What have Martin Townsend and Paula Murray got to say for themselves?

This entry was posted on
Thursday, March 12th, 2009
1:38 am and is filed
under Old Media.

Adam Bienkov has kindly published a scan of the Sunday Express feature, and I strongly urge you to at least take a look at this thumbnail if you don’t have the time to fully appreciate the readable PDFs hosted by Justin and featured at the tail of this post.

The scan makes it clear that this was The. Front. Page. Story. for the [Scottish] Sunday Express on March 8, 2009

Nothing that happened the day or week before was more important than this incredible scoop.

Got that? Good. Onward!


Actually, it was a little bit bigger than that. It screamed;


Even if an editor/sub-editor/rogue-typesetter were to blame for that headline, there’s no mistaking Paula Murray’s focus and intention in her article…

Extract from the lowest point in the 90-year history of the Sunday Express:

Sunday March 8,2009

DUNBLANE survivors have “shamed” the memory of their dead peers with foul-mouthed boasts about sex, brawls and drink-fuelled antics as they reach adulthood.

A number of the youngsters, now 18, have posted shocking blogs and photographs of themselves on the Internet, 13 years after being sheltered from public view in the aftermath.

Sixteen pupils and their teacher died when gunman Thomas Hamilton burst into the gym at Dunblane Primary School and opened fire on March 13, 1996.

In the days and months that followed the survivors, then aged just five and six, were the subject of overwhelming worldwide sympathy.

But now the Sunday Express can reveal how, on their web-based social networking sites, some of them have boasted about alcoholic binges and fights.

(Psst! For a rundown of these and other crimes of Dunblane survivors, see this excellent post.)

So after they’ve enjoyed more than a decade of protection from the press, Paula Murray dives in at the first chance she gets and attacks these people with… well, nothing really… she just wants to be first.

To add to her excitement, this is a Sunday exclusive that’s she’s worked all week on, fearful that someone might beat her to it.

Can you imagine the elation and pride she must have felt when she saw that big beautiful front page, then scanned the other papers just to make sure that, yes, she was first. For reasons that had yet to sink in, Paula Murray was the only reporter with this ‘story’, and hers was the only newspaper hitting Dunblane survivors with a stick.

But let’s turn away from Paula’s impending epiphany for a moment, as a minor detail in this article is screaming for your attention…

MSP Elizabeth Smith is one of the two critical voices used in the published article. I have gone a little wider than usual on this extract, as it’s important that you see how Smith’s comments were bracketed by a grandmother talking specifically of those touched or taken by the Dunblane tragedy, and the reporter reinforcing how very lucky we are that this vital information can reach us now that childhood survivors of Dunblane have finally come of age…

Extract from the lowest point in the 90-year history of the Sunday Express:

Nancy McLaren, whose granddaughter, Megan Turner, died in the tragedy said the behaviour “brought shame” to the community.

She said: “It is insulting. They were damn lucky to come out of it and they should be making the most of it. Maybe that’s what they think they are doing, but it is in bad taste.

“We go to the cemetery every Sunday and we nearly always meet some people who are visitors, and they come and have a wee look. I think that is lovely and I always say to them that it is nice they remember.

“So the behaviour of these children is a real contrast to all those caring people. It’s shameful.”

MSP Elizabeth Smith, Scottish Tory spokeswoman for children, schools and skills, said: “I have to say personally I’m not happy. Some of the things that go up on these websites are very unfortunate and I don’t think they give a very good picture about the youngsters.

“Some of them are in great bad taste and I am quite worried about that.

“I feel embarrassed about it and I’m sure other people do too. In some cases the people are still really young and you can’t really expect them to have a sense of responsibility.

“I’m sure that when they look back at what they have done in 10 years time they will be cringing with embarrassment.”

The Dunblane survivors were kept away from the spotlight in the aftermath of the tragedy to allow them to cope. Indeed, no photographs of any of the children have been seen in more than a decade, and the social network sites give the first insight into how their lives have progressed.

You may have noticed that I’ve made the passage relating to MSP Elizabeth Smith bright red. I have done this because these words do not belong in this article, and you really need to take a very close look at how her words were presented, *plus* the statement Smith issued to me via email after I chased her about an earlier comment at Anton Vowl’s weblog:

“May I give you a categorical assurance that, in her press enquiry to me, Ms Murray did not mention any names of the individuals involved in Dunblane and may I also repeat the fact that the journalist did not ask me anything about Dunblane nor did I comment on it or on any individual involved.” – MSP Elizabeth Smith

Now read how this MSPs words were used in this article; in fact, read all the bits in red again, just to get your jolly up.

All done? Jolly up? Bally good.

If what Smith claims is true, then this amounts to an extraordinary betrayal of this MSP and every reader of the Sunday Express; the level of suffering differs vastly from one end to the other, but the number of victims in this affair just went through the roof.

But I’ve contacted both reporter Paula Murray and Sunday Express editor Martin Townsend, and neither cared to comment on Elizabeth Smith’s assertion that her input was obtained without any mention of the Dunblane massacre and its survivors.

All the Express editor Peter Hill had to offer was that it wasn’t his problem and the article had been removed from their shared website (making it even less his problem).

And that’s it. They haven’t responded with a correction or a retraction or an apology or anything. For any of it!

Do remember that last part if circumstances force a grudging or even grovelling apology from these people… for days, all they offered the public were their backs.

I know it may seem inadequate or futile to once again pit the PCC against Express Newspapers and their rogue proprietor, but for those who would care to finally spend a few minutes making a short complaint to the PCC after years of thinking better of it, I offer the following link:

Press Complaints Commission >> Making a Complaint >> How to make a complaint

(Considering it? How about doing it? Oh, of course I’ll wait. How could I not after making all that fuss?)




OK, all done? Top banana.

Now we finally return to Paula Murray and her impending epiphany:

If Paula will forgive the creepy intrusion into her personal life on spurious grounds, I ask you to imagine her standing there on a chilly Sunday morning in front of the rack of newspapers at the local garage, nipples erect and gusset mois*….

Oh, I’m so sorry; it’s late and I got my Desmond-owned properties all mixed up.

Let’s start again:

If Paula will forgive the creepy intrusion into her personal life on spurious grounds, I ask you to imagine her standing there on a chilly Sunday morning in front of the rack of newspapers at the local garage, gleefully lifting the clouded and scratched Perspex lids to reveal that she and she alone had thought to set upon these unsaintly victims of shocking violence at the first available opportunity.

She takes two copies home; one for her to read with her partner (or cat) over breakfast, the other to keep for her scrapbook. Not that she’s precious; she’s written quite a lot that she’s proud of – that feature lecturing Lord Tebbit for his failure to understand Dunblane parents, for example – but only front pages go into the scrapbook. Front page on a Sunday scoop is the big-time, baby.

So of course she’s going to show family (if she has some) and friends (if she has any) how clever she is… does she really make it all the way to checking her email or getting a call from her editor before she realises (or is told) that maybe this wasn’t the brightest move in the world?

And how long after that do you think it took her (or will take her) to realise that she’s clearly in the wrong on this one?

And how long after *that*, do you think, would any respectable human being in that position last before admitting the error, apologising for it and addressing the harm done… regardless of any order from the boss to keep schtum?

Given the circumstances, I don’t think I’m wrong in judging Paula Murray and finding her wanting.

Martin Townsend should be equally ashamed for his complicity in this act and his role in the response to date; his silence even in the face of Smith’s statement screams contempt.

Derek Lambie (editor of the Scottish Sunday Express) has issued the only known response so far, and in it he has the audacity to play the victim:

“Many thanks for your letter. As you are no doubt aware – thanks to mass bloggers on the Internet – we have been inundated with letters and comments. Many of them have been extremely personal.
I can assure you each and every one of the Comments from readers and residents in Dunblane is being read and discussed.” – Derek Lambie (source)

Tch. Well, I hope they finish with their internal chat soon. Some of mass bloggers on the Internets have a few concerns, and we’d like to see them addressed.

Oh, and the Express peeps will want to worry less about the occasional slagging off, and more about the polite letters to advertisers that I plan to kick off with if I’ve not heard of an adequate response by midday today.

[To Paula Murray, on a note that is quite personal: Picture someone having to deal with a cruel world where for no reason that makes sense to anyone, a soulless creature appears out of nowhere and attacks them. It does not make for a happy childhood, but they emerge into adulthood, hopeful for the future and – oh, for Christ’s sake – for no reason that makes sense to anyone, a soulless creature appears out of nowhere and attacks them! What the hell were you thinking, and why is it taking you so long to do the decent thing and apologise? You silly old moo.]

UPDATE (12:25) – Derek Lambie chose to speak in place of Martin Townsend and/or Paula Murray. He denies Elizabeth Smith’s claim. Read all about it here.

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