The usual Standard
2 Derry Street
London W8 2TT
Dear Ms Wadley
I wonder whether I could express my concern about a couple of headlines that the Standard has run in the last few days.
On the morning of Friday 22 July a young man, Jean Charles de Menezes, was shot dead at Stockwell Tube station. Later that day, on newsstands all across London, hoardings for your newspaper read as follows:
BOMBER SHOT DEAD AT STOCKWELL TUBE
At the time this headline appeared nobody was in a position to say that Mr de Menezes was a bomber. He might reasonably have been described as "a suspected bomber", since that was (one assumes) the reason why he was shot, but there was surely no justification for calling him, definitely, a "bomber". This was made starkly clear the following day when it transpired that Mr de Menezes was an entirely innocent man, in no sense a "bomber" of any sort. Nevertheless, not only had your headline already stated otherwise, but your claim that he was a "bomber" remained visible all over the city until the hoardings were replaced on Monday. I cannot have been alone in finding this thoroughly distasteful. In all likelihood those close to Mr de Menezes will have found it added to their distress.
Even before the revelation of Mr de Menezes' innocence I found it hard to believe that you had run the headline. I did however feel sure that you would realise your error and refrain from repeating it. However, exactly one week later, on Friday 29 July, following the arrest of a suspect for the failing bombings of 21 July, you ran the following headline:
You also, I believe, ran a headline 2 BOMBERS ARRESTED in a later edition. Neither headline was qualified by any adjective such as "alleged" or suspected", nor even were the words bomber and bombers allotted quotation marks. It was simply stated as a matter of fact that those arrested were guilty of being bombers.
This is surely unacceptable on a number of grounds. The first is that it is not right to state that somebody suspected or accused of an offence is guilty when there is likely to be a criminal trial, on exceedingly serious charges, in the future. The second is that do so is liable to be prejudicial to the conduct of that trial. The third is that, having run the first headline about Mr de Menezes that turned out to be wholly incorrect and wrong, to run another headline of similar kind just a week later seems, to me, to validate, to approve, the headline you wrote about Mr de Menezes.
What worries me most about this is that you must, surely, be aware of the legal and journalistic issues involved, but chose to go ahead anyway.
I would appreciate it if you could find time to answer the following specific questions:
1. Why did you run a headline referring unconditionally to Mr de Menezes as a bomber?
2. Do you now regret this, and have you apologised to his family for doing so?
3. Why did you run headlines referring unconditionally to the suspects arrested last week as "bombers"? Why did you not qualify the term, as most other newspapers did? What was your attitude to the problem that reporting of that kind could be considered prejudicial to a future trial? If you do not consider it prejudicial, why not?
Many thanks for taking the time to read this letter, to which I would hope to read a reply.