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Wednesday, February 06, 2008 

Tabloid-watch: Reporting sensational crime details, blatant stupidity and empty smears.

Today was undoubtedly another glorious day for the country's tabloids. If there's one thing apart from a missing white blonde girl that's always going to fill the front pages, it's a murdered white blonde young woman, especially if said white blonde young woman was an aspiring model who left behind a handy cache of material of her posing in a range of different clothing. Add to that how the trial of the man accused of the murder has heard that he admits to having sex with Sally Anne Bowman's corpse, which he just happened to come upon by chance, and you're guaranteed that it's going to be the story of number one interest on the day in question.

What you don't have to do is then rub everyone's face in it. That, however, was the modus operandi of the Daily Star. The PCC code on reporting on cases intruding into grief is suitably vague, but it does say the following:

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively.

Here then is the Daily Star's front page:

It's the sort of headline you'd expect from a sex scandal where the person in question is boasting about what he's done and given an interview to that effect. Why bother being sensitive to others' feelings however when you can instead use a sledgehammer to crack a nut?

Without wanting to get into a debate on whether if something similar had happened to a middle-aged non-photogenic woman it would be making the news in such a fashion, there was this further smirk inducing evidence given to the trial:

When Dixie was arrested, nine months after the murder, police found a digital camera among his possessions. On it, they found a video file showing a pornographic film being played on a television, while a man records himself masturbating over a copy of the Daily Mail bearing a photograph of Bowman.

Police later discovered a copy of the Daily Mail of March 22 2006 which had a "sticky substance" on the front page featuring Bowman.


It's true then: the accusation that the use of photographs of "pretty young dead girls" is intended to boost the one-handed sale seems to be based in something approaching fact. How then did the Daily Mail itself report this free and rather impressive plug for its journalistic content?

Police raided several properties in Horley, Surrey, and Croydon where he had been staying.

They recovered a video of Dixie performing a lewd sex act on the six-month anniversary of the model's death, the court heard.


Well, I don't suppose "the Daily Mail: the newspaper of choice for masturbating necrophiliacs" would quite hit their target market. That report incidentally only contained the one photograph of Bowman. Among the other coverage was one which had two, and this one, which went for a whole three.

Moving on, the Express splashed on how there'd been yet another suicide in the supposed cursed town of Bridgend. I think Merk from Daily Mail Watch can take the reins from here:

BBC: Death ‘not connected’ to suicides.

icWales: …police today stressed the death was not connected to the spate of suicides

Times: did not appear to be linked to the seven suicides.

Telegraph: The death is not linked to other recent sudden deaths in the area.

Daily Mail (heh): police have ruled out that the latest death is linked to the previous incidents.

Express : There were renewed fears last night of an internet death cult in the town after it emerged that Miss Fuller had visited a social networking website just hours before she died.

See where I’m going with this? Now are you ready for the revelation about the ‘Internet Cult’ from the Express? Here goes:

The teenager, the second girl to die in the spate of suicides, was a member of Bebo and Facebook. Many of the previous victims had posted profiles on such sites.

This, my friends is the self acclaimed ‘World’s Greatest Newspaper’.

I rest my case.


Finally then to the Scum, which has an amazing exclusive on the bugging of Sadiq Khan, the headline shouting "MP first probed by MI5 over 9/11":

BUGGING scandal MP Sadiq Khan was first probed by security services over his association with a 9/11 terrorist, The Sun can reveal.

And just what was this association?

Security sources told yesterday how 9/11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui asked lawyer Mr Khan to represent him after being accused of being the ‘20th hijacker’.

Oh. It gets better though:

The Labour whip was not allowed to see Moussaoui and was barred from seeing court papers in the run-up to the trial.

Yet by the tone of the article it feels like you're supposed to think that Khan is somehow tarred or condemned for so much as thinking of being Moussaoui's legal representative.

Human rights lawyer Mr Khan, 37, who says he loathes terror groups, was the only practising Muslim on Moussaoui’s team. It brought him to the attention of MI5 and MI6.

One security source said last night: “It is hardly surprising he came to the attention of security services in view of the people he was associated with.”


Who says, eh? Must be a traitor. It's quite right too. Dare to consider legally defending a "terrorist suspect" and you too will find yourself being bugged by MI5, although his supposed labelling as a "subversive" by Scotland Yard might be because he represented and defended black and Asian officers in discrimination cases, as well as bringing actions against the police. Still, so much for even the thought of confidentiality between a lawyer and his client; that's been thrown out of the window now that the sky's dark.

Last year it was revealed that five members of his family belonged to fundamental group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

It's not entirely clear here whether they're referring to Khan or to Babar Ahmed, but I can't find any articles from a relatively quick search that back up this especially lurid allegation. Indeed, Khan has spoken out against Hizb ut-Tahrir on a number of occasions, the following, in a Fabian speech, particularly strong:
Let me be quite clear. Hizb-ut-Tahrir quite deliberately have the same effect on race relations as their mirror image, the BNP. They encourage hatred and their preaching is used by the BNP to foster fear of Islam.

Calling your family racists doesn't appear to be the number one way to keep good relations with them.

Mr Straw is believed to have told officials that he thought someone was trying to “smear” Mr Khan.

Well, the Sun's certainly decided that if others are going to have a go, it may as well join in.

As Private Eye points out today, surely of even more interest than the fact that the police are now bugging MPs daring to visit childhood friends in prison, is that Ahmed has now been held without charge in jail in this country for three and a half years, awaiting deportation, even while his alleged accomplices in America have been released without charge. Azzam.com, the site that Ahmed allegedly ran, and which can be accessed via the Wayback Machine was certainly radical: its sub-title was for "jihad and the mujahideen", but whether he broke any applicable laws while the site was still up in this country is most certainly questionable. That injustice however is of little consequence to a newspaper determined to defend the police and the security services over almost anything, however how troubling.

Slightly related: PDF attacks the puritan spin machine.

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