The firing brigade

How should a media boss react when an employee is accused of a crime? Whatever he does, he risks trouble, says Tim Luckhurst

Now that the euphoria of his acquittal has subsided, John Leslie may be forgiven for doubting the accuracy of the judge's declaration that he left court "without a single stain on his character". The smear and innuendo to which he has been subjected since Matthew Wright identified him as Ulrika Jonsson's alleged rapist in a live TV broadcast last October has cost Leslie his job and his livelihood. His vindication and the award of costs in his favour can never entirely compensate for the misery inflicted on him.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, has called for a parliamentary inquiry into whether rape defendants should be given anonymity to protect them from "trial by media". But would anonymity provide protection? Would it have prevented Leslie's dismissal, or stopped colleagues and potential employers in the TV industry discussing and believing the allegations made against him?

One television presenter says, "It is a problem. Someone fabricates an accusation of assault against you because she sniffs the chance to get her face known. You shouldn't have to prove it's not true - that's not supposed to be the way justice works - but the channel wants proof. If it gets out, ratings may take a hit. In those cases, it is too easy just to take you off screen."

A board member of a British media group explains, "It is cruel. Absolute truth is not your only concern. You have to juggle potential damage to the show, the ratings and the company against questions of natural justice. It would be naive not to acknowledge that such allegations can be fabricated. But that doesn't stop customers believing them. You have to consider the effect of that."

Mike Emmott, an adviser on employee relations at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, agrees that media companies face special difficulties. "Most employers are cautious about taking disciplinary action against an employee until a criminal case is resolved, but a media employer is under unique pressures. There is more at stake than legality. Reputations damage quickly.The time it takes to bring such a case to trial may be too long to wait. Its business could be damaged by the allegations."

John Fray, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, acknowledges that media employers must consider their viewing figures, but for him justice takes precedence. Fray argues that in Leslie's case "suspension would have been more sensible. The fact that people in these jobs are so vulnerable does put an added onus on the employer to think about how to protect them."

That is not easy. When I was a newspaper executive, an allegation of serious misconduct was made against one of my correspondents. The correspondent swore it was false, and I was inclined to believe that. But I was certain it would damage the standing of the title if it became public. I sent the correspondent home and made urgent enquiries. I was lucky. Proof emerged quickly that the allegation was false. What should I have done if the story had reached the public domain before I had the evidence with which to disprove it?

The editor of The Observer, Roger Alton, says, "Of course you have a legitimate interest in protecting your title, but to do that you have to conduct your own inquiry. I would suspend, offer help and reach a final conclusion only when the full facts had been established."

ButEmmott says a media company confronted by lurid allegations about a household-name presenter does not have that luxury. Ratings, revenues and public trust are susceptible to immediate damage. Sacking becomes an option.

John Leslie is not the first media face to discover the consequences of that logic. He will not be the last. Legally and morally, his vindication is complete, but that is no guarantee that other media employers will not move to end the careers of other stars against whom equally spurious allegations are made in future. Share prices can respond quickly to callous damage-limitation. There are tough chief executives in television-land who regard sacking a presenter who has become a liability as a fiduciary duty, not a grave injustice - whether the accused is guilty or not.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'