BBC apologizes for broadcasting abuse allegations
BBC apologizes for broadcasting abuse allegations
In a humiliating retreat for one of the world’s leading broadcasters, the BBC apologized Friday for airing a report featuring accusations from a child abuse victim which the victim later retracted.
The BBC also said it was suspending investigations at “Newsnight” — its premiere investigative program on the hot seat for both decisions. That’s the same show under investigation for not airing a report on Savile.
Friday’s apology stems from a BBC report aired last week that indicated there were child abuse allegations against an unnamed senior politician from the Margaret Thatcher era. The network did not name the politician, but Internet chatter identified him as Alistair McAlpine, a Conservative Party member of the House of Lords.
Angry about the rumors, McAlpine came forward Friday to denounce the claims as completely false. His accuser, abuse victim Steve Messham, then apologized and said he had identified the wrong man.
That led the BBC to say it apologized “unreservedly” for broadcasting the report. The apology came after McAlpine’s lawyer threatened legal action.
The BBC’s apology came after a week of claims and counterclaims in the spreading abuse scandal. Since accusations surfaced last month that renowned BBC host Savile sexually abused young victims for decades without being exposed, scores of adults have come forward to claim that their own allegations of sex assault in the past were ignored.
With the country reeling over how to respond to a torrent of new abuse claims, Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday warned the media and the public of the danger of shredding the reputations of innocent figures.
“Effectively, you are casting lots of aspersions about lots of people without any evidence,” Cameron said. “You have to be careful you don’t start some sort of witch hunt against some people who might be entirely innocent.”
Cameron’s words, coming a day after he was handed a list on live television of high-profile figures named in Internet rumors as possible sex offenders, took on greater significance Friday after it emerged that McAlpine was wrongly accused in a case of mistaken identity.
Last week, BBC’s “Newsnight” aired a report on allegations related to sex abuse in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s. The program interviewed abuse victim Messham, who claimed that previous reports into the Wales scandal had failed to examine abuse by someone he described as a senior Conservative Party figure at the time, but did not name.
On Friday, McAlpine said he was likely the political figure referred to in the “Newsnight” report. McAlpine, who was Conservative Party treasurer in the era of Thatcher, insisted he had never been involved in the abuse of children and suggested that he had been the victim of mistaken identity.
That turned out to be true.
Messham, the abuse victim, later Friday told the BBC he had offered “sincere and humble apologies” to McAlpine for wrongly identifying his abuser.
“After seeing a picture in the past hour of the individual concerned, this (is) not the person I identified by photograph presented to me by the police in the early 1990s, who told me the man in the photograph was Lord McAlpine,” Messham told the BBC.
BBC decision to broadcast Messham’s initial claim came as it conducted an internal inquiry into why “Newsnight” had shelved an investigation into Savile late last year, weeks before the organization screened tribute shows about his life and work. Savile, who presented music and children’s shows on BBC, died in October 2011.
When its rival ITV aired allegations about Savile last month, the expose led to a widespread discussion of other, unrelated sexual abuse in Britain in the recent past — including cases in Wales in which Messham was a victim.
Amid frenzied speculation, Cameron was on Thursday handed a list of individuals who have been the subject of Internet speculation during an interview by ITV’s “This Morning” program. In his haste, the show’s presenter Phillip Schofield fleetingly showed the note to a camera, revealing some of the identities.
McAlpine said that rumors spreading online and the actions of the BBC and ITV had left him with little option other than to comment. “In order to mitigate, if only to some small extent, the damage to my reputation I must publicly tackle these slurs and set the record straight,” he said in a statement.
The politician said that he had never abused Messham or any other child, and had never visited children’s homes or a hotel in the Welsh town of Wrexham where the victim told the BBC that sex abuse had taken place.
Meanwhile, Britain’s television standards regulator Ofcom confirmed that it had received complaints about ITV’s “This Morning” over its handling of the child abuse issue.
“The action of presenting a random list from the Internet of alleged ‘suspects’ to the prime minister, live on television, was a grave error of judgment,” said Conservative lawmaker Stuart Andrew, who is among those to have filed a complaint.
Schofield, the ITV presenter, stressed it was never his intention to identify anyone on the list and apologized if viewers were able see names. “I was not accusing anyone of anything and it is essential that it is understood that I would never be part of any kind of witch hunt,” he said in a statement.
ITV said in a statement it was “extremely regrettable” that a “misjudged camera angle” may have made names briefly visible. The broadcaster echoed Schofield in insisting that the program was not making any accusations against anyone in particular.
Protests across Spain as sexual abuse gang released on bail
- All five, aged between 27 and 29, were convicted of sexual abuse in April but were acquitted of the more serious crime of sexual assault
- Thousands of people had already protested in Pamplona, Bilbao, Barcelona and other cities on Thursday after the court issued its ruling
MADRID: Protesters hit the streets across Spain for the second day running on Friday, after five men sentenced to nine years in prison for sexually abusing a young woman at Pamplona’s bull-running festival were released on bail.
The men, who called themselves “The Pack” in a WhatsApp messaging group, had been accused of raping a woman, then 18, on July 7, 2016, at the start of the week-long San Fermin festival, which draws tens of thousands of visitors.
All five, aged between 27 and 29, were convicted of sexual abuse in April but were acquitted of the more serious crime of sexual assault — which includes rape — as the court did not consider the victim to have been subjected to intimidation or violence.
The men appealed their jail terms and a Pamplona court on Thursday ordered the five to be released on bail of 6,000 euros ($7,000) pending the outcome of the appeal.
Thousands of people of all ages demonstrated outside the justice ministry in central Madrid on Friday evening, shortly after the five men left jail after spending nearly two years in custody.
“I was stunned” by the court ruling, Aratz Beranoaguirre, a geologist, told AFP at the Madrid protest.
“Men have been educated with the idea that we can do anything, and with this ruling we have seen that you can rape and nothing happens.”
The crowd chanted: “They don’t believe us if they don’t kill us.”
Other protests were held in the southern city of Seville, the hometown of the five men, Pamplona — where the crowd held a large banner that read: “No is no. Justice!” outside of city hall — Granada, and elsewhere.
Thousands of people had already protested in Pamplona, Bilbao, Barcelona and other cities on Thursday after the court issued its ruling.
Women’s groups took to social media to call the protests with the slogan: “If the pack hits the streets, we will as well.”
Marches after the verdict in April brought tens of thousands of protesters out on to the streets.
“It is not fair that they are released with a sentence of nine years, and just a few days before San Fermin, they can even go there,” said Lucia Rodriguez, a 60-year-old protester in Madrid, referring to the upcoming running of the bulls festival which gets underway on July 6.
In its decision on Friday, the Navarre court said the five had been allowed out on bail because the social pressure on them made it “practically unthinkable” they would risk re-offending.
The men will remain under judicial monitoring. They have had their passports withdrawn and must report to court three times a week.
They are also banned from traveling to Madrid, where the victim lives.
One of the men is a policeman with the Guardia Civil — who is currently suspended — and another was once in the army. Several are “ultras” or hardcore fans of FC Sevilla.
The fact that the men videoed the attack on their smartphones and bragged about it within their WhatsApp group added to the outrage over the case.
The mayor of Pamplona, Joseba Asiron, said Friday his office would appeal the decision to release them, saying there was “a growing distance... between society itself and certain decisions taken by the courts.”
An online petition calling for the five to be kept behind bars had garnered 657,000 names by Friday night.
New socialist Justice Minister Dolores Delgado has not commented on the court decision, speaking only of a need to “change mentalities.”
The first step announced by the government of Pedro Sanchez, who took office earlier this month at the head of cabinet that includes 11 women, was to train magistrates in awareness about violence against women.
Noelia Garcia, 41, said she did not trust that the situation would change with a new government dominated by women.
“That is not enough. There needs to be a reform of the judicial system. Judges from another era need to be replaced,” she added at the Madrid protest.