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Tuesday 19 December 2006

BBC and the Ipswich Killer [Lurks]

In the closing weeks of 2006, one of the stories which you'd doubtless been following is the Ipswich serial killer, a (presumed) man who has notched up five murdered woman in an unusually short period. In itself this is tragic development but the issue I'm forced to comment on is the media's coverage of developments and in particular, the BBC.
Tom Stephens is a man in the locality of the murders and who knew and engaged the services of all five dead prostitutes. He hasn't made much of an effort to hide, far be it he's a prime suspect due to his aquaintance with all of the murder victims. I can only speculate that in an effort to be up front and clear his name, that is why he gave the BBC permission to release his name before he was charged for any crime.
He also engaged in an interview which was recorded with the verbal understanding of the BBC to be a background information interview and explictely not for broadcast. The BBC decided that since the man's name came out into the public (more on that later), that it would be in the public's interest to broadcast the interview expressly against his wishes. They did so on the televised news with an emboldend 'BBC EXCLUSIVE' flash across the screen.
Today I find the BBC editors defending their decision on the BBC news editors blog. What is most remarkable is that in the 30-odd comments found on that page, not a single one is buying the BBC's line that this was done in the public's interest.
What is further puzzling to me is that the BBC itself was held in at least one newspaper (Chicago Tribune I believe) as the source concerning releasing Tom Stephen's details. Since they had interviewed him, that doesn't seem inplausible although many newspapers merely claimed 'sources' when it came to outting the man and printing full details including his MySpace web site.
Let's be clear, no newspaper or media outlet should have released his details much less a full interview such as the BBC has. This vacuous claims of being in the public interest don't carry weight with me, the police or any other third party of note in this country. The media have a continued history of acting incredibly irresponsibly and have cost the tax payer large sums in the past due to court cases being abandonned due to the inability to deliver a fair trial free of media influence.
So while the BBC ineptly flounders to justify this action, Suffolk Police are taking no chances and have actually written to the editors of a number of newspapers specifically warning them not to publish the details of a second man arrested in course of the investigation so far.
I think Tom Stephens demonstrated shocking naivety by communicating with any member of the press before seeking legal advice. Nevertheless, the media know full well that their coverage can seriously detriment the feasibility of a fair trial and they firmly ignore this when they act in this way. They have a responsbility to behave correctly and that is especially true of the BBC who we rightly hold to a higher standard than the horrendously politically biased red-top trash. In the past, and indeed this time around also, most of them just point to eachother and say "well they released this information first" as some sort of justification. That's just not good enough and clearly if that's the way this stuff continues in future, that'll be how it always is. A little unwritten rule just to collaborate on such leaks and the media covers it's collective arse.
Enough is enough. It's about time some contempt of court proceedings were issued to the entire blasted lot of these editors and thereby demonstrated once and for all that it is justice which takes precidence here and not some lofty concept of the public interest. Their so-called 'public interest' will not save the lives of further women by apprehending the murderer, only their own ratings. Time to get tough and the BBC would be a damn good place to start.


  1. I've never understood why it's permissible to print this stuff at all. If a defendent is innocent until proven guilty, why is it permissible to print their identity at all until conviction?
    In the early 1990's I was working for the criminal solicitors who defended Colin Stagg on the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common. Nickell was stabbed 49 times while with her very young son making it particularly gruesome and because she was particularly pretty it became particularly notorious.
    To cut a long story short, Stagg's identity and details were published widely before the case, during it and after it. The court case against him didn't even get in front of a jury because the judge threw it out as a clear case of (failed) entrapment when a woman pc posed as a potential sexual partner pen pal if he would just admit how he got turned on by the murder and because the police case was lacking in any actual evidence against him at all.
    I remember it clearly because criminal solicitors almost never express an opinion about a client's guilt or innocence but in this case they were on a mission because they were convinced that while a bit of a loner and a bit of a weirdo, this was an innocent man being thrown to the wolves with no evidence.
    Following the acquittal, the police were briefing against Stagg in the national press for months even years stating that they "weren't looking for anyone else" and even into this decade, he is shunned and vilified in public because he's tainted by the press reporting. The fact that even after acquittal he volunteered and passed lie detector tests with national newspapers against his solicitor's advice (would you advise a man to go to the News of the World?) and has constantly asked for DNA tests to show his innocence doesn't count for much once you've been tarred like that. These days the police admit he didn't do it but it's still wrecked his life.
    There's no public interest in these stories other than the public's interest in salacious stories. It ought to be banned.

  2. You'd think, perhaps, that the BBC would have tip-toed on this issue after specifically being told to do so by the Suffolk constabulary? Apparently not for I was watching News 24 last night and sure as apples, they outted the second man being looked at with the term 'named locally'. Eg. someone who lived near by told them who it was. Oh well, that's alright then...
    They even went and found where the bloke lived previously and interviewed a friend about what he did for a living. This is spectacularly out of order and something really must be done.

  3. ....and now of course this morning, the 2nd arrestee has been charged with all five murders and Stephenson is out on police bail.
    He is in a safe house of course because of fears for his safety from vigilantes. There may be a twist or turn yet but this currently exactly what we were talking about....

  4. Five years ago I was investigated by the police, following a murder. Regardless of the facts that I had no history whatsoever of violent behaviour and had never met the victim, my home was trashed in numerous police searches. I was advised by a solicitor to remain compliant, because if I did not I might find myself arrested and that fact mysteriously leaked.It was clear that the officer in charge of the investigation thought that I was the one. Or near enough.And, after all those searches, property taken away in evidence bags, car at the forensic lab... It was clear to me that if they could not find the real killer, it's no big jump to let a fragment of fluff from my carpet fall near where the body was found... And lo and behold. A life sentence.Only I spent a bit of time on high cliffs and deep water. I'd rather die than have people think I was guilty. But part of me thought, Dammit, if I die, they'll be delighted. Case closed, we are not looking at any other suspect at this time.Before that, I generally trusted the police. Never again.So this business in Ipswich has me in sweats, remembering my ordeal. I couldnt sleep one more night in my home. The furniture was broken, carpets ripped up and cut, and my belongings in heaps. I got panic attacks thinking of it. I lost my home, my job, and, for a while my sanity.A year of my life. And it's not mended yet, or I would'nt be writing this. Did I get an apology? or a penny? Don't make me laugh.Sleep safe, everyone. Tomorrow it might happen to you.

  5. Ok Anon - that's a genuinely interesting random posting on our blogs and of course exactly what we were posting about. But strangely enough, despite the educated view on this problem, I couldn't help but read your post a couple of times and think to myself "well why exactly were you so targeted for it if you didn't know the victim and had no history of violent behaviour"?
    Perhaps people like you have to explain exactly what the reason you were under the spotlight was and why it was without proof. That sort of post funnily enough shows the problem with both sides of this issue.....

  6. \"Perhaps people like you have to explain exactly what the reason you were under the spotlight was and why it was without proof.\"People like me? \"AM\", you\'re missing a central tenet of English law, that a person is presumed innocent until proved otherwise in a court of law.I don\'t know why I was under the spotlight, they never said.I lived a couple of hundred yards from where the victim was last seen.I lived alone, and had no alibi for that day, as to the best of my knowledge, it being a Sunday, and me having a cold, I got up late and spent the day indoors sipping lem-sip, and reading a book.When my house and van were searched the police found cable-ties. The victim was bound with cable ties. I use cable-ties at work, on my old Land-Rover\'s wiring loom, and to hold the roses in my garden up. The ties used on the victim were a specific make, imported into the uk by one firm for their internal use. None of my ties matched theirs, nor have I ever had any connection with that company.So. Divorced man, lives alone, near victims route home, uses cable ties but not similar ones used on victim. No history of violence, no sexual misbehaviour, no perversions, no girlfriends reporting strangulation, bondage or rape... No arrests or cautions ever, no school record of violent behaviour. no speeding or parking tickets, vandalism or shoplifting.nothing. No stash of violent porn, no stash of porn, no porn videos, no history of bondage or asphyxiation interests on the computer... Am I getting through here? Just an ordinary bloke, one who settles arguments by the use of words, not force.I can\'t tell you why I was in the spotlight, and the police never felt the need to tell me.Maybe someone told them I did it? As far as I know, I don\'t have any enemies.Maybe the fact the suspect seen had a dog, and I had a dog? But the dog seen was black, and alive. Mine was light brown, and died a year before. But the police asked for a picture of him anyway, just to be sure I hadn\'t been walking his ghost. I also showed them the vet\'s bills for the treatment he had for cancer, and the final sad fee, to have him put down. A year before.The victim\'s body had been kept about six months in a freezer. I had no freezer. The DS in charge seemed to think it strange I had no freezer. Well, I did, but it was about big enough for a couple of packs of frozen peas and some fish-fingers, not even big enough to put a pygmy in.So there you have it. It\'s not up to me to make a spirited defence, I know I didn\'t do it. Or anything like it. Ever. Nor will I, ever.It\'s the police\'s job to find evidence linking a suspect with a crime, and present that in such a way as to prove, beyond any reasonable doubt that that suspect committed the crime.As I did not and was in no way connected to the victim, (nor to the killer), the nature of the assault nor the place the body was found, it is clear that not one iota of evidence existed in my house, car, or van.Yet the DS in charged seeme to think that it was there to be found if they just dug deep enough, or if they applied sufficient pressure to me, I might crack, and either confess or kill myself, either would do.Which is why I wonder if someone gave them my name and some invented reason to suspect me. So. Remember this. There can be smoke without fire. Sometimes the man who says he didn\'t do it is right. Sometimes innocent men are jailed for life. Sometimes innocent men die rather than go to jail for life. Look up Stefan Kisko, 16 years in jail, for a crime the police KNEW he could not have committed.And remember, keep a diary, always have documented records where you were every day. Who knows when it might happen that the police turn up on your doorstep, demand an accurate account of exactly what you were doing one sunday evening almost a year ago, and then start to tear your home to pieces. Enjoy.

  7. Anon - sounds traumatic to say the very least - something that no-one would want to possibly experience.
    What I was trying to express, not very well, was that actually your example shows exactly what happens in these sorts of situations. The normal human brain says "well why was X involved" and that people such as yourselves end up having to defend themselves (not because they should but because of this human suspicion that pervades) even though they should be presumed innocent until proven guilty which was the point of the blog. I was trying to say this is exactly the problem with why the whole identification issue of people who are being investigated is so problematic and why Lurks and I was saying that such people should be protected and explicitly NOT named.

  8. Point taken. Before that experience, I was probably of the \"Well, they must know something they\'re not telling us, bet he\'s got a nasty history..\" mindset.Now I\'m more sympathetic.Here\'s another snippet of harsh reality.After a couple of hours of searching, a sergeant came out and said: \"We\'re going to have to empty your house.\" \"What do you mean? \" \"We need to take all the furniture, everything, out, to do the tests the lab guys want to do.\" I\'m shaking, in shock, as I have been for a while. \"Up to now, you\'ve told me I\'m not a suspect, and these searches are purely for elimination purposes, and I\'ve permitted each search voluntarily, And I can choose to withdraw that permission at any time?\" \"Yes, That is the case, sir.\" \" I want to talk to a lawyer and take advice, I\'m inclined to say I\'ve had enough now.\" \"Yes sir, that\'s your right, but we\'re putting together a team to do the job right now, so we need to know your answer quite quickly.\" \"And if my answer is No, what then?\" \"We\'ll get a warrant, and search it anyway\".What he didn\'t tell me then was that he already had a warrant.I gave permission for them to continue, on the grounds that the sooner they discovered there was nothing to discover, the sooner they\'d go away and try finding the real culprit.At about two in the afternoon, six hours into the search, the sergeant came and said I would not be allowed back into the house until they had finished. \"Will you be finished by, say, five o\'clock?\" \" Oh, not today, I wouldn\'t think.\"I asked to go in and get some medicines, as I was starting an asthma attack. The sergeant asked me where they were and what I needed, and sent an officer in to get them. By that time, a friend had arrived, who fed me hot sweet tea. I don\'t take sugar in tea, but I was ladelling it in. A sign of severe stress, symptom of shock.She drove me to see my landlord, who has industrial units nearby. He\'s known me a long time, and expressed sympathy, and support, and lent a unit readily. Otherwise the police planned to just stack everything outside under a tarp.My friend led me around like a lost puppy. I was unable to do the simplest things, I was the rabbit in the headlights. She insisted on taking me to my doctor\'s surgery, and bullied the receptionist, who said no , make an appointment... until I was ushered into the doctor\'s surgery, and promptly started crying. Which I don\'t think I\'ve done since I was a child. I was gulping, snotty, unable to talk, trying to say \"I\'m sorry, this isn\'t me, it\'s not how I behave..\" tears pouring down my cheeks. She wrapped me in a blanket, told reception to send her appointments to a colleague and hold calls. And sat with me, encouraging me to just cry, let it happen. Then she called my friend in, told her she was giving me tranquillisers, and I should not be alone. Bless you, Doctor Rosie, Bless you Karen, Between them, and another few friends, and family, they got me through it.The police never asked if I had anywhere to go that night, nor whether I needed anything else from my house. They\'d taken my car and van, so my options were limited, I didn\'t want to go to my mother\'s because my father had died six months before , and she\'d had a heart attack since. I feared all this would be the worry that would kill her.It was a week before the police told me I could have my keys back. Three weeks before my car and van came back. I went to the house, saw the dismantled furniture, ripped boards, mounds of drawer comtents tipped on the floor. I waded through the debris, had a major asthma attack and ended up in casualty.It was another six months before, pre-loaded with steroid drugs, I dared enter my old home again. But it was no longer home. Just a despoiled place, a place I couldn\'t stay in long. certainly never sleep in or eat a meal.I ordered a skip, and started throwing my belongings away. Amonth after the search, about, my cousin\'s wife, a police officer phoned early in the morning. \"Where are you?\" \"In bed of course, at my mother\'s\" \"Thank god, I just heard, they\'ve arrested someone, and I was so worried...\"Six years ago. I think you can tell it hasn\'t faded much.Actually writing about it, anonymously, to someone I don\'t know is strangely cathartic.Apology? HA! Don\'t make me laugh. Compensation for a year in major depression, loss of job, home, sanity, loss of faith in justice and the police? I think you can guess.

  9. I read your first post with horror but after this fuller account, I'm pretty moved by this horrendous experience. I just can't imagine it, I really can't. I'm shocked that the police would treat someone in this way and that there wouldn't be some sort of compensation as a result. You probably have avenue for a civil proceeding but that costs money and you'd probably prefer to move on.
    Anyway, I hope you can get past it and you've put your life back together. This is a real wake up call and really nothing like I expected when I started this blog. I think we have to believe this sort of thing is isolated otherwise it'd be hard to sleep at night.

  10. some cases, the jailed person was someone known to the police and involved to some extent.But in others, it is proved, in some cases by dna evidence, that the person who's been incarcerated is not the perpetrator.In my case, yes, I'm getting on with my life, and compared to someone who's spent 25 years in a cell, it's laughable that i should be troubled by my experience. But i still wake suddenly, sweating and sure I'm in a cell.As for compensation, I doubt it would be given, I'd need legal aid but I wouldn't get it., and who's to say the DS or whatever rank he has floated up to, would not fabricate a load of convincingly invented reasons why he thought I was a murderer.Even I do it, I see a man released, and wonder if he's released because of a procedural error he can appeal against, or because it's been proved he was innocent.If I told you the full story, it would run into thousands of words, and photographs, and files of seized-evidence receipts.Just be aware it can happen to any of us. The boot that smashes your door is not necessarily the burglar, it may be those fine upholders of law and order whose salaries you pay.