Money talk, money silence

According to the Daily Mirror, Alastair McAlpine is presently engaged in the largest libel case in British history.

He intends to sue about 10,000 people, unless they come forward and offer him an apology and a settlement. Maybe more.

Their crime is either to have tweeted or to have retweeted an allegation that Lord McAlpine was one of the men who raped Steven Messham. Lord McAlpine was not the “McAlpine” apparently identified by the police to Steven Messham: it seems that was probably Alastair McAlpine’s cousin Jimmie McAlpine, who died in 1991.

Keith Gregory said he thought a different member of the McAlpine family who lived locally may have been mistaken for Lord McAlpine.

A man who children at the care home believed to be a McAlpine would arrive there in an expensive car, he said.

Jimmie McAlpine, who chaired the north of England builders Alfred McAlpine Ltd, was said in his Times obituary to have an interest in vintage cars, and to have amassed “what was at one time the biggest private collection in Britain.”

The Waterhouse inquiry into the abuse allegations recorded that, according to Mr Messham’s statement to the police, “X (the letter used to hide the identity of the McAlpine family member) had several different motor cars and would wait for him at the bottom of Bryn Estyn Lane.”

Reporters covering the inquiry at the time concluded that Lord McAlpine could not be the person referred to as the abuser because Mr Messham said his abuser was dead, whereas Lord McAlpine is alive.

Now obviously, Alastair McAlpine cannot ever have had the slightest idea his cousin Jimmie McAlpine, who chaired a separate business (with a non-compete agreement) in the North of England, may have liked to have sex with children and is possibly one of the men who had a nice quiet arrangement with a care home for supplying them. I daresay the two sides of the family never had much to do with each other, and I’m sure that Alastair McAlpine would have had no hesitation in reporting his cousin Jimmie to the police had he known. We can all be sure of that, as Alastair McAlpine has just made very publicly clear how much he detests child abuse: to the tune of £185,000 from the BBC and possibly even more money from ITV and from other Twitterers who have the dosh to pay up. When an investigation was carried out about child abuse in the the Bryn Estyn home, I’m sure that if Alastair McAlpine – or any other member of the McAlpine family – had known anything about Jimmie McAlpine’s actions, they’d have come forward to testify.

(The Slog has a suggestion for what Lord McAlpine might do with all the money he’s getting.)

I have every sympathy for the awful ordeal Lord McAlpine has gone through.

“I don’t think it’s like a light switch that you can press the switch and then it’s gone, I don’t think you can – ever.

“It’s always something that will come up, I’ve tried to get it off, when I think about it. The nightmares I have had in the past over it, and everybody else.

“We want to close this and end the story. If there’s all these people involved in it then find them, sort it out and then close the book. Give everybody else closure as well.”

Oh, sorry, that wasn’t Lord McAlpine talking. That was Andrew Teague, who was one of the boys raped while at the Bryn Estyn care home in the 1970s. But how could Teague or Messham or any other victim of abuse think their suffering is as great as that of Lord McAlpine’s? Lord McAlpine is the one entitled to compensation, after all.

Someone at Newsnight apparently did understand the risk of the programme going ahead as planned after Iain Overton had let out Lord McAlpine’s name at the Oxford Union and on Twitter: that was, according to the Telegraph, Allegra Stratton.

Stratton is understood to have raised her concerns with the programme’s producers before the planned broadcast. She is also said to have refused to take part in the studio discussion that followed it.

“Allegra was concerned that the story was going to spark a Twitter frenzy that would lead to innocent people getting hurt,” claims one of her friends. “She refused to do a ‘two way’ with the presenter.”

On 23rd May 2012, Newsnight broadcast a segment that named Shanene Thorpe as an unemployed single mother claiming benefits to move out from her mother’s home to live in a flat with her daughter. As Newsnight were well aware at the time, Shanene Thorpe wasn’t unemployed – she’d worked since she was 16: she’d had to claim help to get a deposit and to pay the rent, because her wages aren’t high enough to cover rent in the area of London where she lives.

Shanene Thorpe:

Immediately after filming I was upset: I felt as if I’d been mugged. I’d been led to believe I’d be defending young people from benefit cuts, not defending my family. I’m so far from the scrounger benefit-claimant stereotype it seemed ridiculous. I am one woman working hard to raise my daughter. When I was ready to return to work not long after my baby was born, the benefits office did a “better off in work” calculation. They worked out that I would be a mere £20 better off a week by working. Dropping my daughter off at daycare every morning is heartbreaking, but because of my principles, I do it.

The interview screened that night. I asked a friend to come over to my flat as I couldn’t watch it alone. I only told my mum and grandmother I would be on there. My family had marched with the labour movement against cuts and had I been able to give the defence against the cuts I wanted, they would have been proud. They’d have thought, “Oh, Shanene, the face of the anti-cuts movement!” but not this. I couldn’t let them see this. I couldn’t tell them. I was mortified at the Newsnight segment as a whole and what it said about young people. I’d wanted to talk about how there were opportunities for apprenticeships like mine in Tower Hamlets but wasn’t allowed. I was used as a talking head for a type of lifestyle I didn’t even represent. When I was on maternity leave, sometimes I’d avoid taking the buggy out – instead I’d carry my daughter, to avoid the stigma associated with being a single mum in London. Segments like this in Newsnight don’t help.

Newsnight did eventually – after considerable public pressure – issue a formal public apology to Shanene Thorpe for lying to her about the intention of the interview and presenting a deliberately misleading impression of her to the viewing public. They didn’t pay her any compensation for this, but then – unlike Lord McAlpine – Thorpe couldn’t have afforded the lawyers.

Who was the Newsnight presenter so unworried then about the repercussions of broadcasting something that Newsnight knew to be untrue?

Allegra Stratton.

Allegra Stratton with Shanene Thorpe

We all know that single mothers are immoral scroungers, right? That impression was cemented by last Wednesday’s Newsnight, when Allegra Stratton interviewed young single mother Shanene Thorpe.

Stratton demands to know why Thorpe has chosen to move out of her mother’s two-bedroom flat, since she required housing benefit to do so. Here is a clip of the rather aggressive conversation [at link]

After the interview, Stratton says directly to camera: “The government is thinking of saying to young people: if you don’t have work, don’t leave home.”

Allegra Stratton never apologised to Shanene Thorpe. Shanene Thorpe would have got nothing from the BBC, no more than Steven Messham is likely to get anything from the Daily Mail, if massive public pressure via Twitter had not raised the issue so loudly that the BBC could not ignore it.

As it happens (and given how the ten thousand must feel, I can’t feel too smug about it) I never tweeted about Lord McAlpine, because all of the identifications of the “top Tory” that named him struck me as too gossipy to be worth repeating on a such a serious issue. If Allegra Stratton is not just engaging in Monday morning football, she showed good journalistic sense in refusing to associate herself with an allegation that she couldn’t be sure was true.

But she knew for a fact that the allegations she was making about Shanene Thorpe weren’t true, and that didn’t seem to have bothered her at all.

Now, it’s possible that Allegra Stratton learned a valuble lesson when she traduced Shanene Thorpe – a harmless, penniless victim who couldn’t possibly have the resources to fight back against the BBC – that you just don’t say damaging things about other people unless (a) you have a very good reason to do so and (b) you are sure that it’s true.

Or Stratton may have learned with annoyance that Twitter gives even the most apparently powerless victim a voice that’s hard to silence, and she may be watching appreciatively as McAlpine proceeds to silence it. (Grace Dent certainly is, which is a little ungrateful as Twitter gave her the opportunity to deliver a splendid smackdown to a misogynist earlier this year.)

Or Allegra Stratton may just have thought that Lord McAlpine had the money to pay good lawyers, and Shanene Thorpe didn’t, so it was necessary to be careful what was said about McAlpine, but unnecessary to care what was said about Thorpe.

Lord McAlpine was owed an apology by Newsnight, and by Iain Overton. That I think no one could deny. Why is he getting the money, too?

Because he’s already rich, and as a rich man, he believes he’s always entitled to more. Tom Pride has another theory, based on McAlpine’s own advice on how to manipulate the media. But mostly, I think it’s because if you’re a rich man, son of a rich man, who lives a rich and sheltered life, the idea that perhaps you’re suffering is not nearly as great as the children who were raped when they were in care homes is something that you just don’t consider.

Do you?

But you can’t have a cover up where there was no crime,” said Lord McAlpine:

Then in the investigation in to these homes in Wales, the Judge took out an injunction to stop people naming people whose names were raised in the course of evidence, er at that time, some of the press reporting said there were, there was dark figures, there were rumours, counter-rumours. Nobody knows where these rumours came from. You know, they’ve called for, that there was a cover up. But you can’t have a cover up where there was no crime. And so, there was rumour and counter-rumour but it wasn’t anyone you could get your hands on. You couldn’t really do very much for it. And it wasn’t by any manner or means persistent. It was spasmodic. It would pop out of the woodwork, but it never had the same impact as suddenly finding it on the BBC. Because strangely enough, all over the world, people believe the BBC to be one, or possibly the only, honest voice.


Update:
Lord McAlpine of West Green (Alastair McAlpine’s proper title), although a life peer, isn’t in the House of Lords since July 2010 because he doesn’t want to pay UK taxes. Section 41 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 requires all Members of the Lords to pay full UK taxes: Lord McAlpine notified the House of Lords that he’d rather not pay up and would rather permanently give up his right to sit in the House of Lords. Sweet deal, yes?

4 Comments

Filed under Children, Equality, In The Media, Poverty

4 responses to “Money talk, money silence

  1. I’m afraid that when a new enquiry into this was announced , I surmised on twwitter that it would probably be chaired by some Tory grandee – like Lord Mc Alpine. I am deeply sorry for any offence I caused by calling Mc Alpine a Tory, which hasn’t any basis in fact.

  2. Cylux

    “Lord McAlpine was owed an apology by Newsnight”
    Why? They didn’t name him, Messham didn’t name him, in fact, best as I can tell the only thing Newsnight is guilty of is in directing public attention toward the Bryn Estyn scandal. Whereupon, ardent googlers stumbled upon the Scallywag accusations that had been left untouched for 20 years on the web.
    They should have stuck to their guns, it would have made for a very interesting court case.

    • Two reasons.

      One, Newsnight apparently didn’t think to show Steven Messham a photograph of Alastair McAlpine to confirm with him that *this* was the man who’d abused him. That was carelessness.

      Two, which I got from a legal analyst, but which makes sense: Iain Overton leaked Lord McAlpine’s name at an Oxford Debating Society evening before the Newsnight broadcast and the next morning on Twitter. At that point – if Newsnight had been paying good attention to social media – they would have known that their broadcast as it stood would seem to confirm the name being discussed on Twitter. They could have edited the broadcast to remove references to the “top Tory” and did not. That too, I think, was carelessness.

      So yes, I think Iain Overton owes several people and Newsnight and apology for running off his mouth, and I think Newsnight owes Steven Messham and Alastair McAlpine apologies.

  3. Pingback: The Backbencher Leveson and freedom of the press - The Backbencher

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