Chris de Burgh, one of my oldest friends, is married to my wife's sister. When the Sun once again ran its "love rat" story, Chris and Diane needed time and space to sort things out. I asked Chris to stay with us in Wicklow. He'd learnt from the last time the story ran that silence is the best strategy until your mind is clear.
The phone rings incessantly. "Is that Pollo? Can I have a word with Chris?" I tend to assume that I'm dealing with reasonable people. "No, not now. He'd like time to sort things out. He'll be in touch when he has something to say." The same people keep phoning, as though an hour is ample time to sort your life out. Meanwhile, in Dublin, Diane needs a police escort to get out of her house. Life goes on; kids need to get to school. It is plain that she doesn't want to talk to the press, nor does she wish to be photographed. Her wishes are of no concern to the rat pack. They follow her to the school, they trail her every movement. Long lenses are trained at the windows, the garden becomes a no-go area. The doorbell is rung endlessly. The notes pushed through the door make interesting reading. Some are polite and courteous, some brash and insensitive, some illiterate. Here is a snippet from Lucinda Evans of the Sun. "Dear Mrs de Burgh, I can only appologies again that I had to be the barer of such bad news last night."
Back in Wicklow, after two days, we decide to drive to town to get a tractor part. As we drive back into my house, two cars follow us. A photographer starts taking photos at once, while a large man starts "Chris, Chris, just a word. Can you talk to us for a moment?" Chris walks to the back door, saying nothing. I ask them to leave my property.
Like flies impervious to flicks, they remain. "Look, be reasonable. We just want a word. Let's have his side of the story." I ask them to leave. They persist. I raise my voice. They persist. I lose control of my temper and my language, but this is clearly nothing new to men whose business it is to pester and harass people in crisis. Throughout the altercation, the photographer keeps taking shots of me and my house, despite being asked not to. Eventually they go only to take up position at the road, outside my gates.
Inside Chris is white-faced and shaking. Being verbally assaulted when in extremis is harrowing.
We decide on an escape plan. We'll make them follow us to a friend's house near by and then I'll get him out. I go off to set it up. I find that my gates have been closed, so I have to get out of my car to open them. The pack closes in. "Look, we know the Sun stitched him up, so we want to get his side of the story, awright?" Later we discover the speaker is from the Sun.
I set up our escape route and come back. They are still blocking my entrance; these are the flying pickets of the modern world. Later, Chris and I set off in two cars, and as we climb the hill we watch in our rear-view mirrors as the pack scramble to their cars. They give pursuit and see us turn into our friends' driveway. From the house, a walk through the woods leads to another road, where I arrange to meet Chris, who leaves his car at the friend's house. That is where the pack believes he is.
I pick Chris up from the other road and we drive home past the encampment now outside the friend's house. It's the first time I've seen him laughing for days. Four cars are now waiting outside the wrong gates for an interview they won't get.
Back home, we realise that if Chris can keep out of sight until Saturday night the story will be dead for the Sunday papers, with the exception of the obligatory psycho-babble analyses of why he did what he did. The phone rings; it's the Sun again. "Is that Pallo? Can you confirm Chris was there with you?" Since we've been photographed I can, but, I explain, he's not here any more. "Yeah, I know that."
It's been a bonanza time for the local shop selling phone cards, since up here in the hills mobile phones don't work. It's the first time I've seen a queue outside the phone box here. There is a white van parked outside that has all the hallmarks of a hi-tech listening vehicle. Maybe that's just paranoia, but they do seem to have information on our whereabouts that can't really come from anywhere else.
Still, our ruse seems to have worked. They remain outside the wrong gates, outside the friend's house, until nightfall. The phone keeps ringing. I keep giving the same reply. "I'm sure he'll talk to you when he's ready."
The next day, despite Chris's objections I buy the Sun. There is a photograph of him going towards the back door of my house. "Chris cowers in cow shed," runs the story. After being tracked down by intrepid Sun reporters, he left for another friend's house. It also informs its readers that he had played golf, and that he was wearing an Arran sweater and waterproof trousers. None of this is true. If they can't even report accurately on what they can see, then God knows what their speculation is based upon.
The Sunday papers come as a relief. As we work our way through them, it becomes evident that the behaviour of the reporters has not met with universal approval. There is a strong sense of overkill. Vincent Browne's piece in the Sunday Times catches the mood; he is outraged by what happened to Diane and the three children. He writes: "The public-interest justification is trotted out merely as a camouflage for gross and cynical intrusion into the privacy of people, solely for the purpose of selling newspapers."
Wednesday's Sun carries a series of photographs that it claims were shot in a muddy lane. What they show is Chris and Diane in my car park from a vantage point well inside my property. Despite the Sun's claim that this was a public meeting, it was not. It was at my house and was entirely private, except, of course, for the trespassing photographers.
What I've learnt from this week under siege is that when news is in short supply, truth is the first casualty. As I write, photographers are still at my gates.Reuse content