Monday, 30 January 2017


Scene: a breakfast room in a PremierLodge Travelinn, somewhere near Manchester.

Time: 8.37 am.

Waitress: Is everything all right, sir?

Customer: Well since you ask, it's all frankly, rather disturbing. This sausage obviously came from the bargain end of the range, where the nearest it came to being real meat was to be shown a photo of a smiling pig. This teabag, whilst being labelled as a 'Twinings Everyday Rich and Full Bodied', was obviously made from the sweepings off the floor that Twinings found left over in the warehouse after everything else had been sorted, packed and sent off to customers who actually like tea. Then we come to this allegedly fresh, but rather sinister glass of orange juice. Is it really meant to be glowing in the dark?

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Jill Saward- one last reflection

Grief works its way out in different ways. I do much of my thinking by talking with friends, then writing it out in a journal. It’s not exactly therapy (so don’t try sending me the bill after reading this) but it does help clarify things. The events and memories of the last few days will take time to process, to try and understand exactly what was going on from the time Jill suddenly fell sick- and work out what, if anything, I’ve learned from it all.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Thoughts from Jill Saward's funeral- yesterday

Parasites. Scavengers.

It's probably unfair to use those words to describe some press photographers. Mosquitoes, vampire bats, vultures, jackals and hyenas all play a necessary part in the world's eco-systems, and they don't get to choose what they do. David Attenborough is quite taken with some of them. But unlike human beings, these simpler creatures lack the capacity for moral choices. They don't know the difference between Right and Wrong, or try to puzzle out the grey areas in-between.

But when a crowd of mourners emerges from Lichfield Cathedral to face the multiple whirring of clicking cameras, you can wonder where some press photographers might have buried their consciences, to be able do this kind of thing for a living. The congregation were here at the funeral to say goodbye to a valued friend, a relative, a sister, an aunt, a resolute campaigner against sexual violence- so why were the press taking close-up pictures of individual with zoom lenses? By all means, it made sense to take pictures of the coffin, the undertakers, and the hearse driving away. But why intrude on personal tears and deep distress?

The photographers' answers would probably be- 'Because we can. Because images like these are interesting for our viewers and readers around the world- and of course, because we're only doing our job.' People like this might even witter on about 'the public's right to know', but I'm not sure why this mythical public needed to see the individual grief of family and friends. During the 2011 Levenson enquiry into press freedom, the reporter Paul McMullan memorably said,

“Privacy is the space bad people need to do bad things in. Privacy is for paedos; fundamentally nobody else needs it.” (Huffington Post, 30/11/11)

Was he being cynical, arrogant- or just desperately sad, without realising it? Privacy is the space we each make our own. Intruding on a person's private grief and recording it for a profit, is a theft of personal space.

Some interviews and pictures regarding Jill Saward's funeral had been prearranged and agreed with those leading the service. That's fair enough- Jill had a public persona, she made an obvious difference to many peoples' lives, so her funeral was obviously of national significance. Some of those leading the service gave their permission to be interviewed, and so the reporters asked the questions, recorded the words and took the pictures. But before the service, I saw this person walking around, taking photos of chairs.

What was he up to? Afterwards, I realised he was recording the names of family members who had been given reserved seats at the front, because the press wanted to know the names of as many people as possible who were significant to the story. Get the names, make it personal, then get the pictures... That's how it works.

Now, to be fair to them for a moment- the press reports we saw after the funeral yesterday were a lot more factually accurate, than those printed after the Ealing Vicarage attack in 1986 (which Jill referred to, as the 'second violation'). Perhaps that's because fact-checking is much easier these days, when records can be instantly accessed, updated and shared online. (In 1986, vast files of clippings were maintained by newspaper offices. Keeping them up-to-date was a tedious, thankless task, and judging from the number of times they repeated the same inaccuracies despite requests for corrections, it was often done badly.) Also, there's now a lot more information readily available online, if the press want to start nosing around social media.

But yesterday, a large number of close-ups were posted online immediately after the service. At one point, I saw a scrum of photographers huddled together, trying to identify an image they'd taken of someone talking with Jill's husband. Who was she? Curious, I wandered over... and the reporters instantly turned and tried to interview me. 'No thanks', I replied. 'We had enough of that 30 years ago.' Thankfully, I didn't say more.

But that's how these people work (and they are mostly men, by the way.) Get the story, put it together and send it off, then you've done your job making money out of other peoples' lives. Our story and Jill Saward's story, were just one more job to get covered and dispatched, before moving on to the next gig. In a bizarre way, we suddenly knew what it must feel like to be a member of the British Royal Family every day.

So since they didn't ask our permission to take these kinds of photos, I thought I'd give you a photo of the press. I'm sure it's what they would have wanted. After all, they were obviously having a great day out.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Thoughts from Ealing Vicarage, 30 years later (About what to do when you’re at the centre of a media firestorm)

It was March 1986, I was in my first teaching job in Birmingham, when something changed the way I read newspapers, listened to the radio, or watched TV. That ‘something’ was the ‘Ealing Vicarage Rape’, the ‘Ealing Vicarage Attack’, or the ‘Terror at the Vicarage’ story, depending on how it was reported.

Roots- a story that isn't about what you think it is...

‘Mister Thomas, there’s someone in the chapel!’

Reverend Edward Thomas looked up from his sermon notes, and smiled.

‘There often is, Molly. That’s why we leave the doors unlocked. We want people to come in.’

She was a befuddled mix of irritation and alarm. ‘I know that, Reverend, but this one’s a bit odd. A large black car pulled up, and then this man just got out, and stepped straight into the chapel. I’ve never seen him before in my life. And he’s wearing such strange clothes!’

Sunday, 1 January 2017

2017- a brief look back at a puzzling year

What a difference a year makes! As we approached 2017 just 12 months ago, many of us were sick and tired of the way 2016 had gone. So many celebrity deaths, so much disturbance, rack and ruin, all dominating news networks around the globe! Could 2017 be even worse? Quite frankly, we were all getting a bit nervous.

But what actually happened next is still rather puzzling. Let's go through the events of 2017 as they happened, month by month....