After 23 years with the BBC, and 38 years in journalism (when he was trained to use clear and simple language, avoiding jargon), here our Editor Phil Parry examines with incredulity how reporting is governed now, not by WHAT is said, but the WAY the person looks, and that television documentary films being broadcast at the moment underline this fact.
In the past he has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW) TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
It seems a shame that a reporter’s appearance on screen seems to be more important than what actually comes out of his or her mouth, and that the way people look is obviously no bar to career advancement.
I certainly don’t fit into that category!
This salient fact was emphasised to me by my appearance on Sky’s ‘Murder in the Valleys’ MITV, about the Clydach Murders (one of the biggest and most controversial, investigations ever mounted by South Wales Police [SWP] after four people had been beaten to death). The last of four episodes was broadcast by Sky last night, although they can still be seen on NOW TV, and they outline brilliantly an EXTRAORDINARY case.
There here have been lingering doubts concerning the guilt of the man who was eventually convicted for the murders, David (‘Dai’) Morris.
I am shown as I am now, with thinning grey hair, wearing glasses, and the way I was 20 years ago, looking VERY different, engaged in secret filming for a BBC Panorama programme about it, when we were the first to question the conviction, as well as the police behaviour during the investigation.
At the time of the murders, a highly credible witness had come forward, telling how she saw someone wearing a black bomber jacket which looked like a police coat, near the scene in the small hours of the night in question, and gave a statement to officers, from which an ‘E-Fit’ was constructed (she even pointed out a jacket which was similar in the interview room!). The police report which was shown in the MITV documentary films (as well as in my BBC Panorama programme), said it had a ’90 per cent’ chance of likeness.
The witness studied the man closely, because, as I said on MITV, she quite FANCIED him! This E-Fit, however, was NEVER released to the public.
During MITV, the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) at the time, Detective Superintendent (DS) (Retd.) Martyn Lloyd Evans, is questioned about this apparent mistake, and he replies that because the man seen was carrying a bag, and it was believed the killer had not had one it was not put out. He said: “I didn’t think it was relevant”, but I thought this was bizarre in the extreme.
The E-Fit matched almost exactly the face of the first senior police officer on the scene, Inspector (at the time) Stuart Lewis, who (against all procedure) had only stayed there a matter of minutes, or that of his identical twin brother (another police officer, Sergeant [also at the time] Stephen Lewis, whose wife was having a gay affair with one of the victims).
Inspector Stuart Lewis, had changed his shift to be on that night, however at crucial hours during the murders his whereabouts were unknown. He drove an unmarked police car which was similar to one spotted outside the house where the awful murders happened, but with a log book which went missing, and he didn’t report the deaths as suspicious, even though he was known for meticulously playing by the book, and was called by his colleagues ‘Inspector Perfect’.
To say it wasn’t ‘relevant’ for the public to see the E-Fit, I thought was UNBELIEVABLE!
Mr Evans also said something on MITV which was just as remarkable, in an astounding interchange with the director, Tom Barrow.
He declared: “Why would a police officer go and kill four people?! Mr Barrow interjected: “He might think if somebody’s sleeping with your wife, that might be a motive?”
Mr Evans then said: “Does everybody whose wife or husband is having an affair, get rid of the family? Of course they don’t. I think that’s a ludicrous assumption to make”.
Mr Barrow pressed him with: “You don’t think that’s a motive”. But Mr Evans responded: “Not at all… where have you seen that ever?”.
Yet Mr Lewis appeared to think it was a far safer motive for someone who had been rebuffed in a sexual advance by a woman in her 30s, to then murder an entire family, which was the prosecution case against Morris (a killing spree, during which it has been established that the elderly disabled grandmother was killed FIRST, when presumably if a person wanting sex had been rejected, then the individual doing the rejecting would be the first to die!).
Quite apart from these amazing proclamations, and not releasing the E-Fit, other stupid (although rather less important) errors were also made. During the interview for MITV, Mr Evans used, too, the word “sublime”, but clearly meant “subdued”!
In the MITV films Mr Evans’ boss as the then head of SWP CID, Wynne Phillips, also said something incredible: “We can’t manufacture evidence”.
But events before the murders, showed that SWP have done EXACTLY that!
The list of the controversies the force faced in the past, is endless (some of which I have uncovered), and it includes The Cardiff Three, The Cardiff Newsagent Three, The Darvell Brothers, The Tooze Murders (The Jonathan Jones Case), as well as The Annette Hewins Case.
In a formal interview for MITV (they wouldn’t do one with ME!), Assistant Chief Constable of SWP, David Thorne, made a startling admission, about the mistakes that were made by the police in this string of miscarriages.
He acknowledged: “It’s safe to say we got it wrong. We absolutely got it wrong.
“There were HUGE errors in the way investigations were conducted (but) we HAVEN’T found that in this case. This is not a miscarriage of justice”.
Now that is an incredible acceptance of what has been an APPALLING situation, from a senior SWP officer, and I would suggest an apology might be in order to all those who have been affected by the miscarriage of justice cases his force has been responsible for.
To take just one of them (in which I was intimately involved, because I had made ANOTHER programme questioning THAT conviction [The Cardiff Newsagent Three]), the police MANUFACTURED an overheard ‘confession’ between the young men when they effectively admitted to the murder of the newsagent, and they presented before the court ‘EVIDENCE’ that the group had run from the scene.
During this period, I was regularly approached by solicitors saying their client was totally innocent, and that BAD things were happening!
On one occasion that I remember, I took out my notebook (which I always carried with me) and the solicitor told me to put it away, because he didn’t want a record made of the conversation.
For me, at this time, the police were OUT OF CONTROL!
In The Cardiff Newsagent Three case, for example, we had cast serious doubt on the supposed ‘confession’, and discovered medical records that showed a key member of the gang, suffered with bad legs, so he couldn’t run at all!
Michael O’Brien (one of The Cardiff Newsagent Three) was imprisoned wrongly for 11 years, and appears on MITV saying that he believes the conviction of Morris (who has now died in prison, still protesting his innocence) is another miscarriage of justice.
He told the MITV documentary-makers: “When I was released from prison I remember… saying ‘I’m going to be South Wales Police’s worst nightmare for what they did to me’, and I meant every word of it”.
Apart from looking at his case for BBC Cymru Wales’ Week In, Week Out current affairs series, the BBC Panorama programme I made about the Clydach Murders 20 years ago, showed me as I was then, with no glasses, and a shock of dark blond hair, as well as the way I am now, not looking terribly attractive.
For others though it is different.
One ‘reporter’ at the moment is Ellie Pitt, who is certainly pleasing to the eye, but whose journalism is, perhaps, questionable.
Her ‘report’ on the ITV Cymru Wales website about controversial Welsh independence movement, YesCymru (YC) began: “‘Westminster isn’t working for Wales’. These are the five words I have been hearing all week. Over the last few days I have had numerous conversations with recent joiners to the Welsh Independence group YesCymru.”
The item continued: “Anyone who follows the movement’s Twitter account will know just how fast-paced and exponential the membership growth has been, particularly over the last week”.
But nowhere in the article was the contentious body challenged about the huge criticism which has followed close analysis of the official social media account belonging to YC, which reveals it has far fewer ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ than officials maintained.
It was about to be revealed, also, that YC was in complete turmoil over the issue of transgenderism, and a few months ago the ENTIRE governing committee resigned in protest at the online abuse that had been suffered.
It was obvious that some readers appeared to object to my highlighting this, and the issue of Ms Pitt being a woman became central. One of the comments that I received which was particularly abusive, is typical of the insults I constantly receive: “Your article on Ellie Pitt was bordering on mysogynistic bullying, a really pathetic article written by a bitter individual who was a complete failiure as a BBC correspondent and also loved bashing the Catholic Church with your disgraceful Panorama programme”.
However Ms Pitt has clearly got on (perhaps her good looks have something to do with it), and she is now to be seen on network ITV News.
Another example of this modern trend of attractiveness appearing to trump good journalism, is the ‘investigative’ so-called ‘reporter’ Stacey Dooley.
Ms Dooley boasts that not being a trained journalist meant people could connect with her more easily. She was featured in the What’s On guide of Cardiff Life (CL) lounging in a chair wearing leather trousers and talking about ‘career’ highlights, before appearing in ‘Conversations with Stacey Dooley’ at Cardiff’s St David’s Hall. She was asked ‘difficult’ questions in the magazine, such as: “What is your fondest memory of Strictly Come Dancing?”.
Her recent appearance on television’s ‘Celebrity Catchphrase’ said it all.
But she didn’t include in her interview with CL one ‘career highlight’ being when she was accused of being “lazy” and “insensitive”, by a disadvantaged family that she had staged ‘staying’ with in one of her films ‘Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over’.
Another ‘highlight’ which she was also silent about was how the BBC had to apologise and edit out her incorrect commentary in a Panorama programme which professed to portray the truth about Islamic State’s (IS) treatment of women.
A further one might have been how her programmes have been described as “poverty porn”. One of her subjects in ‘Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over’, Adele Allen, said: “In the whole 72 hours she was here I did three early morning dog walks at 6am with the baby and she didn’t manage to make it out to one. She couldn’t get up with me – so there’s the lazy one”. She and her partner Matt stated that Ms Dooley didn’t join in enough with their family life in Brighton on the show.
Matt said: “She’s lovely but there’s not a lot of depth to her. There’s a fantastic moment (in the programme) where she is with me in the allotment and I say: ‘Come on then Stacey, what herb is this?’ and I tell her it begins with the letter O and she says: ‘Olive oil’”.
Apart from Ms Dooley’s programmes being called “poverty porn”, in one UK newspaper they were represented as “patronising and condescending to the people they’re trying to help”.
After presenting ‘Blood, Sweat and T-shirts’ (which ‘investigated’ the working conditions of Indian sweatshops), she received a call asking her to appear on BBC Newsnight to discuss her experience and told a magazine revealingly: “I didn’t even know what Newsnight was”.
A few weeks before ‘Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over’ the BBC had to apologise, and edit out her incorrect commentary in a Panorama programme which claimed to portray the truth about Islamic State’s (IS) treatment of women. The programme was called ‘Stacey Meets the IS Brides’ and Ms Dooley’s voice over had said: “We saw women raising their index finger in an IS salute”. But this was completely wrong and several viewers who had seen the trailer about it, criticised Ms Dooley’s comment on Twitter, explaining that Muslims often use this gesture while praying.
One said a complaint had been made to the broadcast regulator OFCOM. BBC journalist Anisa Subedar tweeted: “Raising the finger is NOT an IS salute. Does #StaceyDooley know us Muslims raise it everytime we pray (that’s 5 times a day) to remind us of the oneness of God?”
The television ‘Loose Women’ star Janet Street Porter also condemned the programme, and the BBC News Press Team said the criticism was “disappointing”.
But following a deluge of complaints saying much the same thing, the BBC finally announced that the episode was to be re-edited before its broadcast. The News at Ten bulletin, which showed the trailer, was also removed from iPlayer.
The BBC at last admitted: “We wrongly described a gesture made by women filmed in a Kurdish controlled detention camp in Northern Syria as an ‘IS salute’. While IS have attempted to adopt this for their own propaganda purposes, for accuracy we should have been clear that many people of Muslim faith use this gesture to signify the oneness of Allah. We apologise for this error and have removed this description from the footage”. The BBC’s error committed by Ms Dooley, was featured in most of the UK newspapers.
She, like Ms Pitt, does, however, look good.
It is a pity, as MITV shows, I am not in that category…
Tomorrow – how the pay of the head of a controversial university in Wales has increased by thousands of pounds every year, even though staff there say they are “too frightened to talk” publicly about what they claim is chaos, it placed a mistaken advert for a senior executive featuring a DIFFERENT university, and plunged down the rankings massively in one recent year.
The memories of Phil’s decades long award-winning career in journalism (when secret filming was used regularly in investigations) as he was gripped by the rare neurological disease Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now!
Publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names