'Trial by Twitter': No 10 attacks Schofield for ambushing Cameron with 'paedophile' list

 

Downing Street has denounced “trial by Twitter” and a “silly stunt” by the ITV presenter Phillip Schofield who ambushed David Cameron live on air by handing him an internet-sourced list of suspected paedophiles - causing a shocked Prime Minister to complain of a “witch hunt” against gay people.

Schofield was forced to apologise after it emerged he had “misjudged the camera angle” and the names of several former senior Conservative politicians were visible on a card which he thrust into the hands of the Prime Minister before an audience of around 1.2 million. “You know the names on that piece of paper,” the This Morning presenter told the Prime Minister. “Will you be speaking to those people?”

The presenter claimed to have found the names of the Conservative Party figures in “three minutes” during a “cursory glance at the internet” for details of a scandal relating to abuse at children’s homes in north Wales during the 1970s and 1980s.

Mr Cameron took the card and said: “There is a danger if we are not careful that this can turn into a sort of witch hunt, particularly about people who are gay, and I’m worried about the sort of thing you are doing right now, taking a list of names off the internet.”

After the show went off air Downing Street reacted with anger. “This silly stunt has resulted in people’s names being put out there. They will want to vigorously defend themselves,” said a source at Number Ten. “The Prime Minister has taken necessary serious action on child abuse allegations. He is also concerned about a separate issue where people are facing an internet witch hunt. It’s important allegations are handled properly - and people's reputations are not unnecessarily smeared. If they have got allegations, if they have evidence, they should hand it to the police. We should not have people throwing allegations around and trial by Twitter.”

Clearly embarrassed, Schofield issued a statement expressing his regret that the stunt had misfired. “If any viewer was able to identify anyone listed, I would like to apologise and stress that was never my intention. I was not accusing anyone of anything and it is essential that it is understood that I would never be part of any kind of witch hunt,” he said.

“Unfortunately there may have been a misjudged camera angle for a split second as I showed the Prime Minister some information I had obtained from the internet.”

Tory MPs expressed outrage at the treatment of party colleagues and at the way Mr Cameron had been ambushed. Stuart Andrew MP, a councillor in Wrexham during the original inquiry into the North Wales abuse scandal, described Schofield’s behaviour as “completely irresponsible and an outrageous stunt”. He said: “It is not acceptable to take a cheap shot on something that is so fiercely sensitive. Anybody who has got any allegations to make must make them to the police, so they can be properly investigated.”

Rob Wilson, the Conservative MP for Reading East, wrote to Ed Richards, chief executive of the media regulator Ofcom, to ask him if Schofield’s stunt would be investigated as a possible breach of the watchdog’s broadcasting code for failing to give the named individuals the opportunity to respond to the allegations. Mr Wilson wrote: “I understand that broadcasters have an obligation under the Ofcom Broadcasting Code to seek a response from individuals or organisations who are the subject of significant criticism or allegations of wrongdoing or incompetence. I also understand that the Ofcom Broadcasting Code also states that the subjects of significant allegations must be given a ‘timely opportunity to respond’.”

The broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby, a prominent figure on ITV over the years, was also scornful of Schofield’s actions. “How cretinous can you get - giving a list of online names to PM as though they were evidence. Makes a mockery of our trade,” he said on Twitter.

The uproar is the latest in a series of rows over media reporting of alleged high profile paedophiles which began early last month with a report by the ITV documentary show Exposure into allegations of child abuse by Jimmy Savile. That documentary helped provoke a crisis at the BBC both over its employment of Savile and the failure of its Newsnight programme to broadcast its own evidence against the Jim’ll Fix It presenter.

Then last week Newsnight broadcast allegations against an unnamed Conservative politician who was said to have abused children in Welsh care homes in the 1970s and 1980s but had escaped the scrutiny of an official inquiry into the scandal. After the programme was broadcast, several former senior Conservatives were identified as alleged paedophiles by bloggers and users of Twitter.

On This Morning, Mr Cameron expressed concern that reputations were being unfairly damaged. “I've heard all sorts of names bandied around and what then tends to happen is everyone sits around and speculates about people, some of whom are alive, some of whom are dead,” he said. “I do think it’s very important that anyone who’s got any information about any paedophile, no matter how high up in the country or whether they are alive or dead, go to the police.”

Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster ITV, which now stands accused of contributing to a culture of trial by internet, sought to limit the criticism by issuing its own statement. “It is extremely regrettable that names may have been very briefly visible as a result of a misjudged camera angle, although most viewers would not have been able to read the list. As Phillip has stressed, the programme was not accusing anyone of anything.”

The blogger Guido Fawkes was one of those who claimed to have identified three of the names on Schofield’s list by expanding the video image. “I think Phillip Schofield’s stunt was a good one but it was poorly executed,” he said. The blogger claimed the size of the This Morning audience would mean the programme would not be ostracised by Downing Street for long. “This is how politicians get cut through to the people at home – if this had been [political editors] Adam Boulton or Nick Robinson they would be in the sin bin for a while.”

News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform