Baby P’s father gets £75,000 for being called a child rapist in print
THE father of Baby Peter Connolly – for now and for ever the tabloids’ Baby P – has been awarded £75,000 against the publishers of The People. The newspaper said he was a child rapist who had attacked a 14-year-old girl.
The paper was wrong.
Mr Justice Bean said it was “difficult to think of any charge more calculated to lead to the revulsion and condemnation of a person’s fellow citizens than the rape of a 14-year-old girl”.
How did The People come to write a lie on September 19 2010 in an article entitled “Tortured to death as mum turned a blind eye”?
How does a national publication get it that wrong?
In 2010, the Mirror, The People’s sister organ, apologised to a social worker named Sylvia Henry:
On December 2, 2008 we published an article headed “Baby P social workers are still drawing full pay while on suspension” concerning the events which led to the death of Peter Connolly, who was also known as Baby P.
The article alleged that Sylvia Henry, who is a social worker Team Manager employed by Haringey Council, had behaved negligently in her dealings with Peter and had thereby contributed to his suffering and to his death.
These allegations were untrue. We acknowledge that Sylvia Henry was not to blame for the mistakes which contributed to Peter’s death and we apologise to her.
We have agreed to compensate Ms Henry for the hurt and upset caused by our article.
The press were on a feeding frenzy when Baby P was big news. The Sun also apologised to Henry, having done its best to turn social workers into pariahs:
In our campaign to highlight the failings of the authorities to protect Baby P from his killers, we identified staff at Haringey Social Services including one of the social workers Sylvia Henry. It is now clear that Ms Henry was not at fault or to blame in any way for decisions contributing to Baby P’s tragic death and should not have been a target of our campaign. She did her best for Baby P. It was also untrue to suggest that she was lazy and uncaring in her work and deserved to be sacked.
As we said, the Sun was not alone. Other news organ waded in. The London Evening Standard, Daily Mirror and Independent all made false allegations about Henry’s role in the Baby P case. All apologised.
But it was Rebekah Brooks – the Sun editor at the time – who whipped up the frenzy. Brooks gave the Hugh Cudlipp lecture, in which she defended her paper’s “campaign for justice“. She said:
Campaigns provide a unique connection to the public especially when the subject matter is of a serious nature.For me, nothing can illustrate this connection better than our recent Baby P campaign. The public outcry was deafening. And we began our fight for justice with a determination to expose the lack of accountability and responsibility for Baby P’s brutal death.
We delivered 1.5 million signatures to Downing Street and the collective power worked. Children’s Secretary Ed Balls was forced to use emergency legislation to ensure that those responsible were held to account. We received many many thousands of letters at The Sun about our Baby P coverage.
I’d like to read you one: ‘I have never been a huge fan of The Sun, however I thank you for the coverage of Baby P. I am so grateful for the campaign. This is not a modern day witch-hunt but a petition for justice. Please, please do not relent.’
In contrast, I’d like to quote from an article in… The Guardian.
“Full of fury and repellent hysteria, but isn’t that part of the game? This is less about the creation of public emotion and more about its manipulation.” This knee-jerk tabloid kicking reaction is just dull.
But total disregard and respect for public opinion never ceases to amaze me. They demanded accountability. And as a result of the campaign, some, just some, of those responsible were removed from office without compensation. Or as this Sun reader wrote: ‘The tabloid press, which the arty-farty press like to look down on so much, has shown that it prides morality over political correctness.’