street of shame

Trial by tabloid
Caroline Flack , Issue 1516

caroline-flack.jpg IN December, as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, the Sun revisited its 2003 campaign to highlight domestic violence.

“Our campaign sent calls to the domestic violence helpline soaring and helped to reduce the stigma around the then taboo subject,” the paper boasted. “It also triggered some of the most significant law changes in decades… Some ‘victimless prosecutions’ were introduced for the first time.”

And the paper did indeed express itself delighted with the legislation that launched in 2004: “The new Domestic Violence Bill that gives police the power to act without the victim’s consent is very welcome and long overdue. What’s crucial now is how the police choose to implement that power.”

So how has the paper covered the police’s decision to implement exactly that power in the case of the late Caroline Flack, charged with assaulting her boyfriend Lewis Burton?

‘Tormented’
“Sources close to her legal team say that after Caroline was arrested, lawyers for the CPS had initially decided not to charge her,” the paper stormed at the head of its seven pages of coverage on Monday. “It is understood senior police officers pressed for a charging decision. In the end the CPS used guidelines designed to protect long-term sufferers from domestic abuse to charge her – despite Lewis supporting Caroline and not wanting her to be prosecuted.”

The paper focused particularly on one angle of the case which, despite a hastily inserted disclaimer from the Samaritans warning that “suicide is rarely due to one particular factor”, it blamed for her state of mind. “Friends say Caroline, 40, had spent weeks being tormented by the idea that police bodycam footage of the incident, showing her in a state of undress and severely distressed, would be shown in court.”

‘Bedroom bloodbath’
Why might Flack have particularly feared this exposure? Possibly because photographs of the scene, presumably taken by investigating officers, had already ended up splashed across the front page of the Sun on 1 January, beneath the deeply sensitive headlines “Flack’s bedroom bloodbath” and “Like horror film”. The photos were merely the most eye-catching example of how the press had, in the words of former CPS lawyer Nazir Afzal on Radio 4 last weekend, “driven roughshod over” the strict rules about prejudicial coverage in the run-up to a trial – and which might well have ended up being a more fruitful angle for Flack’s lawyers’ attempts to halt the case than the state of her mental health.


PS: Hacked Off and the stages of grief

“THE tragic death of television presenter Caroline Flack follows months of speculative coverage from national newspapers,” announced anti-press campaign group Hacked Off in a press release it put out less than an hour after the presenter’s death was confirmed on 15 February.

“Trial by media can have dangerous and unforeseen consequences. The media must be careful to scrutinise justice, not administer it… It is equally important that the press now take care to avoid speculating on motives or method in coverage of Ms Flack’s death.”

Over the following 44 hours, Hacked Off went on to issue no fewer than 41 tweets speculating about the role newspapers may have had in Flack taking her own life, pushed articles by former directors Brian Cathcart and Joan Smith blaming the tabloids for her death, and sent board members Kyle Taylor and Emma Jones to the sofas of BBC1’s Breakfast and ITV’s This Morning to discuss what awful ambulance-chasers the media are.

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Next issue on sale: 3rd March 2020
gnitty

More top stories in the latest issue:

GAY, SET & MATCH?
What to make of a Sun executive’s timely presence on the set of This Morning on the very day presenter Phillip Schofield chose to come out as gay?

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING…
If Tony Gallagher thinks moving from the editor’s chair at the Sun to the deputy slot at the Times is a prelude to taking over one day, he’s taking a big gamble.

CARPET BURNS
MailOnline fashion staff covering the Oscars seem to have had jetlag as they went from fawning to bitching about celebrity fails in the swish of fancy frock.

GENDER WARS
The Guardian continues to tie itself in knots about the use of ‘cis woman’ and ‘cis man’ when trying to write about ‘the non-trans population’.

IN BAD FAITH
The Evangelical Alliance’s Peter Lynas, defender of the bakery that refused to bake a gay wedding cake, now seems to want to have his cake and eat it when it comes to defending freedom of expression.

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