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“I mustn’t use ‘witch-hunt’ in this story. It is a cliche and people will believe there’s something wrong with it…”

During 23 years with The BBC, and 38 years in journalism (when he was trained to use clear and simple language, avoiding jargon), political stories as well as the use of certain words have always been central, and here our Editor Phil Parry looks at how the phrase “a witch-hunt” is now being increasingly used, and has been deployed today by Boris Johnson to explain away ‘partygate’.

Previously 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 made clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.

Phil, here on BBC Cymru Wales Today in 1988, always knew how important it was to talk to people

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.

“COME OUT, AND DON’T SAY THIS IS A ‘WITCH-HUNT’, BECAUSE IT ISN’T!”

Earlier he disclosed why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, and how information from trusted sources is crucial at this time of crisis.

 

Invariably if words are over-used you know to look into the background carefully, and that the person wheeling them out could be at fault.

So it is with the phrase “a witch-hunt” which has been used by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to defend himself against the critics who have condemned the parties which have been held in Number 10 or the garden, while everyone else was governed by lockdown rules.

Boris Johnson could be in trouble over Sue Gray’s report, which was part of a ‘witch-hunt’ against him allegedly

There have been 16 in all, and the Metropolitan Police are investigating 12 of them, to see whether Covid-19 regulations were breached.

This is on top of the internal report by Sue Gray, a former ‘ethics watchdog’ in Whitehall, and in delivering her report on what happened on Monday, she said there had been a “failure of leadership” while some events “should not have been allowed to take place”.

So it does not look good for Mr Johnson and he has said ‘sorry’, but he has also said in the past it was all “a witch-hunt”.

Poland’s Law and Justice party does NOT wave the flag for media freedom, but accusations against them are a ‘witch-hunt’ apparently

The phrase has a rich history.

It was, for example, screamed out in the row between Brussels and Warsaw, after Poland’s top court rejected the supremacy of EU laws, in a country where the nationalist Law and Justice party rules.

Polish judges had opposed the basic principle of EU legal primacy – a core pillar of the bloc’s legal order that all member states sign up to on joining.

Marine Le Pen – ‘The pursuit of Poland is a witch-hunt’

They repudiated significant articles of the EU treaties, including that member states will take “appropriate measures” to fulfil their obligations under EU law, and politicians as well as legal scholars have described the move as a “legal Polexit” which jeopardises Poland’s access to EU funds, along with the rights of its largely pro-EU population.

But after the far-right populist French politician, Marine Le Pen, met Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister, when he was hauled over the coals by his fellow leaders for this, she accused the EU of conducting a “witch-hunt” against Poland using “unacceptable blackmail”.

Binyamin Netanyahu – ‘I am victim of a witch-hunt’

This was as the contentious Israeli politician Binyamin Netanyahu had been put on trial for alleged corruption, when he had also accused his detractors of orchestrating a politically motivated “witch-hunt” against him.

Mr Netanyahu has denied charges that he received illegal gifts from wealthy benefactors and conspired with press barons to change media laws and regulations in return for favourable coverage. He was in court in the first criminal trial ever against a sitting Israeli leader.

Andrej Babis – ‘this is all a witch-hunt’

He had tried to pass laws that would have granted him immunity from prosecution, but failed to gain the necessary majority.

The one time Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has used the term ‘witch-hunt’, former US President Donald Trump liked wielding it, and the headline-grabbing nationalist Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, has applied the word, as well, as protests erupted in the country’s capital against corruption and fraud.

Sacked former Vice-Chancellor of Swansea University Richard Davies and the ex-School of Management Dean Marc Clement were under investigation, but it was claimed to be a ‘witch-hunt’

It has been employed, too, in Wales.

A ‘super-agent’ in the tragic case of the transfer to Cardiff City of footballer Emiliano Sala stood accused of fraud, but claimed he was victim of a “witch-hunt”.

During the extraordinary controversy at scandal-hit Swansea University (SU), where the police investigated alleged bribery in a multi-million pound land deal when senior officials including the former Vice-Chancellor (VC) Richard Davies, and the head of his School of Management Marc Clement, were sacked for “gross misconduct”, it, of course, cropped up!

It was claimed that Hilary Lappin-Scott could be a ‘saviour’ during the ‘witch-hunt’ inquiry

In the long-running saga, support had been clear for the contentious previous Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC)Hilary Lappin-Scott, who, The Eye exclusively revealed, was to leave.

An unbelievable anonymous campaign in her defence was undertaken using gmail or email, with messages sent to staff at SU as well as senior journalists (including me) and Welsh politicians.  One message said:  “Only Hillary (sic) can save Professor Boyle (new Vice-Chancellor [VC] at SU) from the same incompetents that undermined Richard Davies’ stellar transformation of your Institution for the Region”.

Your friend
Who was the anonymous computer campaigner at Swansea University called ‘Your friend’ in this ‘witch-hunt’?

Another read:  “Last week’s email was blocked – here it is below for completeness’ sake. Ask yourself: what else is the leadership keeping from you?… Why is this witch hunt therefore still continuing?”.

But The Eye have shown how Professor Lappin-Scott had enraged her staff at SU, by sending tweets from glamorous parts of the world on university ‘business’, and her exploits became the subject of The Eye’s satirical writer. Despite this, the anonymous communications have claimed in the past that Professor Lappin-Scott would lead the university to “an era of gold and honey”.

The astonishing ‘witch-hunt’ inquiry was into the £200 million pound Pentre Awel (Breezy Village) (previously known as the ‘Wellness Village’) land deal at Llanelli where the police were called in.

Was it a ‘kangaroo court’ AND a ‘witch-hunt’ as said in the anonymous computer campaign?!

The troubled institution has confirmed that apart from looking into the campaign itself, the police were involved in investigating alleged bribery during this so-called ‘witch-hunt’.

An official statement from Swansea’s ‘Associate Director Vice-Chancellor’s Office, Head of Legal and Compliance Services’ stated :  Alongside the University’s internal disciplinary process, there is also on-going police involvement (i) with regard to the issues uncovered during the University’s investigation; and (ii) anonymous communications sent to University staff relating to the suspensions and disciplinary processes. The matters under investigation are very serious. The University has invested a significant amount of resource investigating the alleged misconduct, as have the authorities. It is essential that nothing is done to undermine the on-going processes. They must be allowed to run their course without interference.”

Crooked ‘academic’ Steve Chan was hired by Swansea University, but the inquiry afterwards was a ‘witch-hunt’ we were told…

The stunning ‘witch-hunt’ campaign at the university also formed a worrying backdrop to an exclusive disclosure on The Eye, that officials had hired a fraudster called Steve Chan who worked on a contract at the management school, and after journalists there were alone in revealing how a previous Dean accused of bullying had died.

They showed how, apparently unknowingly, officials had even allowed Chan to represent the university in advising an international agency on the ways to combat fraud!

Chan had been imprisoned by a court in Boston, USA, for four years and three months, and ordered to pay millions of dollars in compensation. His jail sentence was followed by three years of supervised release, after he admitted one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of mail fraud, he was also ordered to pay restitution of $12,596,298.

Journalists such as Phil Parry were targeted

But the campaign inside SU alleging a ‘witch-hunt’ has been covered only partially by the mainstream media, and had been conducted ever since the incredible investigation was launched.

In part, one recent gmail to staff (and me) as well as the Chair of the SU council read:   “Why are these things happening and being leaked to Sion Barry (the Western Mail Business Editor) and, in turn, Phil Parry (someone trolling Professor Hillary [sic] Lappin-Scott) whilst in the middle of an independent internal investigation?”.

Phil Parry’s request was ‘vexatious’ apparently…

Another added:  “Appended below you can find the previous installments (American spelling) and claims there has been “A trial by media, a kangaroo court, a selection of evidence and suspensions before interviews – almost as if the facts were at odds with the desired outcome”. Although again misspelt a further gmail was clear in the search for a new VC: “Please Hillary (sic) (Lappin-Scott) out (put?) your hat back in the ring!”.

However university officials have been less keen than the person behind the anonymous computer campaign to give The Eye information – this time about Chan’s background, and The Eye have been told in the past that questions about him in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request had been refused on the grounds they were “vexatious”.

Four of the questions asked in the FOIA were:

  • What was the exact date that Professor Steve Chan of the School of Management registered for his Ph.D at Swansea University? 
  • What was the exact date that he undertook his viva voce examination for his Ph.D? 
  • Who were the members of his Ph.D viva committee (including external examiners)? 
  • Who approved the appointment of the supervisors for his Ph.D? 

Book posterYet of course questions like these, and Mr Johnson’s current travails, could all be part of a ‘witch-hunt’..!

 

 

The memories of Phil’s decades long award-winning career in journalism (when words were always chosen carefully) 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.