Editor's Letter: Images of Woolwich suspects were used in public interest

Dreadful and distressing as they were, reproducing the photographs undeniably served a public purpose

Share

On Wednesday, at our afternoon editorial conference I was contemplating a hum-drum splash for the following day, that the IMF was critical of George Osborne’s economic policy.

Unknown to us was that in Woolwich a serving soldier had been brutally murdered in the street and his terrorist attackers shot by the police. But, soon after the meeting, once the full horror of Lee Rigby’s death became known, it swamped everything else.

Then, later, a new dimension kicked in – it transpired his killers hung around, encouraging passers-by to photograph them and one even gave an impromptu interview. As a rule, we avoid showing clearly identifiable dead bodies out of concern for the family and friends of the deceased. There’s nobody who says we can’t, but as with other news organisations, we tend not to.

This, however was different. Here we had one of the suspects spouting a twisted justification to the camera phone, his hands covered in blood, still clutching a cleaver and knife.

Usually, in such circumstances, we would not show the picture to avoid the possibility of upsetting criminal proceedings. But in this instance, there was no attempt to hide – quite the reverse. It would be impossible for him to argue his trial had been prejudiced.

What about his hands and the sensitivity of displaying the victim’s blood? And should we repeat his words, possibly in the main front-page headline?

Other papers chose the latter, but I admit, I drew back. It seemed to me that all we were doing was giving a murderer the publicity he craved. Instead, I chose the response of Boris Johnson as the splash heading: “Sickening, deluded and unforgivable.”

We did, though, run the suspects’ pictures. And this did make some readers angry.

I am sorry that it did. As I said, I did not take the decision lightly. I considered both the potential impact on the family and friends of the victim, and the question of providing publicity to the suspects. 

Ultimately, however, I felt that showing the images of the two men, calmly promulgating their politicised messages after committing an act of remarkable savagery in a public place, was an important means of conveying the true, appalling nature of the incident. 

Dreadful and distressing as they were, reproducing the photographs undeniably served a public purpose. Sadly, the slaying of Lee Rigby was not an ordinary assault culminating in his death. Its ramifications would be experienced far and wide.

Rest assured, we remain conscious of the need for proportionate and responsible reporting, and that includes covering heart-breaking scenes if it is in the public interest.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digital Fundraising Analyst/Web Analyst - West Sussex - Permanent - £30k DOE

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Application Support Engineer – 6 month FTC – West Sussex - £26k-£28k pro rata

£26000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Head of IT Change – West Sussex – Up to £60k DOE – Permanent

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

IT Services Team Leader

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a prog...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Angel of the North  

It’s not because I’m sentimental about the North that I believe it needs devolved powers

Chris Blackhurst
Tony Blair gives a speech in 1996  

What the UK needs right now is the radical Tony Blair it had in the nineties

Christopher Goodfellow
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?