Letter: Trial by media

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Sir: Your leading article of 29 March highlights the way the tabloid press can harm the reputations of innocent people because they are already in the public eye. It is worse when they prematurely highlight allegations which later prove to be without foundation.

A clear example is the way the Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff, the Most Rev John Ward, has been treated for over two months. In mid-January the tabloids, followed by almost everyone else, gave considerable coverage to allegations of child rape going back to 1961. The allegations seemed highly unlikely to those like me who have known the Archbishop for many years. The publicity came even before the police could interview him. He was "innocent until proven guilty", but his reputation was already suffering serious damage.

Many of the people I met had heard all about the case and asked me more about it. Last week the Crown Prosecution Service, after carefully examining the evidence, dropped the matter. Cardinal Hume and the Archbishop himself made press statements. None of the people I meet are aware of this; I have seen and heard nothing about it in the intervening five days.

Following the premature publicity, the Archbishop had to stand aside from his public duties for over two months. The people and priests of his diocese were denied the normal pastoral care they expect from their bishop. Now the lack of prominent reports about the CPS decision seems to show that the media are more interested in destroying reputations than restoring what they have mistakenly damaged.


Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria

The writer was Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, 1974-1992