Friday, 18 January 2013

Lance Armstrong - The Libel Years

I'm not a Tour de France fan, never have been, never will be. I just don't get the whole lycra /weird helmet /bikes-with-saddles-like-razor-blades thing. In saying that, the Lance Armstrong confession is interesting. Not because of the drugs, and the lies, and the cheating, but because in 2004 Lance Armstrong sued the Sunday Times for claiming he was actually doing the things he has finally admitted to. (here)

As part of his settlement, the Sunday Times issued an apology to Armstrong, but this wasn't a victim-less episode involving a celebrity and a British newspaper. Paul Kimmage and David Walsh who exposed the story were also sued, as well as threatened and abused for telling the truth. Emma O'Reily, (Armstrong's  "soigneur") was also sued and cast as a "drug-using prostitute" by the Armstrong publicity machine, (here) something that cost her not only her job, but also her reputation. 

But Armstrong is not the first person  to take action in the UK for libel only to be well and truly guilty. In 1993 John Major sued the New Statesman and Scallywag Magazine over a story about an alleged affair with Claire Latimer. Major' lawyers claimed that it "was a serious attack on his reputation to accuse him of adultery". In 2002, Major's affair with Edwina Currie was revealed, (here) by which time the guilty parties had walked away leaving a trail of broken reputations in their wake. The New Statesman lost  hundreds of thousands of pounds whilst Scallywag  never recovered, shutting down just two years later. Simon Reagan and Angus James Wilson, Scallywag's founders, both died before it was discovered that they had told the truth. (here) 

Prior to Major two other prominent Tories were to use the UK libel laws to protect their powerful positions. In 1995, Jonathan Aitken sued the Guardian over their report into his business links with the now immortal phrase:

     "If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight," (here)

Aitken was to wield that "simple sword of truth" by filing a false witness statement from his then teenage daughter. (here)

Jeffrey Archer sued the Daily Star over allegations that he had made payments to Monica Coghlan. Archer won his case, only to be exposed and jailed fourteen years later for what he described as a "silly mistake." (here)   But it wasn't Archer who would pay the biggest price for his "silly mistake" Whilst Archer eventually went to jail, Monica Coghlan would have to live the rest of her short life enduring the taunts and stares as the woman who was accused of giving Jeffry Archer "cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex in a seedy hotel room". (here)

As I said, the Lance Armstrong case is interesting because it shows how little has changed. The powerful, even when the stain of their guilt is there for us all to see, will do all they can to protect that power, and the real victims who suffer the most, will not necessarily be those that can afford to pay the price for their "silly mistakes".

         "Do you know what I've been through for that liar? Just because he's got power and money..,,.You might be big with words, okay, and I might be a prostitute, but I've never harmed anybody, okay, I've just survived all my life" -  Monica Coghlan 1987

Sunday, 13 January 2013

A Knight of Dark Reknown

Following the publication of the report into Operation Yewtree (here) ,there will no doubt be much pointing of fingers at a range of people and institutions, not least the BBC and the NHS, over the next few months. The fact that Jimmy Savile abused many of his victims whilst working for, and/or visiting many of these institutions is naturally both deplorable and shocking. The fact Savile remained free to do so over many years despite several police investigations is equally shocking.

But it must also be said that Savile was no ordinary abuser, not because of the scale of his assaults, nor the prolonged period of his offences, but because of the position he was allowed to continue to hold in our society. Savile was no ordinary abuser, because not only was he part of the public consciousness,  but because he was also a friend and confidant to Royalty, Prime Ministers, leaders of the Church and just about every other institution that makes and shapes the society we've become.

Peter Spindler, leading the investigation, claimed that "Savile groomed a nation", but among the lurid and shocking headlines such as those in today's Express (here) lies something far more shocking and painful to acknowledge; the fact that a man of power and influence could abuse both children and adults for so long without a single other person of power and influence stepping forward and taking a stand.

For eleven years in a row, Savile spent Christmas with the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (here) .He was also a personal friend to Prince Charles, to the point where he offered guidance on his marriage to Diana (here). Did anyone, during the numerous background and security checks he must have had to become a Knight of the Realm, a Papal Knight and a member of Thatcher's government task-force at Broadmoor, uncover his abusive history, and if not, why not?

Did any newspaper, normally so quick to point the finger even at the innocent without the slightest shred of evidence, (here) take a stand and expose him? Or any politician, use parliamentary privilege, to name him for what he was? Or any single person, of equal power and influence, stand up, take their own reputation in their hands and expose him?

They didn't,. Instead, they turned their faces and helped him up the ladder of power to the point that only his death gave any chance of justice for his victims. Because Savile, like many other people in positions of power, was protected by the very self interest that pervades to this day.

The CPS (here) among others have, quite rightly, apologized to his victims for the failure to prosecute him. But the very people that could, and should have exposed him, remain silent. A silence that  is all too deafening.

Friday, 11 January 2013

The 32%

Who wouldn't want more money for the job they do? The simple answer is pretty much all of us. We no doubt all think that we could do with a rise in the money we receive, whether we're part of a private company, the public sector, unemployed, or, slaving for our parents by occasionally cleaning our rooms. (Yes kids I'm talking to you)

But there are a group of us that believe, if the polls are accurate, they deserve far more than just a few quid extra for the work they do. Lets, for want of a less polite term, call them the Members. The Members tell us, that they, (unlike anyone else in the country obviously) work jolly well hard, and it's very difficult actually making laws, and listening to the rest of us whine on about how times are hard, and, to be honest I'm sure it is. 

Some Members, like Andrew Bridgen MP, despite topping up his salary by an extra £7,773 a month, (here) will also tell you that most people believe his £65,738 a year salary really isn't a great deal of money (I personally don't know anyone that believes this but there you go). There are some Members, like Tim Farron MP, (here) who will also tell you the 127% rise in salary Members received between 1990 and 2008 is too high, which is why since 2009 he has given away any rise in  his pay to charity. There are even some Members I'm sure, like 60% of the public (here), that think they earn far too much already (though again I personally don't know of any).

However here's a suggestion. Let's actually give Members the 32% rise in pay they think they deserve. But in return we expect them not to earn large amounts of money from second jobs (here) To pay their own rent if they live 19 miles away from their work (here) their own breakfast (here), their own First Class train tickets (here) and if they want their Aga serviced, (here) to do what the rest of us do, pay for it themselves.