Richard Ingrams: It's hard to trust people who hide behind anonymity


I might be more inclined to listen to the views of former paratroopers who criticised Lord Saville's report this week into Bloody Sunday if I was told who they are. These are the unnamed men quoted in the press who admit that "some of our comrades who opened fire made mistakes" but then go on to challenge Saville's conclusions, in particular in relation to Martin McGuiness.

Who are these critics who can describe gunning down innocent civilians and thereby at a stroke making enemies of the entire Catholic population of Ireland (north and south) as "mistakes", though remain anonymous just as their comrades, the men who made those "mistakes", remained anonymous when they gave evidence to Saville and remain anonymous even now when some of them are branded as perjurers in his report?

Just like the anonymous police marksmen who shot Jean Charles de Menezes and who are also accused of perjury, nothing will happen to them. As for their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Wilford (a scapegoat according to his anonymous defenders), he was described as dead by the BBC's Today programme on Wednesday. In fact he is alive and well and living in Belgium. But no doubt it suits him better, if he cannot be anonymous like his men, to be thought of as dead.

How to cut out the middle man

There's welcome talk of reforming the libel law, but one aspect of it receives little attention – the fact that the law allows you to sue those who sell or distribute printed matter as well as those who write it.

I had personal experience of this some years ago when the infamous Sir James Goldsmith sued a number of wholesalers and newsagents handling Private Eye, agreeing to withdraw the writ once they stopped stocking the magazine. Some years later another notable villain, Robert Maxwell, did the same sort of thing when Tom Bower published an unflattering book about him. Booksellers received a threatening letter from Maxwell's henchman Peter Jay, warning them that they would be sued if they put it on display.

It is a most effective means of censorship, as wholesalers and booksellers are understandably not prepared to spend time and money on mounting a defence and find it far simpler just to withdraw the offending book or magazine.

Now the same ploy has been used by the lawyers Messrs Schilling acting on behalf of Wayne Rooney to prevent the sale of a book about him by the BBC reporter John Sweeney. Letters threatening writs for libel and breach of privacy have gone out to booksellers. WH Smith, named and shamed in a recent poll as Britain's worst shop, has withdrawn the book altogether. Whatever the rest do, sales are now likely to be minimal and Schillings will have achieved this satisfactory result without even issuing a writ.

Good riddance to visitor centres

Despite scrapping the building of hospitals and schools, the new Government has made at least two sensible decisions with its programme of cuts. One is to abandon the so-called reintroduction of sea eagles into Norfolk, the other to scrap the proposed visitor centre at Stonehenge.

The mere mention of visitor centres ought to give rise to mass protest as it is simply a means of making money out of unsuspecting tourists. Had the sea eagle project gone ahead, there would almost certainly have been a visitor centre to go with it. Not being able to guarantee the tourists a glimpse of a sea eagle, the local authority would have provided a visitor centre where they could peer through binoculars and telescopes and, if the sea eagles did not appear, watch a video of it and buy sea eagle wall charts and tea towels to take home.

Stonehenge has always been a big money-spinner because it is right on the main road. The visitor centre made sense only if the road was diverted. But that is never going to happen. Stonehenge will remain what it has been for some time – a dump. But a very profitable one for English Heritage.