street of shame

A’wight tabloid mess

Michael Barrymore, Issue 1451
michael-barrymore.jpg
The ‘bad character evidence’ worked up by certain tabloids against Michael Barrymore was ‘flimsy, one-sided and misleading’, according to the judge, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith
THE tabloids were curiously muted in their coverage last week of the high court decision that Michael Barrymore deserved more than the “nominal damages” Essex police were hoping to pay him for his unlawful arrest on suspicion of rape and murder in 2007. But Mr Justice Stuart-Smith had plenty to say about their past coverage of the entertainer, and the impact it had on the force’s erroneous belief that it had “reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person being arrested is guilty of committing the offence for which he is arrested”.

Detective Superintendent Gareth Wilson, director of specialist investigations in the Essex Crime Division, had led a review of the circumstances surrounding the death of Stuart Lubbock during a party at Barrymore’s house six years earlier. He took the decision to widen the number of possible suspects beyond two guests at the party at Barrymore’s house that night to include Barrymore himself, in part because of “suggestions that he might be sexually aggressive” – but the judge gave short shrift to what the force optimistically described as a “cohort of bad character evidence” which led Wilson to this conclusion.

News of the World
First was an allegation of rape in a nightclub toilet in 1998, of which the judge had this to say: “The Sun received a phone call from someone claiming to be the victim on the night of the (non) incident. The News of the World arrived before the police, and carried the story on 10 May 1998; unsurprisingly, the CPS advised against taking further steps… On any reasonable assessment, no weight at all could or should have been given to this item by Mr Wilson or anyone else.”

Second were details of an encounter between an acquaintance of Barrymore and a prostitute in 2000 at which he was not even present, let alone involved – the judge noted that “the complainant sold her story to the Sunday People… After the story broke, she did not contact the Officer in the case, nor could she be contacted… It need hardly be pointed out that this is a very long way from being behaviour that suggests aggressive sexual behaviour on the part of the Claimant.”

Third was an incident of alleged sexual assault in which the supposed victim had managed to go to the police instead of the papers, but later “admitted that the allegation was false [and] was subsequently convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice”.

‘Flimsy, one-sided and misleading’
Fourth was another rape allegation: once again “the police who investigated the allegation… concluded that it should not be believed” but “the complainant had gone to the News of the World and to the Sun and repeated his allegation to them”.

Finally came an “allegation by the Claimant’s ex-chauffeur that the Claimant would make him drive around London in 2000 to engage the services of male prostitutes and to obtain Class A drugs” – a tale which police “knew he had sold to the Sunday People for £20,000 via Max Clifford”. Once again, the judge pointed out that “there is no suggestion in the ex-chauffeur’s evidence of aggressive sexual conduct or that the Claimant had been interested in or capable of violent sexual conduct or sexual assault”.

So what did the judge make of this dossier of press cuttings, which had played such a part in Barrymore’s arrest? “In my judgment it should have been clear to a person with such a degree of detailed knowledge that the ‘cohort of bad character evidence’ was flimsy, one-sided and misleading to such an extent that [the senior investigating officer] should have made further enquiries as to its reliability.”

There was, however, no mention of any of this in last week’s coverage of the case by the Sun or Mirror (sister paper to the Sunday People), which preferred to ring up Lubbock’s elderly father in his care home so he could tell them how “disgusting” the judgement was and demand that the investigation into his son’s death be reopened.

Fascinating fact: Michael Barrymore has also received substantial payouts following legal action against both News UK and Mirror Group over their journalists’ extensive hacking of his phone during the 2000s!

More top stories in the latest issue:

BYE-BYE BRUCIE…
Newspapers reverse ferret and remember not to speak ill of the dead as they report the death of veteran national treasure Bruce Forsyth.

SMITH-SQUIRE’S PLACE IN THE SUN
Alison Smith-Squire, hackette-cum-spokeswoman for Charlie Gard’s parents, bites the hand that feeds her as she slams the ‘vile’ (but very generous) Sun.

IT’S NOT CRICKET
Despite Times cricket reporter Elizabeth ‘Legside Lizzie’ Ammon’s constant puffs for Sky TV, she’s not always been a big fan of Rupert Murdoch.

CRAP TELEGRAPH IDEAS, No 94
Telegraph chief exec Nick Hugh puts a freeze on newsroom hiring but advertises for three reporters for the paper’s exciting new, er, Snapchat channel.

THE MAIL DRAIN
To judge by the exodus, being a trainee at Mail Online is no fun at all – so the Mail draws up a contract with financial penalties for those who quit early.

IT WAS THE EXPRESS WOT WON IT…
Despite the Express’s ludicrous EU stories and biased polls, editor Hugh Whittow gives his paper full credit for the victorious Brexit vote.

JOY DIVISION
The Express and Star keep proprietor’s wife Joy Desmond happy indulging her enthusiasm for a US psychotherapist she thinks can help the Grenfell survivors.

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Private Eye Issue 1450