i Foreign Editor's Letter: The case of Samantha Lewthwaite, the 'White Widow'


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The Independent Online


The “White Widow” makes for compelling reading, doesn’t it? The idea that a white woman who grew up in the Home counties is running around with terrorists and even directing the horrific events at the Westgate shopping centre is chilling.

But how should a newspaper cover the case of Samantha Lewthwaite? She is legitimately interesting for readers of British newspapers. She was married to one of the 7/7 suicide bombers, and now Interpol wants to catch up with her.

She is wanted in Kenya on separate terrorism-related crimes. She has been influenced by radical Islamist ideology and is also known to have been in East Africa and to have links to al-Shabaab, which has admitted carrying out this week’s awful crimes.

But so far, there is no evidence – at least none that would stand up in a court – that she was involved in the Westgate attack.

That doesn’t seem to have discouraged some media from going to town in recent days, with profiles, interviews with her family and fevered speculation about her supposed role in the Westgate carnage. There was even one article yesterday describing underwear found at her house.

For newspaper editors, cases like Samantha Lewthwaite’s pose a significant headache. There is an urge to devote many column inches to her story, not least because people want to read it. But we also have a responsibility to report the story accurately and fairly.

It’s a difficult balance and one that we spent a lot of yesterday afternoon debating. We hope we got it right.


Twitter.com: @AlistairDawber