Family turns on Rantzen row reporter

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The Independent Online
The award-winning BBC reporter who attacked Esther Rantzen's new programme for sloppy journalism over its portrayal of a home for the incurably ill was himself accused yesterday of "sensationalism" by the family of another patient.

In his criticism of The Rantzen Report's "unfair" portrayal of the home, Panorama's John Ware cited the case of his former colleague Ian Smith, who had received "wonderful" care from the staff. He contrasted this with the "misleading" way the programme had highlighted the case of another patient, Ian Parker.

Mr Ware wrote of Mr Smith, who was brain-damaged in a skiing accident, getting years of devoted and loving care "which I have witnessed".

Mr Smith's girlfriend, Jan Cholawo, said she and his family were "incensed" by claims that Mr Ware knew the full history of the case. He had not sought their permission to write about his former Panorama colleague, had visited him only once at the home to write the story and had misrepresented his medical background.

Ms Cholawo, 38, a dubbing editor, said: "The fact that he has used Ian as an example of wonderful loving care is frankly completely objectionable. He is using Ian to promote this home in a way we would not have done. The family are incensed."

Ms Cholawo said Mr Smith's mother Wendy was also angry that Mr Ware's article had claimed doctors had at first found "no sign of activity in his brain". "I do not know where that information came from - doctors have never said that. It's sensationalism."

She said the first she had known about the article being prepared was when the home rang to say that Mr Ware was to visit Mr Smith to read to him.

Then Wendy Smith was contacted by the home to say that Mr Ware was writing a "favourable" article. "She was upset that permission was not asked, as she would not have given permission. Ian does not have the choice to say whether he wants to be written about."

In yesterday's Independent, Esther Rantzen said she was "shocked" by Mr Ware's attack, in which he accused her programme of having the "potential for seriously damaging the BBC's reputation for fair-minded journalism". Ms Rantzen condemned his failure to give her the chance to reply.

The very public row between two senior BBC figures reflects a serious debate within the organisation about the direction of fact-based programme- making.

The British Home and Hospital for Incurables, south London, which is reporting the programme to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, said it was unhappy that The Rantzen Report had given it little or no warning that it was preparing a critical story.

Mr Ware said: "Naturally I am sorry to hear that Ian Smith's girlfriend is unhappy at me mentioning him. I did ask the hospital to inform his mother that I was going to mention Ian and this the hospital told me they did. In mentioning Ian I was simply repeating what I had been told by the hospital and what I had seen for myself."