Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Pen Wielded as a Sword of Justice Is a Strong Force for Good; Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Pen Wielded as a Sword of Justice Is a Strong Force for Good; Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: David Banks

THE power of the Press, currently despised by the public and resented by the powerful, is a fearful weapon when wrongfully wielded; Lord Leveson's hacking inquiry has shown that.

But fashioned by the right hands into a sword of justice, that blunt, potentially immoral, instrument becomes a powerful force for good, as in this week's long-awaited conviction of two of the racist killers of Stephen Lawrence.

The risks were enormous: the Daily Mail's front page 'Murderers!' headline in 1997 reawakened a shameful four-year-old police mis-investigation of the killing, but the outrageous and then-unprovable allegation makes the recent media hounding of wrongly-identified murder suspect Christopher Jefferies look as harmless as a game of hide-and-seek.

Editor Paul Dacre's action might easily have seen him jailed for contempt of court or criminal libel. Indeed, if the newsroom scuttlebutt surrounding Dacre's daring decision to publish and be damned is true, then justice owes a hat-tip to an accident of fate.

Fleet Street folklore insists that the right-wing, strait-laced Daily Mail opposed reopening the Lawrence inquiry until its (then) only black reporter, Hal Austin, interviewed Stephen's grieving parents and discovered that his father, Neville, had worked years earlier on Dacre's Islington house as a plasterer.

Dacre remembered the tradesman as a pleasant, decent, family man and ordered his reporter to "do something sympathetic" - hardly a highly-principled basis on which to change a paper's policy. But the outcome, years later, is the right one. Closer to home, retired Sunderland MP Chris Mullin's own claims to fame go well beyond 23 years devotion to constituents and country: his experience as a journalist with Granada TV's award-winning World In Action current affairs programme won the Bennite MP a reputation for campaigning on behalf of victims of injustice, even (perhaps especially) when the cause was unpopular with either readership or electorate.

He reported as a journalist and campaigned as an MP against Britain's support for the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, long before the horrors of Pol Pot's evil regime were exposed; at the height of the IRA terror his campaigning journalism and outspoken Commons contributions made him pivotal in obtaining the release of the Birmingham Six, men wrongly convicted six years earlier of a bloody pub bombing in the Midlands capital. …

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