Being editor of a national newspaper can be a lonely job at times, especially if you go big on a story that you believe to be true, only for an official body to shoot it down.
It’s a stomach-churning moment. You and the paper have been made to appear silly. That was where I found myself in May 2012, when the Independent Police Complaints Commission published a review rubbishing an exclusive story in The Independent that secret police reports had outlined extensive allegations of corruption against John Davidson, a key officer in the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation.
The IPCC said it contacted Cahal Milmo, The Independent’s chief reporter. Cahal told them the article was written by a freelancer, Michael Gillard. The IPCC added: “Mr Milmo was able to confirm that The Independent newspaper did not have any ‘evidence’ in the Lawrence case…”
Cahal was correct. The piece was not by him or a staff member but a freelancer and this paper itself did not have the evidence. That evidence had been seen by us and checked by us, but it stayed in the possession of Gillard. We tried to explain this distinction to the IPCC in the course of a heated phone call but they were having none of it: as far as they were concerned we had nothing to back up our allegation.
They duly approached Gillard, who decided he would not co-operate with them. If they were as aggressive and suspicious with him as they were with The Independent I am not surprised. The IPCC seemed more willing to shoot the messenger than examine the message at length.
Today’s story vindicates The Independent. But it leaves a sour taste. We’ve had a sea of instances recently that have only served to foster mistrust in the police. But if the body that is supposed to oversee them is so cack-handed what can we expect?
The IPCC owes an apology to The Independent, but above all, to the Lawrences. I’m not holding my breath.