09/11/2012 Newsnight


In-depth investigation and analysis of the stories behind the day's headlines, presented by Eddie Mair.

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A new crisis for Newsnight. Tonight, this programme apologises, a key


allegation in a report about child abuse was wrong. The abuse victim


abuse was wrong. The abuse victim says he was mistaken.


Humble apologies to Lord McAlpine. That's certainly not the man that


abused me. That is certainly not the man I identified as abused me


to North Wales Police in the 1990s. The senior Conservative named on


the internet steps forward to tackle the slurs. And instructs his


lawyer to set the record straight. We need to take a number of


different actions. Firstly to try to get this taken down from the


Internet. Which is not going to be easy. Then


we have to look at Newsnight. MP wonders what on earth Newsnight


was playing at. These experts will tell us where it all leaves the BBC


and the thousands of abuse victims who were already terrified of


speaking up. Also tonight, the Treasury has found a load of cash


down the back of a sofa, rather than going on a bender we will pay


down the deficit. We ask is there any more down there. Ash dieback,


the continental tree killer is here to stay and can't be eradicate, say


the Government. Is this the end of the -- eradicated, say the


Government, is this the end of the English ash?


We start tonight with a statement, issued in the last hour, by


This time last week, here on Newsnight, Steve Messham, who was


repeatedly abused as a child in North Wales, said one of his


abusers was a senior politician of the Thatcher era. There wasn't


enough information for Newsnight to name the individual. On the


Internet, where the standard of proof was zero, there was no


shortage of names. The Prime Minister had a list of them waved


in his face on live television. Today, one of the names had enough.


Lord McAlpine went public, to denounce false and seriously


defamery allegations. Tonight Steve Messham has changed his story and


apologised, and so has the BBC. He was at the heart of the Thatcher


Government, a fixer, who served as both Deputy Chairman and treasurer.


Today he issued a strongly-worded statement, denying he's the man at


the centre of abuse allegations. In a statement, which runs to more


than 1,000 words, he said: Lord McAlpine has been at the


centre of a storm of internet gossip, triggered by a report on


Newsnight last week. These were allegation of a paedophile-ring


involving people from all walks of life, businessmen, a market trader,


a senior public figure. In the report, a former care home


resident, Steve Messham, claimed he had been abused by a senior


political figure from the Thatcher era. There is no doubt Mr Messham


was a victim of serial sexual abuse at the O'Briain home. The


allegations were taken so seriously by the Government, that he met the


Welsh Secretary this week to discuss the case. The journalists


working on the Newsnight reports, did not show a photograph of Lord


McAlpine to Mr Messham. When he finally saw one this evening, he


said he was not the man who abused him Firstly I would offer my


sincere and humble apologies to Lord McAlpine. That certainly is


not the man that abused me. That is certainly not the man I identified


as abused me to North Wales Police in the 1990s. That's certainly not


the man that was on that photograph. I spoke out within the first five


minutes of seeing the picture of him, I was on the phone straight


away and issued an apology straight away. I was mortified, I felt for


the man and his family. This should never have happened. But, Lord


McAlpine's lawyers said the peer's reputation is in tatters, after a


week of allegations and unfair charter on blogs and internet sites.


He's broken hearted over this. His family are very upset. And he feels


that, you know, bearing in mind his health isn't that good, that this


is a total shock to receive at his time in life. Newsnight did not


name Lord McAlpine in its report. And because of that, he was not


approached for a response. But rumours of his involvement quickly


took off on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites. At


the heart of all this, is the way in which sites like Twitter look.


If you looked up a comment or post about Newsnight this week, you


would have seen a list of related search terms, including, like here,


paedophile, and McAlpine. I saw, when I put on Twitter on the Friday


afternoon, that the thing was ablaze. There was a hashtag


Newsnight, that seemed to be leading to the names of certain


politicians. That is the sort of thing that Twitter does, there


isn't an old media equivalent of it. The only equivalent I can think of


is occasionally when people in newspapers used to write somebody


something about somebody without naming them, they might put a


picture nearby. The process inside Twitter is making connections, and


it is not too difficult to work out what the connections are. It is


assumed Lord McAlpine's name was on a list of former politicians,


handed to David Cameron on live TV, by the presenter Philip Schofield.


As I say, if anyone has any information, about anyone who is a


paedophile. Number Ten dismissed that, as a silly stunt. And warned


against trial by Twitter. We have to be very careful before casting


aspersions against individuals, or bandying people's names around, as


was being done yesterday, without proper evidence. Every institution,


every journalist and politician has to think carefully about those


things. Lord McAlpine's solicitor said the peer now has no choice but


to take legal action over the claims. We need to take a number of


different actions, first thing to try to get this taken down from the


Internet. Which is not going to be easy. Then we have to look at


Newsnight, and the way in which they behaved, and the way they


trailed it. They made it obvious who it was. Newsnight was heavily


criticised for its handling of the Jimmy Savile scandal. And internal


BBC investigation is under way into the decision to drop its reports


last year, into sexual abuse by the star.


Now the programme, and the BBC, is under fire again. This time, for a


decision to run a report based on information which later turned out


to be false. In the last hour, the corporation has issued a statement,


saying it apologises unreservedly, for broadcasting that report.


Some of us said when this story first came out, victims must have


their say, and their day, if you like. Now we have had a victim who,


I'm sure was just genuinely mistaken, maybe someone gave him


the wrong information some time ago, it makes the whole issue even more


complicated. There are still many unanswered questions about the


abuse scandal in North Wales, and the Waterhouse investigation, what


about the names of other alleged abusers, linked to the children's


home, but never charged. What about the victims, who say they were told


to keep quiet and not to give evidence. New allegations are still


emerging, one man contacted the BBC to say he was drugged, taken away


in an expensive car, and raped. He never gave evidence to the inquiry.


I mentioned it in years to come, if I said anything, he would send the


same people to come and get me and my family, and I would never see


them again. Because he had friends in really high places.


Government said tonight that it will still go ahead with a series


of inquiries into the Welsh care home scandal. But there will also


be wider questions asked, about anonymity for people accused of


these crimes, and the role of both established media and the Internet


in publicising and spreading those names.


Obviously we wanted to ask questions of the BBC, but no-one


was available for interview. The Conservative MP, Rob Wilson,


has been a concerned critic of the BBC's handling of Jimmy Savile's


time at the BBC, and also how the BBC has behaved in recent week. Now


this, Mr Wilson, how bad can it get? Well it's pretty bad, isn't it.


This apology tonight which, I welcome, it needs to go much


further, really. We have got a situation now where last Friday


Newsnight broadcast an item which triggered a huge wave of innuendo


and smears, across the Internet, and across Twitter. It really did


bring into disrepute the journalism, really. Because the report was not


fair or responsible. I think in terms of Ofcom's code of


broadcasting conduct, I think it will certainly be an infringement


of that. It was a pretty shoddy piece of journalism, and very poor


of the BBC. I have news from the Director-Generar himself, who has


ordered several actions, John -- director general's himself who has


been appointing several actions, there is a moderator on Newsnight.


An apology, and there will be an urgent report from the DG covering


what happened on the Newsnight investigation we are talking about.


Significantly, I want your response to the last two points. There will


be an immediate pause in all Newsnight investigations to assess


editorial robustness and supervision, and there will be an


immediate suspension of all co- productions with the Bureau of


Investigative Journalism across the BBC. I don't know, can you hear the


stable door closing? I can't hear a lot of what you are saying.


sound isn't working, the investigations aren't working!


least the BBC is trying to act decisively, over the Savile


incident, it was very slow, dragged the feet and took a long time to


catch up. At least this time it seems to be acting fairly swiftly.


I do welcome some of the actions it seems to be taking. Although I


haven't seen the full detail, because it is only coming in. We do


have to have a thorough look at why this happened. The editorial


process within Newsnight has clearly gone badly wrong. It has


gone badly wrong before over Savile, there is clearly a pattern within


this. There are lot of theories about why this particular one got


aired in the first place. There is one theory that it was an


overcompensation for what happened with Savile. But there is also a


theory out there that this was a diversionary tactic, to divert


attention away from the BBC. I think if he's looking at this, I


think he has to look at those issues as well. Is Newsnight Toast?


-- is Newsnight toast? Newsnight has a proud tradition of excellent


journalism, I wouldn't like at this stage, without seeing the detail of


any investigation that is about to take place. I don't want to just


have a kneejerk reaction to what has been going on. I want to have


the information and the evidence in front of me, and take a considered


view of whether Newsnight should continue or not.


What effect will all of this have on the BBC, and on the people who


were abused as children. People who were already reluctant to speak out.


Professor Richard Wortley is the director of Jill Dando institute,


Esther Rantzen founded ChildLine, and knows her way around BBC


journalism, and Steve Hewlett is presenter of Radio 4's the The


Media Show. Steve, how would you characterise this latest fiasco?


is a disaster, little short of it, to be honest. Just weeks ago


Newsnight is flayed alive, for not having broadcast something which


now appears was probably true. Now it is being flayed alive for


broadcasting something which we now know was certainly not true. The


question here is, I don't think it is about good or bad faith, I


assume good faith on the part of all the people involved in the


investigation and the broadcast. But we expect from Newsnight, we


need to have from Newsnight, and the BBC, not so much good faith,


but we like that, as good journalism. In this case, we know


for sure, the BBC had investigated this mission Messham and his --


Steve Messham, and his allegations on two separate occasions and found


them wanting. If you go back to the original Waterhouse report, you


will see references to his evidence as bordering on fantasy. It would


have taken two or three phone calls to establish, not that there is


anything wrong with this gentleman, he was seriously abuse, one can


have nothing but genuine sympathy about him. But his story about Lord


McAlpine, was simply groundless. It would have taken two phone calls to


find that out. What about the BBC's defence, that because Lord McAlpine


wasn't named in the report, that is different? I think that is


preposterous. If they know it is Lord McAlpine. Remember the Bureau


of Investigative Journalism tweeted earlier in the day, last Friday,


implying, at least, they later apologised they didn't mean it,


nevertheless, implying that the person would be named. There is no


doubt, that everybody involved in this, knew that the person he was


referring to was Lord McAlpine. Strictly speaking, there is no


requirement to get an answer from Lord McAlpine, because you are not


accusing him of anything. Not to have contacted him, to check the


allegation, when you know that is who he's talking about is absurd.


Let me make one other point, it is all very well to talk about trial


by Twitter, this was trial by Newsnight. Newsnight has turned


theself into the internet. It is not Twitter that broadcast this, it


is not the Internet that broadcast this, it is the BBC's top nightly


current affairs show. That is why, on the back of everything has


happened, it is little short of a disaster. What people are asking


out there is who is running this show, I don't just mean "this" show,


I'm talking about "this" show. You are shaking your head? I feel like


I have lived through some of this myself, on That's Life, we


investigated a boys' boarding school, owned by a multi-


millionaire paedophile, who employed three paedophile teachers.


I can say that safely, because they all went to jail over it. We took


six months over that investigation, and did so with a barrister, and


the BBC in-house lawyers, checking every single stage of the


investigation. Telling us, not asking us to drop it, as Newsnight


was asked to drop the Savile investigation, but saying you need


more evidence, you still need more evidence. The boys themselves had


to sign affadavits, the barrister tests to see if their evidence


would stand up in court, whether they would be good witnesses. When


you make this kind of terribly serious allegation, the lawyers


have to be part of your team. I don't know where they were with


Newsnight. Either when they dropped the Savile thing, or when they


broadcast the other. In a sense, in journalistic terms, this is almost


a bigger clanger than the Savile question. In the Savile case.


Newsnight has outdone itself? has outdone itself in terms of


journalistic failure. At least in the Savile case, you can imagine


reasons why the editor might have been nervous about the story. I'm


not going to go into all the detail. As a former editor myself. I can


imagine he may have felt this is not right, it is not quite ready


yet. Why they didn't press on is another question. In that case you


can see reasons why, reasons for uncertainty. In this case, two or


three phone calls should have established that this man's story


was not to be taken at face value. Richard Wortley, let me bring you


in here, it is worth saying, that while all of our focus, a lot of


the media's focus in recent weeks has been on celebrities, and


alleged paedophile rings, for most children who are abuse, if that is


our primary concern, they are not being abused by celebrities, are


they? Not at all. The serious cases r we know that 95% of child sex


abuse occurs between perpetrators and victims who know each other, or


had preexisting relationships. About 60%, in fact, occur within


the home. The other 35% between friends of the family or other


acquaintances. So, it is very much the tale -- tail of the dog. Those


children will already have great difficulty in thinking about


speaking out. I wonder what effect do you think all of this will have


on them? I don't think it will help them speak out. The reasons they


don't speak out are very complex. It is not just fear, it can be fear,


it can be concerns that they won't be believed. In many cases it is


the fact that they are in a pre- existing authority relationship


with the perpetrator. Often they don't understand they have been


abused, or they can't separate out the abuse from normal parenting, or


normal authority kinds of activities. For example they may be


abused while being bathed. And it is difficult, they can also have


feelings of loyalty towards the abuser. In fact, many cases, if the


abuser is a parent or guardian, they love the guardian. In those


circumstances, Esther Rantzen, what are those children supposed to do


when they have seen all the Savile stuff, with children apparently


being ignored. Then they have seen a man, who who was certainly abused,


over a number of years in North Wales, getting involved in this


media kerfuffle. Any child beg abused now, and whoever the abuse


is why, I have had a child ringing ChildLine comaiing why she couldn't


tell us where she was, she says I have two dadies, lovely and monster


daddy, if I tell you where I am, you will take monster daddy away


and lovely daddy too. They must speak out. We encourage them to


speak to a trusted adult. That way we can stop the abuse, if it is mum,


grandmother, if it is the parent of a friend. We can stop the abuse.


What really concerns me, is that abuser doesn't go to trial, and


what worries me most about all these stories, is that the reason


the original disclosures about Savile didn't go to trial is that


our adversarial court process militates so ferociously against a


child. A barrister said to me, a defence barrister said to me, I


don't care how great a monster my client s or what it takes to break


down a child, it is my job to do it and I will. As long as we use our


adversarial process to break down children, these disclosure won't


come to court. On the journalism, this news that investigations are


being suspended on Newsnight. You do wonder then what's the point of


it. You will be left with the papers won't you? Sort of.


Newsnight's stock in trade is discussion of topical issues. It


has always had a tradition of doing filmed piece, but most of them are


not, in that sense, investigations. It maybe the BBC will decide if it


is going to do investigations, they should be on the radio, and


Panorama on TV and you accumulate all the skills necessary to do


there. One of the things that the review into the original Savile


discussion will no doubt come across, is the sense in which, not


with standing good faith all round, it was pretty mismanaged. Handling


investigative journalism, from an editor's point of view, is never


easy. And the reputation of the BBC in the toilet? Research this week


shows that 76% of people asked did not trust senior BBC executives to


tell the truth. That is a genuine shocker. On top of which, some


ComRes research, always shown in answer to the question whether you


trust the BBC, 60% yes, 30% now, 2009, 65/35, this time 47% yes, 47%


no, first time the figures have reversed. On trust in the BBC?


completely trust the BBC, only the BBC would call us together in a


studio and say me cull pa in this way. I think the -- mea culpa in


this way. I think the BBC makes fantastic decisions and programmes.


Thank you very much. Here is something you don't hear every day,


the Treasury has found some money down the of the sofa. Quite a lot


of money. Not enough to let the good times roll, but enough to get


Joe Lynaminto the studio. This money wasn't really found down the


back of the sofa was it? We should start with the printing press. In


order to stoke up the economy, the Bank of England was charged with


creating money through quanative easing. It created �375 billion


over the last few years. What it did of bought Government bonds from


banks and pension funds and insurance companies and all that


kind of stuff. With this new money. Attached to those Government bonds


something that is called a coupon, which is an interest rate. An


annual period. Couldn't you do with a graphic to illustrate this, did


they close the graphic department down? We don't have the money, the


cash pile went else where the coupon has to be repaid by the


Government. Here is the funny bit. The Treasury, or the Government,


has to borrow from the Bank of England in order to repay this


coupon. The difference between what it borrows for, which is half of


one per cent, the current bank rate, and what it has to pay on the


coupon to the bonds is around 2%. That has built up what is called a


cash pile or profit. What is happening now, is that cash pile


will no longer necessarily just sit there in the Bank of England. The


Treasury will continue to pay the coupon, but it will get a dere-


bait every quarter. That is where the -- it will get a rebate every


quarter. That is where the figures are massaged, it will help reduce


the debt pile in the short-term. What can George Osborne do with


this? Potentially very little. The only thing he can necessarily do,


is when he stands up to make his Autumn Statement in three woke time,


he can say his target of bending the debt curve downwards. That


would have been a great graphic, is now on target. Had he not found �35


billion, which is what we are talking with here, he might not


necessarily have been able to say that. Labour are saying it is all


smoke and mirrors, and us jaundiced journalist are saying why are you


doing in the Autumn Statement. The Government say we are coming into


line with the Japanese and Americans in our process. Let's see


what the office for national statistic, and the independent


Office for Budget Responsibility. The disease that came from the


continent, and is killing our ash trees is here to stay. According to


England's Environment Secretary. They will try to slow it down. They


will try to reduce its impact. But the official view is it is not


going away. We have been learning that ash trees may not be the only


ones under threat. It's not just our ash trees that


face an uncertain furtherure. Scientists say trees throughout --


future, scientists say trees throughout our woodlands and cities


face a threat from pests that is unprecedented in recent history.


Today's focus has been on minimising the impact of the ash


crisis. But that's just the latest in a wave of infections that


threatens our trees. And the Government's being told, very


firmly, by scientists, that if it doesn't get this right, then other


species are at risk. The plain tree could be next.


We are facing a major threat from this particular pathogen. Which has


been in Italy for many years. But is now spreading quite rapidly


through the plane trees in many parts of Europe. It is moving


northwards in France, quite rapidly too. So heading our way in the near


future. Over the past 40 years, the UK has seen tree infections and


pests come to light at an increasing rate. Back in 1971, it


was Dutch Elm disease, flash forward to the past decade, and the


rate of infection has picked up. With a new disease or pest almost


every year. The oak prosessionry We are certainly facing a massive


threat from potentially damaging agents coming into Britain. Maybe


some via Europe, some directly into Britain. And it has accelerated


enormously in the last 10-20 years. The reason for that is almost


certainly global trade in living plant material. Obviously we have


done that for many years, but the scale of it now is absolutely vast.


It is very difficult to even conceive of the number of plants


that are coming into Europe every year. From all over the world.


Environment Secretary said today he's taken on board the scale of


the threat, and will spend more money to address it. He warns that


other areas of his department's budget will be cut as a result. The


UK's largest woodland conservation charity has been calling on the


Government to do more. I think the Government is on the right lines.


But I think there is a lot more it could do. Owen Patterson was


talking this morning about a radical look at things, more


resource, we need to see the colour of the money on. That we need to


look clearly at how plants come into the country. The controls that


they needing to through before they are imported. So we don't


inadvertantly bring in diseases that are on continental imports.


Others warned this week there is a risk of us dropping the ball on


tree health. Expertise in our universities has run down in the


past 20 years. We need a standing team of people who have the


knowledge and experience built up over years, and continuous among


them, to respond to unexpected things that happen. The analogy is


with a fire brigade. You keep them there for when you have a fire. You


don't sack them because you haven't had a fire for a year.


Government said today that on ash, they are not going to chop down


mature trees, but try to spot the ones that are resistant and build


up a national stock from those. They also want a radical re-think


on the way we protect our forests, and they have asked the task force


of scientists to come up with the best way to do that. Steven


Woodward is one of ten scientists on that task force. He's already


clear what he wants the Government to do to protect our plane trees.


would suggest an immediate ban on the import of plane trees and any


material that is might carry the pathogen into the UK. In the longer


term I would suggest that we need to develop quarantine facilities,


so we can hold any plant material, trees and so on, in a secure


facility for some considerable length of time, before it is


actually allowed into the market place in the UK. We asked the


Government's key adviser on plant health, if that is a good idea?


need to look at all of the risk on the horizon, Chalara fraxinea has


caught us by surprise. In the case of plane trees, we already have


regulation in place. It is already one of the 250 organism listed in


the EU plant health rules. There are measures already there. Which


wasn't the case for Chalara fraxinea.


On ash, there is at least some breathing space over winter. When


infection slows, valuable time for the Government to make sure that


the impact of this infection is minimised, and it looks beyond the


immediate crisis, to prevent the devastation of other UK trees.


Review is up next. Jo Whiley is in glass Government


There is a rock 'n' roll vibe tonight, as we prepare to tackle


books from legends of the 60s, Pete Townshend Mick Jagger, we are


marking the 100 anniversary of Fabricio Coloccini. We look at the


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