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John O'Donoghue - disability arts online
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The News of a World Gone Mad / 22 July 2011

Do you remember Lady Isobel Barnett? She was a star of the TV panel game What’s My Line? in the early days of television and went on to appear on radio. Her husband died in 1970 and she retreated into a semi-reclusive existence in Leicestershire. In 1980 she was arrested for shoplifting a can of tuna and a carton of cream worth 87p from her village grocer. She pleaded not guilty and the case was brought before the court.

The story was featured in the Sunday newspapers – and more than likely in the News of the World. Four days after her trial she was found dead at her home. The coroner returned a verdict of suicide.

What about David Scarboro? He played Mark Fowler in EastEnders before Todd Carty took over the role. He was a promising actor. He’d been in Grange Hill and landing a big role in EastEnders was a great break for a lad still in his late teens. In 1988 he committed suicide after the News of the World found out he was a patient in a mental hospital, published photos of where he was, and called him ‘mad’. He was 20.

In case you think these cases are very rare what about Denholm Elliot’s daughter? In 1995 the News of the World ran a story saying that Jennifer Elliot was begging outside a tube station and was selling herself to pay for drugs. The story was written by Paul McMullan, ex-Features Editor, who has recently been making the rounds of the TV studios.

He admitted that the story wasn’t true on Radio 4 in September 2010. In the interview he gave he says he totally humiliated and destroyed Jennifer Elliott. For like David Scarboro she too committed suicide.

Journalists at the News of the World and some of their colleagues on other News International titles such as The Sun and The Times have been saying that the staff on the redtop were ‘professional’, ‘honest’, ‘hardworking’, and that it’s a shame that 200 of them have got the sack. But they haven’t been given the sack.

They’ve been given notice of redundancy, with pay to come for 90 days until News International has found new jobs for them, probably on the Sunday version of The Sun, or redeployed them elsewhere. I wonder how many will actually lose their jobs? I wonder how many will walk away?

And I wonder just what they thought of coming to work for a paper where people had been hounded to death, people like Lady Isobel Barnett, or David Scarboro or Jennifer Elliott. Or else had their health status, mental health problems, or addictions exposed to the full glare of public scrutiny, like Russell Harty, Frank Bruno, or Kerry Katona.

These people were stripped of dignity, humiliated, and in some cases ‘destroyed’, as Paul McMullan puts it. Harty died aged 53 of hepatitis, long-range lenses trained on his hospital bed from buildings across the way, staff bribed to let ‘journalists’ in to where he lay dying, the full glare of publicity given to his condition. Alan Bennett said this intrusion hastened Harty’s death.

Bruno come under scrutiny when he was sectioned. The Sun headline? ‘Bonkers Bruno Locked Up.’ And Kerry Katona has become a joke, an Aunt Sally the Murdoch press love to torment. She is bi-polar and has various addictions. The way she is treated she might as well be in Bedlam.

My own mental health sometimes isn’t the best. If I experience too much stress I can become delusional, lose my judgement, halluncinate. Imagine what it would be like to be in that state and have the press go after you? Reporting your every deluded move, stalking you to your hospital bed, making you a figure of fun.

Personally I don’t give a damn about the News of the World, or anyone who worked on the title. Because so often deep down they didn’t give a damn about anyone themselves.