If the Daily Mail’s legendarily foul mouthed editor Paul Dacre had problems with a cartoon in the Guardian, he will find yesterday’s judgment from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) far worse: this has concluded that what happened to protesters who were savagely beaten by an out of control faction of the Italian Police at the Genoa G8 summit in 2001 amounted to torture. And the Mail was a significant beneficiary.
Yesterday’s judgment “held, unanimously, that there had been: a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights … The case concerned the ill-treatment to which 42 demonstrators were subjected by police officers inside a school, in the context of an anti-globalisation demonstration organised to coincide with the 27th summit of the eight major industrialised countries (G8)”. And there was more.
“The Court found in particular that the treatment to which the applicants had been subjected should be regarded as torture, on account of the ‘severe’ physical and psychological suffering it had caused them and its particularly serious and cruel nature. The applicants had been both victims of and witnesses to the use of uncontrolled violence by the police, with officers systematically beating each of the school’s occupants, including those who were lying down or sitting with their hands up, despite the fact that the occupants had not committed any act of violence or resistance against the police”.
One of those who had been in the Diaz Pertini school the night of the Police raid was journalist Mark Covell, who was covering the G8 and protests for Indymedia. He ran out of the building to witness 300 Police storming through its gates. He was singled out for an especially savage beating: his injuries included “eight broken ribs, smashed teeth, a collapsed lung and internal bleeding. He lost consciousness and slipped into a coma”.
As he lay, heavily sedated, in hospital, “The day after the assault he awoke to find a man and a woman in his room. In his drugged state, he assumed the personable woman to be from the British embassy and therefore answered her questions, including the name, address and phone number of his mother. But he said he became suspicious when the man asked to take a picture of him and, at that point, the woman explained that she was Lucie Morris, a Daily Mail reporter. It transpired that the man was Nick Holt, a Mail photographer. Covell immediately asked them to leave”.
The Mail then doorstepped and aggressively questioned his mother, extracting sufficient information to feed into the following day’s front page claim that Covell had led the rioters and “helped to mastermind” the G8 attacks. He hadn’t. The Mail made it up.
Worse, a source close to the story has told me that the Mail reporter and her photographer bribed their way into Covell’s hospital room. It was asserted that no fewer than three Police officers were paid off in the process. And now the ECHR has ruled that the summary justice the Police dispensed that night amounted to torture.
And it’s not as if the Mail has a get-out clause here: not only did Covell clear his name and secure an out of court settlement from the Italian interior ministry of €340,000, he also took the Mail to the cleaners, the result of which has remained secret to this day.
As Roy Greenslade at the Guardian explained, “The Daily Mail's senior executives, legal advisers and Morris herself defended their actions, arguing that the hospital interview was justified in order to highlight that Covell had been badly beaten. They refused to acknowledge that Covell had a worthwhile case but, such was the force of his argument and the obvious central falsehood of the Mail's story, that the paper decided it could not face a court case”. So the Dacre doggies settled without going to court.
“After he was forced to issue proceedings, the Mail suddenly agreed to pay Covell damages and his legal costs and, in a major climbdown, even acceded to his request for a formal letter of apology. Its contents must remain private: the letter can be shown only to Covell, his close family and to the courts in Italy”.
Covell’s solicitor Louis Charalambous later observed “The conduct of the Daily Mail and Lucie Morris is the worst example of its kind I've ever come across”. And he has many years’ experience of dealing with the press.
Greenslade mentioned two other Britons, Nicola Doherty and Richard Moth, who were still awaiting justice following the Diaz Pertini raid: their names are cited in the ECHR judgment. The Daily Mail profited handsomely from its coverage of the G8 protests: now it is on record that what happened that night in Genoa amounted to torture.
Something to consider next time you read anything from the Daily Mail.