Do tabloid rewards do more harm than good?
DO newspaper rewards aide the hunt for missing persons and criminals? Or are they just splashy adverts that show how much the organ cares, or pretends to? The News of The World’s £1,5m reward for Madeleine McCann remains unclaimed (did it die with the paper?). So too does the Daily Express’ £1million reward for information on what happened to Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.
We also produced posters featuring this picture of the girls, in the Manchester United shirts they were wearing when last seen. The Sun pledged £100,000 of the reward and the News of the World £50,000.
The matter cropped up at the Leveson Inquiry into media standards. Jacqui Hames is the former copper and Crimewatch presenter was the subject of the Express’s story:
Former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames sobbed yesterday as she claimed corrupt police caused her marriage breakdown, accusing officers at Scotland Yard of leaking her personal details to Mr Mulcaire in an attempt to intimidate her husband, Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Cook. Ms Hames, 51, a former detective, alleged that the News of the World tried to prevent her husband from exposing corruption involving the Met and the paper.
What the Express did not report was Hames’ Witness Statement:
The bottom line in many of these cases is that the press would love to be instrumental in solving the crime before the police do and, unless handled robustly, will try to ’run the show’. It is widely recognised that that is what happened during the first couple of weeks into the investigation that followed the disappearances of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman from Soham in 2002. In the absence of an immediate robust police media strategy the media started to dictate police action, The press were putting pressure on the police to follow lines of investigation such as sightings called in by members of the public to the media, and criticised the police when they were not immediately followed up. Some examples of this are as follows:
Sunday August 2nd 2002: at approximately 10pro: Holly and Jessica were reported missing Thursday August 6th: The Sun offered a front-page reward of £150,000 without informing the police investigation team and The Daily Express offered fi’ont page reward of £hn. The Daily Express did contact police on the eve of publication and were asked not to offer the reward without further discussion. The Daily Express went ahead and published the reward anyway. The effect of this was that file police received in the region of 12,000 of calls froln the public offering ideas, speculation and sightings of the girls at locations all over the country, thereby swamping the incident room. In addition people began arriving in Sohaln from far and wide to search the streets and surrounding countryside.
Research by MediaGuardian.co.uk shows the last really big payout was in 1993 when the News of the World handed over £175,000, the biggest reward in the history of newspapers, to Sue Aoke, the ex-wife of Michael Sams who was convicted of the kidnap of Birmingham estate agent Stephanie Slater after she recognised his voice on a Crimewatch programme.
Was the reward the trigger? Do tabloid rewards work? Or do they they just cynically co-opt the mis=sing and dead into their brand..?