The Daily Mail has belatedly “corrected” its front page story on human rights damages, over a month after it appeared on 7 October 2013. Early last month I blogged on the original bogus article, which was so poor it generated a response from the ordinarily placid Council of Europe.
I have quote-pincered “corrected” as despite the newspaper’s actions, the damage is already done. A month has passed, which in social media time might as well be million years. People have moved on. Another human rights myth is implanted in the collective consciousness, and no sad little correction on page 2 is going to dislodge a front page headline.
And to make things worse, the story was amplified by a whole host of other newspapers which picked it up without bothering to check the facts, including the Telegraph (corrected) and Daily Star (as yet uncorrected).
What really rankles about this story is how wrong it was.
The original headline read "Human right to make a killing: Damning dossier reveals taxpayers’ bill for European court payouts to murderers, terrorists and traitors.” It claimed that Strasbourg judges “handed the criminals taxpayer-funded payouts of £4.4 million – an average of £22,000 a head.”
As the Council of Europe complained at the time, this was seriously misleading. First, the actual compensation figure since 1998 was £1.7 million, not £4.4 million. The latter figure included legal costs, which if you know anything about law, don’t go to the claimant but to the lawyers (a missed opportunity for its own splash: insert headline here).
Second, and even worse, the £4.4 million didn’t just go to criminals, it went to all sorts of non-criminals too. Any law student would recognise some of the famous non-criminal names on the table which led to this mess, obtained by a Conservative MP Philip Davies, whom I debated about this on BBC Radio 5 Live (listen by clicking here, from 1:41:15).
On those non-criminal claimants, the Council of Europe pointed out:
"For example, Mr McElduff and his fellow applicants (in Tinnelly and Sons and Others and McElduff and Others v. the UK) were self-employed joiners who were blacklisted from public works contracts because they were catholics, A. (in A v. the UK) was a 12 year old boy who was assaulted by his step father, the Osman family (in Osman v. the UK) the widow and son of man murdered by a stalker and David and Carol Glass (in Glass v. the UK) a disabled child and his mother."
The Daily Mail accepted both of the criticisms. Its correction reads:
"An article on 8 October said that the UK has paid £4.4 million in compensation to criminals under rulings by the European Court of Human Rights. In fact, the money went to a range of claimants and only £1.7 million was compensation; legal costs accounted for the rest."
Which rather undermines the original story, doesn’t it? The online version now includes the proviso that “Many applicants are of good character with no criminal connections”. Indeed they are.
Not all human right reporting is poor, and not all criticism of human rights law is misplaced, but this kind of reckless reporting is remarkably common. See also The Sun’s repeated mixing up of the EU with the European Court of Human Rights, another Daily Mail headline debacle over how many cases the UK loses in Strasbourg, and the Telegraph’s recent terrorism mislead-a-thon - there are many more. It’s such a trend that it does rather suggest an anti-human rights campaign whose intention is to mislead and misinform.
This article is republished from UK Human Rights Blog.