We have already blogged about the case of Jon Venables – who had his parole licence revoked for something “serious” but has not yet been charged with any new criminal offence. This is a story where there are very few public confirmed facts and where the individual who is being is written about, in practice, has no legal remedy to deal with inaccurate reporting. As a result, the press – and/or their imaginative “sources” – have free rein to say anything they like. There is no mechanism for checking the accuracy of the stories or ensuring that the press act in a responsible manner.
An article in this week’s “Private Eye” under the headline “Fleet Street makes it up”, suggests that the press coverage relating to Jon Venables’ return to prison was substantially invented by the press:
“WHAT did Jon Venables do to get himself returned to prison? It was more a case of what didn’t he do according to the papers, which occupied the days after the news emerged by taking wild stabs in the dark”.
On 4 March 2010, the Daily Star claimed that “Criminal justice sources said Venables, 27, was arrested after “an incident” at his hideaway during a row with his girlfriend“. However, on the same date, the “Mirror” reported that Venables was “was hauled back to prison after a bust-up at work” whereas the “Daily Mail” favoured “drugs and workplace violence”. On 6 March 201o, the “Telegraph” was reporting that “Jon Venables ‘broke parole conditions with drunken nights out in Liverpool'”
But, by Sunday 7 March 2010, the “Sunday Mirror” had revealed in an “exclusive” that “Jon Venables sent back to prison over child porn offence”. However, two days later, on 9 March 2010 the “Sun” reported that the child porn was found after police had come to “pluck him to safety” after he had been “recognised by a local”.
On 14 March 2010, the “News of the World” told its readers that “Venables ‘Escapes the dock’” – claiming to report a decision that he was not going to be prosecuted for “child porn” after all. However, according to the “Sun”, on 19 March 2010
“Armed Police Swoop on Venables” ARMED cops gave James Bulger killer Jon Venables just five minutes to pack before hauling him away for questioning yesterday.
The Anorak News Blog has an entertaining discussion of this story:
“The Sun says, in what must have been a highly irregular procedure:
“Nine officers, some with handguns, put him in the back of a waiting unmarked car.”
The report gives the impression of police officers entering a High Security jail to drag Venables from his bed. Nearly but not quite but a brilliant bit of tabloid suggestion.
The Sun must have been invited as a witness because:
“Venables, in grey jogging bottoms and a brown sweatshirt, was said to have looked “dazed” at the speed of the operation.”
But no, The Sun was not invited to the party. Once again sticking it’s head over the high security razor wire was the ubiquitous insider, the anonymous signatory to the Official Secrets Act 1911 and 1989.
“A source said: “Two police cars arrived at 6am. One parked next to the isolation unit where Venables was held.
“He was given five minutes to get dressed and put his stuff into a bag. He was gone within 20 minutes. It was very slickly organised.”
So the armed police did not actually go inside then?
“Armed officers were deployed because of security risks surrounding Venables.”
Aha. The armed police were perhaps outside waiting quietly in order to protect Venables from a public who has no clue where he is?”
So, what was this reason for this highly unusual “armed swoop” on a prison cell. “The Sun” told us the next day, 20 March 2010: Venables was questioned by the police for 24 hours on Thursday and Friday: “They grilled him about child porn allegations before returning him to his high security prison at around 6am“. So, it appears that he is still under investigation after all.
The temptation for the press to recycle rumour and plain invention in cases of this kind seems too difficult to resist. As Peter Preston says in a piece in today’s “Observer” entitled “Gossip journalism gives us all the sauce – but still none of it sourced”
Unconfirmed reports? The McCanns were knee-deep in them. Jon Venables – unable to comment, let alone sue – was buried by them.
There is no regulation to prevent this endless recycling of inaccuracy and no individual claimant to challenge the coverage. The main losers are the misinformed public.