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Tuesday, June 01, 2010 

John Terry's father, drug stings, and an unreformable regulator.

Does anyone have any actual idea what John Terry did that so angered the News of the World into pursuing not just him, but other members of his family? Even before the paper exposed his alleged affair with Vanessa Peroncell, still denied by Peroncell herself, it had already uncovered him selling access to Chelsea's ground to businessmen. Today the trial of his father, Edward Terry, ended when he was given a suspended sentence of six months imprisonment, ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and to pay £95 in costs, having pleaded guilty to supplying 3.5 grams of a Class A substance. Terry senior too had been targeted by the News of the World, which went to quite astonishing lengths to entrap the father of a famous footballer.

The trial heard that in order to set up the sting, the Screws journalist responsible, Dan Sanderson, had spent six weeks gaining the trust of Terry, posing as a chauffeur, meeting him repeatedly at a wine bar close to his home in Essex. In classic NotW style, he then asked Terry if he could procure cocaine for both his boss and a friend. Terry agreed, and for £160 handed over the drug, having contacted a friend or acquittance he knew could supply it. The Screws consequently claimed that Terry was a drug dealer, and naturally reported him to the police.

Unfortunately for the Screws, Judge Christopher Mitchell decided that there was absolutely no basis for such a claim. Having heard all the evidence, he accepted Terry's mitigation that this was a case of pure entrapment, and that the NotW had created the story in its entirety simply because of his relationship with his son.

As alluded to above, this kind of sting has been pulled off by the NotW on probably dozens of occasions. Most of the time the targets have been minor celebrities, John Alford (who sank into complete obscurity as a direct result) and Johnnie Walker among them. One of the less famous targets was Joe Yorke, the 10th Earl of Hardwicke, apparently chosen for exposure for no other reason than his title. The work of Mazher Mahmood, he went to Hardwicke's scooter business with an order which would have been worth around £100,000. Before the contract was signed, Hardwicke was invited to an evening at the Savoy, where Mahmood and friends asked whether he could get any cocaine for them, and like Terry, duly obliged, especially when his struggling business was going to be all but saved by this Arab businessman. At the resulting trial, Mahmood was interrogated by Hardwicke's QC, and like in the subsequent cases involving the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot that never was and the red mercury plot that never was, came unstuck, admitting that in such stings he claimed back the cost of the money spent on the cocaine on expenses. There is no provision under the Misuse of Drugs Act for such purchases, and clearly when the NotW enquires whether other people can supply the goods it is all but inciting the commission of a crime.

Hardwicke was given a similar sentence to Terry (two years suspended), after the jury spent 7 hours considering its verdict, and also made clear that if it could have considered the extreme provocation he was put under, their decision of guilty would have been different. If the exposure of Hardwicke was hardly in the public interest, then the sting involving Terry could only be less so. The Press Complaints Commission's code is also clear: subterfuge can only be justified when the end result is in the public interest, and only then when the material could not be obtained in any other circumstances. As third parties can't complain to the PCC, and Terry himself is unlikely to do so himself, Roy Greenslade has two questions for the press regulator:

Are you collectively happy that Britain's highest-selling national paper has been criticised by a judge for entrapping a man "solely to create a newspaper story"?

If your answer is yes, then you might as well pack your bags. If the answer is no, then what do you propose to do about it?

Just at the PCC did absolutely nothing in the aftermath of the Earl of Hardwicke case, it will also do nothing now. The PCC is fundamentally unreformable, and those newspapers and press organisations which object to the News of the World commissioning criminal offences simply to target nobodies like Edward Terry should protest in the only way they can: by withdrawing from the self-regulation structure and so end their funding of a body which stands back and watches as the British media sinks to ever new lows.

(Additional material for this post was sourced from Peter Burden's 'News of the World? Fake Sheikhs and Royal Trappings'.)

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This will probably the first time I ever agree with anything the NOTW says and I am for the decriminalisation of drugs but, entrapment or not, John Terry when asked, went and got cocaine for someone, in exchange for money. These facts are not in dispute. I find it unlikely that he didn't know this was illegal.

Nobody put a gun to his head to do it. I have no sympathy for John Terry, and he got off lightly for being found guilty breaking the law and pleading not guilty.

So in no circumstances if you were asked by a friend who you explicitly trusted to get him an illegal substance would you do so? I would have thought if you were in favour of the decriminalisation of drugs that you would have sympathy for those who currently use them, especially who do so despite the often ridiculous penalties for doing so. No one's denying that Ted Terry was stupid; it's more than a newspaper which is essentially itself commissioning the crime is allowed to get away with incriminating otherwise innocent people in such a way, when it isn't even close to being in the public interest.

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