LAST MONTH the Communist Morning Star gave space and prominence to a demand by Women’s Aid that Tory MP David Ruffley must face “strong disciplinary sanction” for assaulting his ex-partner. Short shrift was given to his claim that because the ex-partner had accepted his apology no more needed to be done. As readers were reminded: "Domestic violence is a criminal, not a private matter.”
Well, if it’s committed by a Tory MP, that is. When the alleged perpetrator is a senior trade union official, the Morning Star will discipline any of its hacks who has the temerity to pursue the story. That is what it did to Rory MacKinnon, its Scotland correspondent, who quit last week after three years on the paper.
In March this year MacKinnon was sent to cover a women’s conference in Glasgow organised by the RMT transport union. For months, women he knew in the union had been talking about Caroline Leneghan, an RMT member who had written a blog-post about the violence allegedly inflicted on her by Steve Hedley, the RMT’s assistant general secretary, with whom she was in a relationship until last year. On one occasion, she wrote, he “threw me around by my hair and pinned me to the floor repeatedly punching me in the face”. She published photos taken at the time, showing her horrendously bruised and swollen face.
Finding himself attending an RMT women’s conference – and one at which the RMT was launching its new policy on, er, domestic violence – MacKinnon thought it a good moment to ask if the union’s refusal to hold a proper investigation into the allegations against its assistant general secretary might affect female members’ perception of the union. He put the question at a Q&A session with the union’s national organising co-ordinator Alan Pottage, who declined to answer. Soon afterwards, however, the hack was forcibly ejected from the conference.
The next day, Morning Star editor Richard Bagley told MacKinnon he was being suspended while his bosses investigated allegations of “gross misconduct” and “bringing the paper into disrepute”. A month later he was summoned to London for a disciplinary hearing, with the company secretary Tony Briscoe acting as prosecution counsel and Bagley sitting as judge.
Briscoe told MacKinnon the question he’d put to the RMT official “feels more like something a Daily Mail reporter would ask than someone from the Morning Star. You should have known better. This indicates a lack of journalistic etiquette and has damaged our relationship with the trade union movement.” The public had “no right to know” about whatever occurred between Hedley and Leneghan.
Stalinist leaving present
Bagley agreed. “After three years at the paper,” he said in his judgment against MacKinnon, “you should reasonably be expected to be familiar with the paper’s news priorities, which do not include reporting internal union rows or personal controversy. Your actions suggest a fundamental failure to grasp the Morning Star’s news focus, and by extension the role of any journalist employed by it.”
Having belatedly grasped the paper’s “focus” after being put on a final written warning for behaving like a journalist, MacKinnon handed in his notice last month and left on 8 August, writing a post on his blog explaining why he had resigned. That same day he received a magnificent Stalinist leaving present: a letter from Bob Oram, chair of the Morning Star’s management committee and senior organiser for, er, the RMT union.
“You are formally under investigation for an allegation of gross misconduct,” Oram wrote. “I recognise that you are in your final day of employment and will not be available for interview, but…” The accusations were a “gross breach of trust and confidence” and “bringing the Morning Star into disrepute”. Has it ever occurred to Oram and the other men who run the paper to charge themselves with the same offence?