Paul Dacre's big Friday

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Indy Lifestyle Online
When he turned over the front page to accusing five acquitted men of the racist killing of Stephen Lawrence, the editor of the Daily Mail did an amazing and unprecedented thing. But was he right to do it? Journalistic opinion was divided. Wrong, said the Times. "My instinctive reaction was an admiring gasp," wrote the editor of The Independent and then went on to conclude that Dacre was wrong. The Observer and Independent on Sunday said it was an uncharacteristic act brought on by the fact that Stephen Lawrence's father had done plastering work in Dacre's house. What is proven beyond reasonable doubt is that he has won some unexpected new friends, for a couple of days at least.

Paul Foot, journalist

It is absolutely excellent: it's probably the first time that I've felt unequivocal support for the Daily Mail. The whole situation cried out for a gutsy performance by an editor. That it should be Paul Dacre is a source of wonderment, but congratulations to him. I don't normally think it's right for people to be witchhunted in this way, but in this case the legal process had run its course, and the case against these men was overwhelming. There is sometimes a need for people in the press to challenge prosecutions and libel actions.

But every case has to be looked at as it comes. Look at the disgraceful campaign that the Mail on Sunday has waged against Colin Stagg, typical gutter, attention-seeking journalism - strong newspapers against the weak.

Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

The important thing to focus on is not legalistic discussion of what the Mail has printed, but that Stephen Lawrence was murdered in what was clearly a racial attack, and nobody has been brought to book. The Lawrence family, the black community - everyone, in fact - has been failed by British justice in this case, and it's a big mistake for people to get hung up on what the Mail has done. I'm sad that the media has gone off chasing that instead.

Bernie Grant, MP for Tottenham

I was quite surprised at the Daily Mail should be highlighting this issue, but what this proves is that the even the Mail has been outraged by the way this case has been handled, and that the five men in question were allowed to attend the inquest and remain silent. But this is ironic, because the Mail is a paper that goes on all the time about black rapists and black single mothers.

But I agree that it should have been done. The Lawrence family will be quite pleased at the increase of coverage of their case, particularly in Middle England, as they have complained up till now that no one has taken a major interest in reporting it.

Peter Preston, former editor, `The Guardian'

It was slightly melodramatic, but a valid way of expressing extreme anger at the state this case has been left in. It's a valuable act in that the Mail is not a newspaper you'd think would go so far so vehemently. It is also not a paper that the black community look to for sympathy and support, so it's a signal that all formers of British opinion are cheesed off with the Lawrence situation.

Darcus Howe, broadcaster and journalist

This shouldn't happen regularly, but these are special circumstances, in which everything that has been tried has come to nothing. It was a very bold action for the Mail to take, and I am fully in support.

But the Daily Mail has been indicating where its sentiments are now lying. Its editorials have made it clear that this kind of thing has to stop, and recognise that a young black man in Brixton does not have the same opportunities as a young white man in the Home Counties. This country has come to the view that racial injustice has to go. This act is just another illustration of that, and I welcome it.

John Mortimer, QC

All I have to say is this: Emile Zola, J'accuse and the Dreyfus case.

Nicholas Coote, assistant general secretary, Bishops' Conference of England and Wales

People working in the area of racial justice are inclined to say that the British judicial system is still infected with prejudice - not specifically with racist people, but in its very structure. As a result, it is unbalanced. The answer is reform. Sometimes there is a need to get rough - but how rough? If there's a Catholic principle here, it's this: first try using the instruments of the law; then try extending the instruments of the law; and when those possibilities are exhausted, go for "extracurricular" activities - but within the bounds of legality. In theory, the five men should be able to sue, but they probably can't afford to. The danger is, if you take short cuts in seeking justice, you will end up with worse injustices than those endemic in the system.

Newspapers don't go into a war if they think they are going to lose. You have to think whether it is just a crusade to sell newspapers, or if it will genuinely improve race relations. There's a danger that this might have the opposite effect, as it's the Mail: the white establishment might think "Even the Mail's getting at us now," and racial prejudice will be reinforced.

Interviews: Scott Hughes

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