09/11/2012 Newsnight


09/11/2012

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

:00:13.:00:18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Internet. Which is not going to be easy. Then

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

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

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and the thousands of abuse victims who were already terrified of

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

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

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

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

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

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Government, is this the end of the English ash?

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

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

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

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

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enough information for Newsnight to name the individual. On the

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

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

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

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Lord McAlpine went public, to denounce false and seriously

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defamery allegations. Tonight Steve Messham has changed his story and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Welsh Secretary this week to discuss the case. The journalists

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

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

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

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sincere and humble apologies to Lord McAlpine. That certainly is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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approached for a response. But rumours of his involvement quickly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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is occasionally when people in newspapers used to write somebody

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something about somebody without naming them, they might put a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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every journalist and politician has to think carefully about those

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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last year, into sexual abuse by the star.

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

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

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

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saying it apologises unreservedly, for broadcasting that report.

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

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

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

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

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complicated. There are still many unanswered questions about the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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be wider questions asked, about anonymity for people accused of

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

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in publicising and spreading those names.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Newsnight broadcast an item which triggered a huge wave of innuendo

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

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

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

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broadcasting conduct, I think it will certainly be an infringement

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

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

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

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

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

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what happened on the Newsnight investigation we are talking about.

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

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be an immediate pause in all Newsnight investigations to assess

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editorial robustness and supervision, and there will be an

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immediate suspension of all co- productions with the Bureau of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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process within Newsnight has clearly gone badly wrong. It has

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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view of whether Newsnight should continue or not.

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

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

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Professor Richard Wortley is the director of Jill Dando institute,

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Esther Rantzen founded ChildLine, and knows her way around BBC

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

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

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

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Newsnight is flayed alive, for not having broadcast something which

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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millionaire paedophile, who employed three paedophile teachers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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you make this kind of terribly serious allegation, the lawyers

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

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

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

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

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Newsnight has outdone itself? has outdone itself in terms of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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children will already have great difficulty in thinking about

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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normal authority kinds of activities. For example they may be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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our adversarial court process militates so ferociously against a

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

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

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

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

:20:22.:20:26.

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

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

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

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

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

:20:41.:20:45.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:21:11.:21:18.

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

:21:18.:21:22.

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

:21:22.:21:27.

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

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

:21:30.:21:40.
:21:40.:21:42.

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

:21:42.:21:46.

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

:21:46.:21:52.

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

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

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

:22:03.:22:06.

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

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

:22:09.:22:15.

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

:22:15.:22:19.

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

:22:19.:22:23.

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

:22:23.:22:27.

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

:22:27.:22:31.

creating money through quanative easing. It created �375 billion

:22:31.:22:35.

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

:22:36.:22:38.

banks and pension funds and insurance companies and all that

:22:38.:22:41.

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

:22:41.:22:45.

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

:22:45.:22:51.

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

:22:51.:22:56.

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

:22:56.:22:59.

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

:22:59.:23:02.

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

:23:02.:23:05.

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

:23:05.:23:09.

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

:23:09.:23:12.

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

:23:12.:23:17.

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

:23:17.:23:22.

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

:23:22.:23:25.

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

:23:25.:23:29.

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

:23:30.:23:35.

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

:23:35.:23:39.

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

:23:39.:23:43.

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

:23:43.:23:46.

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

:23:46.:23:50.

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

:23:50.:23:55.

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

:23:55.:24:01.

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

:24:01.:24:04.

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

:24:04.:24:08.

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

:24:08.:24:14.

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

:24:14.:24:18.

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

:24:18.:24:21.

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

:24:22.:24:25.

what the office for national statistic, and the independent

:24:25.:24:28.

Office for Budget Responsibility. The disease that came from the

:24:28.:24:33.

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

:24:33.:24:35.

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

:24:35.:24:40.

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

:24:40.:24:43.

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

:24:43.:24:53.
:24:53.:24:57.

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

:24:57.:25:02.

face an uncertain furtherure. Scientists say trees throughout --

:25:02.:25:06.

future, scientists say trees throughout our woodlands and cities

:25:06.:25:13.

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

:25:13.:25:16.

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

:25:17.:25:20.

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

:25:20.:25:25.

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

:25:25.:25:30.

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

:25:30.:25:38.

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

:25:38.:25:42.

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

:25:42.:25:49.

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

:25:49.:25:53.

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

:25:53.:25:59.

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

:25:59.:26:03.

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

:26:03.:26:09.

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

:26:09.:26:12.

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

:26:12.:26:17.

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

:26:17.:26:27.
:26:27.:26:35.

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

:26:35.:26:39.

threat from potentially damaging agents coming into Britain. Maybe

:26:39.:26:44.

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

:26:45.:26:51.

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

:26:51.:26:55.

certainly global trade in living plant material. Obviously we have

:26:55.:26:59.

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

:26:59.:27:03.

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

:27:03.:27:08.

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

:27:08.:27:11.

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

:27:11.:27:16.

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

:27:16.:27:21.

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

:27:21.:27:24.

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

:27:24.:27:27.

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

:27:27.:27:33.

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

:27:33.:27:36.

talking this morning about a radical look at things, more

:27:36.:27:40.

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

:27:40.:27:43.

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

:27:43.:27:47.

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

:27:47.:27:51.

inadvertantly bring in diseases that are on continental imports.

:27:51.:27:55.

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

:27:55.:27:57.

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

:27:57.:28:03.

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

:28:03.:28:06.

knowledge and experience built up over years, and continuous among

:28:06.:28:11.

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

:28:11.:28:15.

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

:28:15.:28:18.

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

:28:18.:28:22.

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

:28:22.:28:26.

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

:28:26.:28:29.

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

:28:29.:28:33.

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

:28:33.:28:39.

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

:28:39.:28:43.

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

:28:43.:28:47.

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

:28:47.:28:51.

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

:28:51.:28:57.

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

:28:57.:29:01.

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

:29:01.:29:07.

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

:29:07.:29:10.

facility for some considerable length of time, before it is

:29:10.:29:14.

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

:29:15.:29:19.

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

:29:19.:29:29.
:29:29.:29:30.

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

:29:30.:29:33.

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

:29:33.:29:37.

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

:29:37.:29:40.

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

:29:40.:29:45.

wasn't the case for Chalara fraxinea.

:29:45.:29:49.

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

:29:49.:29:52.

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

:29:52.:29:58.

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

:29:58.:30:04.

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

:30:04.:30:08.

Review is up next. Jo Whiley is in glass Government

:30:08.:30:13.

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

:30:13.:30:21.

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

:30:21.:30:25.

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

:30:25.:30:32.

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