Innocent(ish) Until Proven Guilty

August 3, 2011 2:20 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

The front page of the Daily Mail (Wednesday, 20th July) really begs belief. You could be forgiven for thinking it was a hoax (part of me wonders whether it was an attempt to satirise its own dismal reputation for reactionary, inflammatory and offensive stories by taking the modus operandi to an extreme conclusion).

Regrettably, the truth is simpler and more alarming: the Daily Mail has disregarded a key tenet of our democracy, endangering the safety of a woman who maybe completely innocent.

The arrest of Rebecca Leighton, in connection with the murder of three patients at the Stepping Hill hospital, whose deaths are thought to have been caused by drips which had been tampered with, is the story which makes the front page.

Rebecca Leighton is a criminal suspect. She has not been convinced, she has not been proven guilty and, as far as we know, she is not a murderer. I urge you to read the last two sentences twice and consider the implications of that.

To display her name and face on the front page of a newspaper is dangerous, senseless and a sad attempt to generate interest in a paper-selling story.

Slating the Daily Mail is comfortable territory for those who consider themselves liberal, rational or sane (it is not difficult to find content open to criticism in a newspaper which features the demented Richard Littlejohn and Jan Moir, a woman who’s apparent contempt for homosexuals occasionally veers into callous and vitriolic rants, based on her pre-enlightenment vision of how men should conduct themselves).

What is more difficult is acknowledging that the BBC has done the exact same thing.

Twitter is currently buzzing with disbelief and disgust at the screenshot of the front page which is circulating. No one is talking about a page on which also features, alongside a report, a photograph of Rebecca Leighton’s face.

Innocent until proven guilty- a phrase repeated so often it becomes almost meaningless; one must think about what it means and why, without holding this principle as high as any other, democracy would collapse. Should it turn out that Rebecca Leighton is innocent she will have to return to a world which, for a short while, assumed she was responsible for the murder of three people.

An arrest and a self assured news report are not proof; the police and judiciary will deal with that in due course. It should not be the business of national news organisations to make half-assumptions and inform their audience according to it.

I strongly believe that, in cases such as this and at this early stage, suspects should be granted a greater deal of anonymity which is currently afforded to them by the media. I am not suggesting a ban on covering the stories but large images of suspects faces and personal details (the Daily Mail front page quotes her as saying she ‘loves to party’, which, in Mailspeak, translates as ‘BINGING, WORK-SHY SCUM!’)? Too much; if Rebecca Leighton has been falsely accused her transition back to normal life will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

I love the BBC. I would, if necessary for the continuation of a broadcasting service which informs and entertains me on a daily basis, free of commercial interests, offer my home to make up for the cuts imposed on it by the presumably Sky News watching government. I must accept, however, that the way they have covered the Rebecca Leighton story is a mistake, one I would expect of the Daily Mail but one which has made me think ever so slightly less of our BBC.

So, an amendment:

Regrettably, the truth is simpler and more alarming: the Daily Mail and the BBC have disregarded a key tenet of our democracy, endangering the safety of a woman who may be completely innocent.


Daily Mail front page:

BBC article:

This article was first published on Sean’s blog


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This post was written by Sean Edward Seddon

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