Has Leveson taught us nothing? Once again, the media dictate events in the UK
On 17 August 2012 the Huffington Post published an article recording what had taken place in the UK in connection with a sealed letter said to have been handed by ‘moors murderer’ Ian Brady to his legal advocate, Jackie Powell. If you’re not familiar with this story, you can read it here: http://huff.to/OY4R1v.
What the Huffington Post article doesn’t record is that the police raided the home of Brady’s advocate only after an outcry in the UK national press.
In an interview published in the Sunday Times a few days ago, Powell claimed that the whole affair might have been instigated by broadcaster Channel 4 to promote its documentary about Ian Brady, scheduled for screening this week. Powell said that she told police about the sealed letter two weeks prior to their raid on her home. Her implication is that the police only reacted in the way they did because of the national outrage conjured up by the media. The idea that the letter might reveal the location of the remains of Ian Brady’s one remaining undiscovered child victim was suggested by the broadcaster, then repeated by the tabloids. It resulted in a public cry for action: “Why hadn’t the police done something about it?”
As Powell underlined, Ian Brady is a highly intelligent, manipulative character. She told the Sunday Times that in her view, as a trained clinical psychologist, it was likely that the letter was a ruse by Brady to focus attention onto his request to be moved away from the institution where he has been incarcerated for many years. As his legal advocate, Powell was unable to open the letter, since Ian Brady had specified that it should only be opened after his death. However, if she believed the letter could contain information pertaining to a crime, she was legally obliged to reveal its existence. So Powell told the police about it; and she told Channel 4 about it in the documentary.
Because of supposition, rumour and half-truths, Powell was subsequently hounded by the media, subjected to a humiliating police search in her own home in front of her teenage son, and allegedly verbally abused by a police officer during the search. Powell claimed to be so upset by the whole affair, and so rigorously pursued by the press, that she was forced to go into hiding. Once again, the media had dictated events. They decided that: “Something has to be done.” So it was, with a vengeance, and with scant regard for first establishing the facts.
It is tempting for writers to be pleased when real-world events mirror their own fiction. On the day I launched my novel ‘Web of Deceit’ last week, a woman was trapped overnight on cliffs near Porth Dinllaen in North Wales. This happens in my own story! But more sinister is that in the novel the main character is portrayed in the UK national press as a despicable figure who has to hide away. Further, a heavy-handed police raid is carried out on the home of an innocent woman. These coincidences are by no means happy.
I set my novel in 1999. Now, here we are, 13 years on, with the Leveson enquiry continuing its investigation into the UK press phone-hacking scandal, still permitting the media to tell us what to think and how to react. And the fact that the UK police is not immune from outbreaks of national paranoia must surely be a cause of concern for every citizen.