After a night during which north-east Scotland experienced exceptionally heavy rainfall, transport networks had to cope with flooding and landslips last Wednesday morning. On the railways, ScotRail’s 0638 Aberdeen to Glasgow Queen Street service had been stopped by the signaller at Carmont, south-west of Stonehaven, due to reports of a landslip causing an obstruction further down the line.
As a result, the service was directed to return to Aberdeen. The train crossed over to the Down line, but a mile or so further on struck another landslip which derailed almost the whole train. Despite the small number of people on board, there were three fatalities: the driver, conductor, and a passenger. It was the first on-board passenger accident fatality for almost 13 years, underlining the railway’s excellent overall safety record.
That, though, did not divert those at the Murdoch Sun from their purpose, and Thursday’s Scottish edition carried an aerial photo of the crash aftermath, a photo of driver Brett McCullough, and the lurid headline “Storms Train Tragedy … Landslide crash kills 3 … Driver among victims … DEATH EXPRESS”. You want subtle? Away with ye.
By noon today, Press Gazette admitted that there had been severely adverse comment passed by many readers and observers, telling “IPSO has said it is dealing with a ‘high volume of complaints’ about the Scottish Sun's splash yesterday headlined ‘Death Express’ about the train derailment in Aberdeenshire that killed three people. ‘We are dealing with these under our normal procedures,’ it said”.
And to show that times have changed since the deeply unpleasant Kelvin McFilth declined to apologise for just about anything the Super Soaraway Currant Bun published while he sat in the editor’s chair, Scottish Sun editor Alan Muir decided to say sorry.
“Wednesday was a tragic day for Scotland, and the headline on the front page of our paper in relation to the terrible train accident caused further distress … For that I am truly sorry … this time I made a mistake … At a time when family, friends and colleagues are grieving the loss of their loved ones, the last thing they need is something else to add to their grief … I got it wrong on this occasion and can only apologise for that”.
For many people, to be grown-up enough to say sorry would be a sign of strength. Not the Murdoch press: in the days when the Sun was shifting four million copies a day, as with Kel over Hillsborough, there would be nothing more than a doubling down of the abuse and no chance of recantation. What Muir has done today is to show weakness.
The kind of weakness that comes from circulation across the whole of the UK falling well below the one million mark, losing the top slot to the Daily Mail, and a parent group - News Corp - that only last week posted a thumping $1.5 billion loss.
No more braggadocio, no more swagger. But the message is the same. Don’t buy the Sun.
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