Friday, September 09, 2011 

Scum-watch: What a difference 4 years makes.

The Sun's editorial the day after the collapse of the court martial against six of the men accused of being involved in the abuse of Baha Mousa:

COMMON sense prevailed when two British soldiers were cleared of abusing Iraqi prisoners.

Major Michael Peebles and Warrant Officer Mark Davies served with courage and bravery in the most difficult conditions.

This ludicrous show trial ? which has already seen four other soldiers cleared on the judge’s orders ? has been a waste of time and money.

These men risked their lives in Iraq but were repaid by being hung out to dry.

Every aspect of investigating so-called crimes within the military needs to be re-examined.

Our servicemen and women deserve nothing less.

Today's Sun editorial following
Sir William Gage's report into Baha Mousa's death:

NOTHING can excuse the savagery that led to the death of an innocent Iraqi prisoner at the hands of British squaddies.

As David Cameron says, it was shocking and appalling. And it must never happen again.

There are vital lessons for the Army over the scandal of hotel worker Baha Mousa, who died of 93 injuries inflicted by brutal captors in a detention centre.

The Sun's security expert, Andy McNab, points out that squaddies on active service are pumped up and highly aggressive. In war, their lives depend on it.

Responsibility for channelling that aggression, and enforcing rules on treating prisoners, falls to senior commanders and top brass at the Defence Ministry.

Yesterday's public inquiry report condemned a shameful failure of leadership. It also hit out at the conspiracy of silence over the killing of Mr Mousa.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox must act decisively with sackings — although he is right to insist that firm interrogation techniques remain an option.

Most Service personnel are fine men and women doing a tough job.

Yesterday the latest soldier to die in Afghanistan was brought home, a tragic reminder of the perils our brave troops face daily.

A handful of bad apples must not be allowed to tarnish the whole Army.

Whatever happened to common sense? And perhaps the Sun can also elaborate on whom outside the military contributed to the "conspiracy of silence" following the "savage" treatment meted out to Baha Mousa. After all, a handful of bad apples must not be allowed to tarnish the whole of the British media.

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Thursday, September 08, 2011 

Justice at long last for Baha Mousa.

When the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday finally reported, I asked whether the forthcoming report into the death of Baha Mousa, coming just 7 years after his death could shine a similar light onto the excesses of the military. To the great credit of Sir William Gage and the team whom worked with him both on the report and during the inquiry, it does. It also asks a lot of questions which have yet to be properly answered.

To call Gage's conclusions devastating and his report meticulous in its dedication to getting as close to the truth as any investigator coming up against what was described at the previous court martial as an "obvious closing of the ranks" possibly could would not quite capture the true essence of what is an indictment of the state of the military prior to going into Iraq. It's a story of very young, often naive men being thrown in at the deep end, into a city (Basra) where security was rapidly disintegrating with the population turning against them, often expected to work 16 to 20 hour days in temperatures of between 40 degrees at night and 59 during the day, all with inadequate training, most especially when it came to the arresting of both "regime loyalists" and just general criminals, and all for dispiritingly low levels of pay.

This doesn't however even begin to explain why Baha Mousa and the others who were arrested with him on the 14th of September 2003 were treated with such a staggering level of brutality by some of the members of the 1 Queen's Lancashire Regiment. Gage also doesn't a reach a single overriding reason: he does however suspect, as had long been suggested, that the soldiers who took Mousa into custody and then subjected him to prolonged beatings, "stress positioning" and sleep deprivation for the next 36 hours believed he and his friends were responsible either for the deaths of six military police killed by a mob a couple of months earlier, or for the death of the popular Captain Dai Jones, a month before, pointing to it as the "principal cause". The only evidence they had which even suggested there were possibly insurgents was a cache of weaponry found at the hotel they worked at, which included a couple of grenades without fuses, pistols, two assault rifles and a large quantity of Iraqi dinars. There's nothing to suggest that during the conditioning and "tactical questioning" they subsequently underwent that they admitted, or even alluded to being involved in either of the incidents.

He also pinpoints exactly why the ranks closed during the previous court martial: far from this being the work of two or three out of control, revenge seeking servicemen, he names 19 separate soldiers as having some role in the violence meted out to the detainees. This doesn't include those who either witnessed what was going on, heard about it, or subsequently minimised what happened. One of these was 1QLR's padre, Father Peter Madden, who Gage found to be a "poor witness". Madden it seems found nothing untoward when he visited the detainees on the Monday, by which point the conditions in which they were being held should have spoken for themselves. Likewise, while the unit's regimental medical officer, Dr Derek Keilloh, was not criticised for his attempts to revive Mousa, it seems remarkable that at the time he maintains he had noticed no injuries on the body other than blood under his nose. The photographs of Mousa which have since been published were taken just after he was pronounced dead; they clearly show the extent of the beating he had received, let alone the 93 separate injuries which were subsequently identified.

All of which brings into sharp context the response of some following the court martial. One strutting, preening cock was Colonel David Black, who said soldiers had to be able to "work without looking over their shoulders, inhibited by the fear of such actions by an over-zealous and remote officialdom", while the local Tory MP Ben Wallace accused the then attorney general Lord Goldsmith of conducting a witch-hunt. The Sun, which considers itself the forces' paper to the great embarrassment of many serving in the army, referred to it as a "show trial" and the allegations, despite the very real death of Mousa and the extensive injuries to the other men detained as "so-called crimes".

The 73 separate recommendations made by Gage will hopefully address most of the problems identified. The one thing it doesn't comment on, and which the Chilcot inquiry must is the politicians who put them in such a desperate position in the first place, just about prepared for the initial conflict but not for what came afterwards. Ultimate responsibility must as always reside at the very top.

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Monday, February 23, 2009 

More on Qatada.

Andy Worthington has probably the last word for now on Abu Qatada in an excellent post calling for the introduction of intercept evidence.

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Friday, February 20, 2009 

Scum-watch: Pathetic apoplexy over Qatada's compensation.

It was to be expected that regardless of the level of payout, the Sun was bound to be outraged by the paying of compensation to Abu Qatada and the other men detained illegally at Belmarsh. Quite why it or anyone else is so surprised that the ECHR awarded compensation is a mystery: a more flagrant breach of both the right to liberty and a fair trial is difficult to imagine, regardless of the threat the men are said to pose. These norms and values are however ones which the Sun and some politicians have no intention of respecting when they are so apparently inimical to common sense.

The Sun's opening paragraph could hardly be more partisan:

A BARMY decision to award terror suspect Abu Qatada and eight others £75,000 for a “breach” of their human rights sparked outrage yesterday.

Barmy and most certainly not a "breach" then. You have to wonder how the Sun would respond to a British citizen abroad being detained without charge for over three years, or indeed to a British citizen not accused of links with terrorism being detained here for over three years without charge. One suspects that their attitude might well be entirely different. That Qatada is a "terror suspect" is irrelevant: he has the same rights as everyone else, and to suggest otherwise is part of where we've gone wrong in attempting to fight the terror threat. Those accused of links with terrorism are fundamentally criminals, and need to be declared as such, with normal criminal prosecution taken against them. That this is itself is controversial is partially why compensation has now rightly been paid out.

Naturally, comparisons with the victims of the 7/7 attacks are brought in:

Survivors of the 7/7 attacks on London in 2005 last night compared the handout to their own battle for compensation.

Jackie Putnam, 58, from Huntingdon, Cambs, suffered memory loss and trauma.

She said: “It seems the rules are there to protect the bad guys and the good ones get pushed aside. The suspects have won justice but there has been little or none of it for the victims of 7/7.”

Victim’s dad Mr Foulkes, of Oldham, Greater Manchester, added: “I despair when I hear of a decision like this, then I get angry because it rubs salt in the wounds.”


None of those given compensation have any link whatsoever to 7/7 to begin with, unless you can somehow make a case that they were inspired by Qatada, something I haven't seen made before. Equally, Putnam might well be referring to justice in the sense of bringing those other than bombers themselves involved to book, but if she's referring purely to compensation then there is no real comparison. Back in 2007 the government had already paid out over £3 million to the victims of the attacks, while another £12 million from a dedicated charitable relief fund had also been distributed, sums which put the total of £75,000 and £2,500 to Qatada into stark relief.

For some unfathomable reason, David Cameron also has to stick his nose in. His contribution would be hilarious if it wasn't both so dire and craven:

Unbelievably, taxpayers are going to have to pay him and other terrorist suspects thousands in compensation for detaining them.

It could have been more, but I resent every penny.


Taxpayers can directly blame Cameron for having to pay him compensation: while he was absent or abstained from the vote on the legalisation which introduced indefinite detention without charge, he subsequently voted in 2004 for the renewal of it. Also, why is it unbelievable? Does Cameron not think that detaining anyone without charge indefinitely is beyond the pale?

You have to shake your head at his sheer shamelessness.

He comes to Britain illegally — we let him stay. In the aftermath of 9/11 we detain him fearing he was planning something.

We say he can leave detention if he leaves the country. He doesn’t.

He drags us through appeals at our own courts and the European Court and we have to pay him for the pleasure.


It's about time we challenged this nonsense about him coming here illegally - by definition the vast majority of those who come here and subsequently seek asylum enter the country illegally, mainly because they have no legal way of doing so. His entry was on a false passport, and if we want to be really picky about it, it was a Conservative government which let him stay. He wasn't detained because we feared he was planning something - he was detained simply because of his links to terrorism. Likewise, why on earth would he leave detention when he's a Palestinian by nationality and so cannot return there, and also quite understandably doesn't want to return to Jordan where he faces potential mistreatment and an unfair trial. Nowhere else will take him, hence he's stuck here. He drags us through all his layers of appeal, as is his right.

This case was not even about whether he might be tortured if returned home — just that he might not get a fair trial by our standards.

Why should it be our responsibility and what should we do about it?


Actually it was about whether he might be tortured - just that the judges rejected that part of his argument, while the appeal court accepted he would not face a fair trial, a decision now overturned by the Lords. Does Qatada not deserve a fair trial "by our standards"?

First, we should have stronger border controls. A Conservative government will set up a dedicated Border Police force.

If dangerous people slip through, we should bring them to justice.


And will this border force stop those with false passports getting in and then claiming asylum? Of course not.

A Conservative government will tear up the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, so we can deal with human rights issues more sensibly.

It makes a mockery of human rights if we can’t protect ourselves against people who are out to destroy them for everyone else.


Will the Conservatives also then be withdrawing from the Council of Europe, and thus leaving the ECHR altogether? All the HRA does is institute the ECHR in British law; all tearing it up will do is mean those seeking justice will have to wait far longer before they receive it. We also have "protected ourselves" from Qatada, as the Lords judgement showed. The people who make a real mockery of human rights are those that deny they are both universal and that want to make it more difficult for the average person to seek recompense, which is exactly what the Conservatives' position will do.

On then to the Scum's incredibly poorly argued leader:

YESTERDAY was a humiliation for Britain.

We have been ordered by Europe to pay thousands to terror suspects such as Abu Qatada simply because we locked them up to keep our streets safe.

Note that throughout the Sun claims we've been ordered to do this by "Europe". The ECHR does not represent Europe: it is simply a European institution, one which we had a major hand in creating. The Sun's constant conflation of the EU with the ECHR is both misleading and almost certainly deliberate, designed to cause further apoplexy at unaccountable institutions when it simply isn't the case. It also wasn't a "humiliation": the real humiliation was that we were the only nation in Europe post 9/11 which felt that the threat to us was so serious that we had to abandon our own long-held values and liberties, while all the others got on perfectly as they had been, despite similar threats to them also. The idea that we locked up Qatada and the others to keep our streets safe is also ludicrous: if we'd really wanted to do that we would have prosecuted them, not detained them illegally and afterwards even allowed Qatada out on bail.

Worse, this disgraceful ruling means our money could well end up funding weapons to attack our own Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Qatada and eight other extremists must be paid £75,000 between them in compensation and costs, rules Europe’s crackpot Human Rights Court.

Who is to say the money won’t be recycled into the back pockets of al-Qaeda?


Considering that four of those given compensation have already been deported, that Qatada is in prison and that the others are still on control orders, the chances of any of the money going on weapons to attack forces or to al-Qaida is incredibly slim to non-existent. Even if some did, I hate to break it to the Sun but £2,500 doesn't buy a lot of weaponry; it might barely cover a couple of decent guns. That al-Qaida and other terrorist groups have other rather more dependable sources of cash then those locked up over here is something of a understatement. The costs of course won't go to the men, but rather to their lawyers.

This is the lowest moment since Labour’s catastrophic decision to enforce European human rights laws in Britain.

We have to go cap in hand to a monster like Abu Qatada with a cheque from the very British taxpayers he wants murdered.


The lowest moment since the last lowest moment, obviously. The only thing catastrophic about the HRA to the Sun is that it potentially affects its business model, as we have noted in the past. If we didn't want to have to pay Qatada compensation, we shouldn't have acted illegally; it's pretty damn simple.

Europe’s human rights laws have made this country a laughing stock. We could be funding terrorists to buy guns to shoot our own soldiers.

Is that the third time in a very short article that the Sun's made the same argument? Hasn't that barrel been scraped enough? Do I really need to say again that "Europe's" human rights laws are as much our creation as anyone else's?

We can’t endure the shame of this any longer. We have to change the law.

Britain’s safety must come before pandering to Europe.


So, as previously stated, we're going to both abolish the HRA and withdraw from the ECHR, yes? The idea that we're pandering in any way to Europe is ludicrous: we're simply operating as every other democracy in Europe does, including the authoritarian likes of Russia, which is also signed up to the ECHR. The idea that we would withdraw from it while Russia stayed would make us the real laughing stock, a country which abandons its principles to fight a pathetic threat that has been ridiculously exaggerated. The Sun, as ever, only has its own real interest at heart.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009 

Even "terrorist suspects" deserved more.

It must have come as a great disappointment to the Daily Mail hacks that despite their predictions that Abu Qatada and the others illegally detained without charge at Belmarsh from 2002 to 2005 were about to receive hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation from the European Court of Human Rights that the actual amount turned out to be a rather less outrageous £2,500, rising to over £3,000 for those detained longest. Even this miserly amount was condemned by the Conservatives as "horrifying", when the only thing horrifying about it was that it wasn't far far higher.

In that, the ECHR seems to have decided to be cautious. In its ruling it even accepted the frankly bogus assertion from the government, used to justify the detention without charge for foreign "terrorist suspects" who supposedly couldn't be tried, that there was a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation". This country has only ever faced a public emergency threatening the life of the nation once, from 1939 up until 1944, when the possibility of the Nazis launching an invasion had drastically rescinded. The very notion that somehow the likes of Abu Qatada and the other detainees posed a threat similar to then was insulting in the extreme.

We really ought to set out in detail what the detention without charge or trial amounted to. It meant that someone (as long as they were a foreign national, or in Qatada's case, stripped of their asylum status so they could be designated as one) could be accused of being involved in terrorism, where either the evidence was inadmissable or too flimsy to be brought before a court, and on that basis locked up indefinitely in one our flagship highest security prisons. You were not allowed to know what the evidence was against you, in order to challenge it; your case was instead dealt with by a special advocate appointed by the court. In short, you could only really challenge your detention as a whole by arguing that there was no real threat to the life of the nation, and that therefore the derogation from article 5 of the ECHR was unlawful. This was what the law lords ruled in December 2004. The entire Kafkaesque situation had a devastating effect on the detainees' mental health, as could have been predicted; almost all of them were prescribed anti-depressants, another attempted suicide and Abu Rideh, one of the few to be named and also awarded compensation today, repeatedly harmed himself. He was last known to be seriously ill from a hunger strike in protest at his continuing restriction of liberty under a control order. A stateless Palestinian confined to a wheelchair, the idea that he posed a threat to anyone was always laughable. Yet he too along with the others was only given a small lump sum as the ECHR ruled that their treatment did not amount to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Alan Travis points out the staggering difference between payouts, mentioning that the ECHR had previously awarded £5,500 to a British man who had been unlawfully detained for only 6 days. Some of those held were kept in custody for over 3 years before being released onto the only slightly less onerous control orders. In some cases this amounts to just over £2 compensation for each day spent illegally in custody. Put it this way: if this had happened to British citizens, and not those accused of involvement in terrorism, regardless of the fact that none have ever had to face the accusations in an actual trial, they would have been looking at compensation in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands, as Qatada had initially demanded. The ECHR seems to have decided not to inflame the tabloids further than they already have been; politically wise perhaps, but cowardly in its own way.

Less cowardly was another part of the ruling, which has finally struck a blow directly against the process of the Special Immigration Appeals Committees, where those before them are routinely denied access to the evidence held against them, making it almost impossible for them to be able to adequately challenge it. The ECHR ruled that in some of the cases, although not in all, that this was constituted another breach of article 5. It's unclear what this means for the continuation of SIAC: the ECHR accepted that where more extended information had been provided to those detained without charge, that there had not been breach of the right to a fair trial. This most likely means that the government, rather than being forced to scrap what amounts to little more than a kangaroo court, albeit an independent one, will simply have to hand over slightly more information than it otherwise would have done. A partial victory it might be, but a welcome one nonetheless.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008 

No sense of shame.


I predicted yesterday that the same newspapers that stalked and smeared Colin Stagg for 14 years would not be at all happy with his £706,000 compensation award. Even I though didn't expect that both the Scum and the Mail would splash on it, each doing their very best to whip up faux-outrage in the way they have become so accustomed to doing. Not only did we get the £98,000 that was awarded to Nickell's son rolled out for comparison, but anyone and everyone who's received less of late has been brought up, or their families contacted for comment. Hence we have the Scum contacting the family of a woman murdered in the 7/7 attacks, who received only £11,000 in compensation, who declare that this makes the system a joke. The Sun being the Sun, "Our Boys" have to be brought into the equation, with the injured in action often receiving less than the maximum £285,000, although they also get a £20,000 annual pension. According to Phil Cooper, whose son received £57,000 after he lost the use of a leg and received severe injuries to his stomach, it's "a kick in the teeth." Danny Biddle, another 7/7 victim who lost both his legs, an eye and his spleen calls the system "disgraceful". The Mail even got the Tory MP Patrick Mercer to open his trap, commenting on both the "total imbalance" between the payout to Stagg and to Nickell's son, and then also onto our servicemen who are receiving nowhere near the same amount.

There is one comparison which neither of the tabloids make that other bloggers have however. Ben Collett, a promising Manchester United player, only a few days ago received a payout totalling £4.5 million in lost earnings after a high tackle broke his leg in two places and brought an end to his career. The one abiding message coming out of all of this is that the various compensation systems aren't fair or equal - hardly a newsflash. None of this is Stagg's fault. Indeed, that is the very reason why Stagg's payout deserved to be so high, if not higher. While everyone can sympathise with the victims of 7/7 who similarly were in the wrong place at the wrong time, it's a little different to the case of soldiers, who know full well the risks when they join up. This by no means justifies either their lower payouts or their relatively low wages, but it's not comparing like with like. Stagg was picked out for his treatment by both the police and the media for no other reason than he was supposedly weird: meaning he was a loner, had a couple of books on the occult, some paper knives and an unusual decoration scheme. This was enough for the police to decide that he was a murderer. It was enough for the media to believe, or convince themselves enough to believe, that he was the murderer.

What directly lies behind today's phony apoplexy is that the newspapers themselves know that they're just as responsible for the payout as the Metropolitan police are. It's impossible to think that Lord Brennan wasn't in part influenced when deciding the amount by the media's continued obsession with either directly or indirectly accusing Stagg of being involved in Nickell's death. Their cover is to pretend that they themselves are wholly innocent of any wrong-doing, and so again claim to be on the people's side and for those others that have been compensated less well. Even now the Mail is continuing in just the same way as it has for the last 14 years: wilfully misquoting Stagg in the headline of its current article to give the impression that he is unfeeling towards fellow miscarriage of justice victim Barry George, when in he fact says he feels sorry for the time he spent in prison but less sympathy because of his past conviction for attempted rape and tendency to follow women. As Dave Osler also notes, it also gives the most perfunctory of explanations to what happened to Stagg: he was simply cleared of Nickell's murders, not wrongly accused or fitted up by the police, perish the thought.

The Sun kindly however provides a reminder of how it and the other tabloids covered Stagg's acquittal, putting up a scan of their front page the day after. NO GIRL IS SAFE, it shrieks, alongside a photograph of Stagg, with Rachel murderer will strike again underneath. The inference is all too clear: this man has got away with it, and he will kill again.

Perhaps realising that they can't go too over the top, the Scum's leader admits, probably for the first time in such language, how Stagg's life was ruined:

THERE is no doubt Colin Stagg’s life was ruined by Scotland Yard’s cynical fit-up.

He spent a year in jail on remand before the charges over Rachel Nickell’s murder were dropped.

He has since spent 15 years as a social pariah, unemployable, and with the stink of suspicion hanging over him despite his total innocence.


Could the stink of suspicion hanging over him in any way be attributable to the Sun? Obviously not, as even now neither it nor any of the other tabloids have offered apologies to Stagg for their low-level campaigns against him. Here comes the but that you were waiting for:

Even so, £706,000 is an enormous compensation payout.

Especially compared with the £90,000 given to Rachel’s son Alex, who saw his mum murdered and will spend a lifetime without her.

Or compared with the payouts to victims of terrorist atrocities.


How much does the Sun think an adequate award for spending 15 years as a social pariah is then? Considering the tidy sums which newspaper editors and their proprietors are paid and pay themselves, isn't £706,000 an about right sum for their own role in his misery?

Many will be asking today whether the enormous sums given out in miscarriage-of-justice cases should dwarf so spectacularly those for people left enduring a lifetime of physical and mental agony.

Does the Sun think that spending inordinate lengths of time in prison for a crime that they didn't commit doesn't often leave miscarriage of justice victims with a lifetime of mental, and in some cases physical agony, considering the treatment they receive inside? One judge notably described the process some have been subject to as "like a prolonged kidnapping". If anything, the majority of payments to the victims of miscarriages of justice are derisory and add to insult to injury when "room and board" payments are deducted from them, like in the case of the Hickeys.

The system is patently unfair.

As indeed is life, and the press in this country. The one bright spot is that so many in the comments on both the Mail and the Sun sites have defended the payout, often saying it isn't enough. The only thing that hasn't been stressed enough is the media's own role. To that, we should leave the last words to Emine Saner:

The compensation is only a part of making amends. Stagg deserves some very public apologies: from the police and others who were convinced Stagg was guilty. From defaming authors who have made money from him and from every person who has ever spat at him in the street or hurled abuse. And definitely from certain newspapers (it would be tempting to think the press had learned its lesson but the recent experience of Robert Murat shows that nothing has changed). Then, perhaps, at last Colin Stagg really can get on with his life.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008 

The Stagg hunt draws to a close.

It's difficult to think of someone more of a victim of the gutter press in this country than Colin Stagg. One other name does come to mind, but she used them as much as they used her. Here's a prediction: tomorrow the very same newspapers that stalked and hunted him for over a decade will be at the least less than happy with the £706,000 that Stagg through his solicitors has revealed he will receive in compensation for his treatment courtesy of the Metropolitan police. They will raise the amount which Rachel Nickell's son received, a derisory sum which could never even begin to account for how he was found, gripping his mother, covered in blood and begging her to get up. They will point out for a very long time indeed he was the only suspect; because the police themselves wanted him to remain the only suspect. Keith Pedder for one, the detective inspector in charge on the case, has written two self-affirming and congratulatory books on how Stagg had managed to get away with murder. It was only after a further investigation by a separate cold case team that another man, Robert Napper, a paranoid schizophrenic being held at Broadmoor indefinitely for two murders with similarities to the killing of Nickell that the police finally admitted to themselves that their hunt for Stagg had been futile.

Not that they have admitted publicly to that, or said the simplest words to Stagg personally that they got it wrong. Then again, why should they? After all, those other companions in the decade long stalking, baiting and smearing of Stagg, this country's finest tabloid newspapers, have never admitted they were wrong or said sorry either. Although almost of them were involved in pursuing him and ran articles calling either for the abolition of the laws on double jeopardy (which New Labour happily obliged in removing) or that implicated him in the murder if not directly accusing him, undoubtedly the most bile was delivered in the limp Sunday rag The People, which republished the letters which "Lizzie James", the Met's honeytrap exchanged with Stagg during the attempt to link him to the kind of bizarre sexual practices which the psychologist Paul Britton was convinced the perpetrator had. The Mail meanwhile, in the best practices which the newspaper retains for those that are accused of crimes, performed hatchet job after hatchet job, serialising Pedder's impotent book, and also ran an interview with Nickell's former boyfriend, who made a personal appeal for the double jeopardy law to be repealed. Their attitude towards Stagg could not be more summed up than by the words of John Junor, whom in an article purporting to ask the question whether Stagg would always be targeted as the killer who got away, wrote:

It would be terrible, however, to think that he is going to be hounded for the rest of his life for having been found not guilty of murder when it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that he was indeed innocent.

How magnanimous and kind of both Junor and the Mail to admit that it was possible that Stagg was indeed innocent, despite his acquittal. The irony and amazing chutzpah of the Mail asking whether Stagg would remain to be stalked when it was the one leading the stalking, while also attempting to soften its line but failing miserably is something to behold.

Nick Cohen, writing in the Observer a couple of years back, linked the credulity and continuing belief that Stagg was guilty among the tabloid hacks to the influence of the police on them, to the closeness which gives them their stories, their exclusives, and the photographs of the suspects themselves either being brought in or when arrested. This is undoubtedly part of the reason, but I am far more cynical than Cohen. These reporters knew full well that Stagg was innocent, as did their editors. The best that can be said is that they convinced themselves in order to appraise their consciences of any guilt. This had to be done because there was no evidence whatsoever linking Stagg to Nickell except the Met's attempts to entrapment, which he even then rebuffed. No, these stories were not out of any public interest to ensure that the killer was brought to justice, they were because they knew they were what the public wants to read, that they want someone to blame when such horrible crimes are committed, even if the case is apparently unsolvable, and that most of all, they sold. Nickell's former boyfriend, already mentioned, noted this. His bitterness at being chased out of the country, forced to live in France to escape was more than palpable in his description of the hacks:

"Callous, mercenary and unfeeling scum ... you've got people on your doorstep every day, people following you around in cars taking pictures of you, people peeping over fences and Rachel's face appearing in the paper every day with any tenuous link ... it's one of those stories that's become part of British culture."

Quite so. Much is the same with any attractive woman or child that is tragically killed, murdered or abducted. Whether it be Nickell, Princess Diana, Sally Anne Bowman or Madeleine McCann, they stare out from the front pages, forever locked in their youthful beauty, demanding that something be done about their disappearance or deaths. They pretend that it's because they care, when in reality it's because of their own business models, the phoniness of providing a service while sucking the individual they've latched onto dry until they too can be dispensed with, when the trail finally dries up and everyone, except those being exploited, have moved on.

The police's insistence in having found the right person is the justification, not the reason why. We saw it again just a couple of weeks back with Barry George, where again hardly any journalists or anyone outside of the police really believed he was anywhere near capable of killing Jill Dando, let alone in the way in which she was assassinated. Yet they printed the police's self-serving, laughably weak attempts to still pretend that George was the murderer, even while they must surely have known it was not true. In Nickell's case, at least the police have now found a man who might well be her real murderer, while with Dando it seems incredibly unlikely that her killer will ever be brought to justice. The victims in both cases have been treated abominably, whether they be the relatives or those fitted up. And yet our supposed justice seeking media, which never lets up on the law and order agenda, defends and carries the squeals of innocence spoon-fed to them by their sources.

Stagg's award, despite its size, will never get him his life back. It seems doubtful, even now, that he'll find work, after being made unemployable because of his notoriety. There is however most certainly a case for the £706,000 not completely being stumped up by the taxpayer. No, the real damage was done not by the trial and the fit-up, but by the compliant media which demonised and destroyed day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year. It should be Associated Newspapers, the Mirror Group and News International that should be writing the cheques and stumping up at least half if not more of the money. The suffering they have caused and continue to cause to countless people through their complete lack of integrity and not knowing when enough is enough is such that it's time they were hit in the only place where it hurts: the pocket. Their power however protects them, and there is absolutely nothing it seems that we can do about it.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008 

A form of justice at last for Baha Mousa.

These are not just so-called injuries, these are the Sun's so-called injuries.

It's wonderful news that the family of Baha Mousa and 9 other innocent Iraqis who were viciously beaten and tortured by British soldiers are to be paid almost £3m in compensation.

More interesting though is how this news is going to be communicated to readers and others by certain media organisations that did their best to either ignore our personal Abu Ghraib shame or to play it down. As you might have known, the biggest, most unquestioning supporter of "Our Boys" was at the forefront of it. After all but one of the soldiers court martialled was cleared, a result of what the judge described as a complete closing of ranks, with the words "I don't remember" being used over 600 times by the various witnesses according to one of the lawyers involved, the Sun published this following leader comment:

COMMON sense prevailed when two British soldiers were cleared of abusing Iraqi prisoners.

Major Michael Peebles and Warrant Officer Mark Davies served with courage and bravery in the most difficult conditions.


This ludicrous show trial — which has already seen four other soldiers cleared on the judge’s orders — has been a waste of time and money.


These men risked their lives in Iraq but were repaid by being hung out to dry.


Every aspect of investigating so-called crimes within the military needs to be re-examined. Our servicemen and women deserve nothing less.

These "so-called crimes" have now been recognised by the Ministry of the Defence, but only after being forced into holding an independent inquiry by lawyers acting for the Iraqi men. The MoD, in the form of Colonel David Black, was also dismissive after the court-martial collapsed in such ignominy:

[Our Boys needed to be able to work] “without looking over their shoulders inhibited by the fear of such actions by over-zealous and remote officialdom”.

Such over-zealous and remote officialdom has now apologised "for the appalling treatment that you suffered at the hands of the British army. The appalling behaviour of British soldiers made us feel disgusted." Not so those within the army and the media however that did everything they possibly could to pretend that that such appalling treatment had either never taken place or had been the work of one lone soldier who bravely owned up to his part in beating Baha Mousa and two of the other men detained with him. Donald Payne's punishment for his role amounted to a year in prison, a discharge from the army, and the loss of his pension. No one else is now likely to charged or prosecuted in connection with the incident.

Comparisons will doubtless be drawn with the compensation payouts to those who have lost limbs and suffered other injuries while in service in both Iraq and Afghanistan, often derisory settlements which are an insult to their commitment and sacrifice, but they do know what the consequences of their decisions are when they join up. Baha Mousa and the other men were simply in the wrong place in the wrong time, and mistreated by soldiers that had not been trained properly and whom were under the impression that such techniques had been authorised. Whether they were or not is still open to question, but the payments to the men will help to close the chapter on what went wrong. The independent inquiry, which will hopefully get to the very bottom of what did, although putting too much faith in it would be unwise, should provide the lesson on how this is to be avoided in the future. Perhaps the real blame should however lie with the politicians that signed us up to the illegal, murderous folly of the war in the first place.

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