush to make Hacked Off – The Movie, campaigning for what Mr Jefferies calls ‘controls’ on the newspapers”. A scan of the Hacked Off website shows no obvious advertising for the ITV production: moreover, as Gilligan well knows, that campaign can call on many other victims of press misbehaviour.
Then we get the “look over there” moment, as Gilligan fingers the dastardly rozzers: “Avon and Somerset Police admit ‘inadvertently’ releasing Jefferies’ name. They deny leaking their belief in his guilt, but with plenty of wiggle room”. So the Police done it. Except they were not the ones who invented all the totally fictitious stories that enabled Jefferies to take the press to the cleaners.
Gilligan then pooh-poohs any change in press regulation: “it seems impossible that any regulation could be stricter than the laws of contempt and libel which the hacks happily ignored; and it seems unlikely that any regulator could give Mr Jefferies swifter redress than he achieved through the courts. Released from police bail in March 2011, within four months he had won massive payouts and apologies”.
And, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here. One, the defamatory copy appeared not in March 2011, but at the turn of the year. So, two, it still took a whole six months for Jefferies to secure redress – six months during which the mud that had been so casually and callously slung at him was allowed to stick. Gilligan’s apologia does not, and cannot, even begin to justify what Jefferies suffered.
The tabloids’ conduct, as so often, was beyond justification. That’s not good enough.