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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Trial by Media

The Suffolk police chief revealed that a man held for questioning re Ipswich murders was being released, and his name wouldn't be disclosed at this time.


In the words of a Monty Python skit, well his real name is xxx, he is xx years old, he lives at xxxx and he works at Tesco. The minute he was arrested, the stable doors opened and the horse bolted: photos from his website, his mother's house, the man himself talking innocently to the BBC. Maybe the rules have changed, but when I was a trainee reporter, you didn't name a suspect until they had been charged. Once charged, you are still innocent until proved otherwise at trial.

But now, even though this man has been released, the old adage "no smoke without fire" will no doubt apply in a formerly quiet rural town which is now looking over its shoulder; he has been made out to be odd, by the press; a loner, someone we can all look down on (whereas in an earlier, kinder time, he may have been regarded as a philanthropist for trying to ease lives ravaged by drugs and prostitution).

My biggest worry is miscarriage of justice. We seem to have more of them these days. I have always firmly believed that Barry George is wrongly incarcerated, that he does not posssess the skill and intellectual ability needed to have murdered Jill Dando. But he was an easy target and once the media had carried out their trial, the jury was easy to convince, with nothing more than circumstantial evidence. Remember Colin Stagg? The killer of Rachel Nickell still walks free. Then there were the tragedies of Derek Bentley, hanged for shouting "let him have it," and later exonerated for the murder of a policeman; and Stefan Kiszko, who died not long after being released from prison for a murder he didn't commit.

So credit to Suffolk police for the strides they are making in the investigation -- another man is now charged with the murders -- but isn't it time the press and TV took a step backwards and examined their consciences?

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