We have reached the limits of trial by television

TV has developed a taste for celebrity thugs; the hard-man image they project goes down well

IT'S A fact of journalistic life. Every now and again, it's your job to deal with the sort of human being you'd rather scrape off the bottom of your shoe. Into this bracket might fall child molesters, drug dealers and racist murderers. We can now add policemen whose bigotry allows black men to die in suspicious circumstances without any semblance of an investigation. However, if such encounters will tell a member of the public something, he or she needs to know that's the job.

The news that Panorama and London News Network have been in conversation with the five men who were suspects in the killing of Stephen Lawrence should not surprise us. As an employee of both the BBC and LNN, I do of course have an interest. But since it is unlikely that anyone would invite me to conduct such an interview, I can comfortably say that I can look at this dispassionately.

The immediate reaction of most black Britons is predictable. The Lawrence family has indicated its distress at the idea, on the grounds that the men had every opportunity to tell their story in court and chose not to do so. The former British National Party whistle-blower, Matthew Collins, has told the BBC that interviewing the men on prime time television would be a waste of licence-payers' money.

However, it is reasonable for journalists to ask whether such an interview will add anything to the knowledge we already have from the inquest and inquiry into the case. The broadcasters are promising tough, impartial interrogation. They say that if anything can be uncovered they will find it. It is even rumoured that the BBC has some new information, possibly a new witness to throw into the pot. Encouragingly for all the journalists, it is being put about that the men now regret taking their lawyers' advice to remain silent at the inquest and feel that "their side of the story" has not been told. They, it seems, had collectively decided that it was time to find a channel through which to proclaim their innocence.

There are some difficulties with this approach. First, the men have yet to offer a convincing explanation for their behaviour, shown on secret police video tapes, which showed them acting out graphic violence with a variety of lethal weapons, and abusing black and asian people with venom. Let me remind you of David Norris's jokes: "The coon's got knackered up... If I were going to kill myself, I would kill every black c***... skin the black c*** alive, torture him and set him alight. I would blow his two legs and arms off and say `Go on, you can swim home now'." It is hard to think what he would say in an interview that would explain the joke - it is said that the men claimed that they were simply "mucking about".

Second, the nagging question: if the five men have a story, why have they not told it before? If they simply want to say that they weren't there at the time and can offer an alibi, why not simply go to the police now and say so?

If they cannot clear themselves in this way, does anyone genuinely expect them to incriminate themselves on television? If, on the other hand they intend to say that they were in the area and have some evidence that would point the finger elsewhere, do they expect us to sympathise with them , after having put the Lawrence through five years of unnecessary anguish? I believe in forgiveness, but that's a level of tolerance that only the Almighty could afford.

All that said, I would not expect the journalists to pass up an opportunity, just in case there is a new revelation. The sad thing is that now the men have engaged the attentions of the publicist Max Clifford, they will get best advice possible about how to protect themselves and their own reputations, even if that is at the expense of justice. TV has now developed a taste for celebrity thugs, and, whether these men are guilty or not, the "hard man" image they have projected so far goes down well with a certain section of the TV audience.

Their swaggering appearance at the inquest was just a taste of what is to come once they are guided by Clifford into TV and radio interviews, followed by book deals and the chat-show circuit. In a sense they are bidding to be the heirs of the Krays and their associates, two of whom - the late Lennie McLean and "Mad" Frankie Frazer - have recently done the rounds of the talk shows.

Max Clifford is now entertaining bids for the story, and he will choose the vehicle that offers the men the best chance of emerging as underworld stars. ITV has not helped its own chances; according to LNN boss Simon Bucks, there will be no deals and no softball. It is the right thing for Bucks to say, but given that LNN has covered the story consistently and even-handedly for five years, the interrogation would be based on a deep knowledge of the case and would be fundamentally journalistic. If the men genuinely wanted to gain credibility and add to the process of finding the truth, they would choose this option.

Martin Bashir, who has been much maligned this week, is no patsy. Before that interview he was known as an annoyingly persistent investigator, who was responsible for turning up much damaging evidence about Terry Venables's business dealings. As far as I can recall, Panorama has not previously covered the Lawrence affair and will no doubt be accused of parachuting into a story of which it knows little. It is, however, rumoured that the programme has new material to offer, indicating that Stephen Lawrence was the victim of mistaken identity.

But whatever he has on the story, Bashir's career has become yet another victim in the Diana story , already littered with dozens of shattered reputations. Fairly or unfairly, he is no longer judged by the standards of other reporters. His interviewees have to be bigger and more revealing than anyone else's. However tough he intends to be, unless he can produce incontrovertible evidence of guilt, he will never satisfy his critics; and his own celebrity will give the five creeps a credibility that they do not deserve in any circumstances. It is a desperately bad position for him to be in, and not his fault. In the Louise Woodward case, very little hung on the final outcome; but when it comes to Stephen Lawrence, there is still too much that is too important to too many people to treat this as just another TV event.

If we are to reach the truth, find the culprits and change the behaviour of the police, the affair should not be clouded by the "Bashir effect". That is, of course why we can expect to see the five on television one Monday night soon.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?