Gordon Young

Gordon Young, editor of The Drum, offers his insight and opinion on various matters relating to media and marketing.

17 December 2012 - 4:04pm | posted by | 28 comments

Tales of alleged fraud, drugs and child rape: Why it’s vital we stop Alex Salmond’s Leveson law

Levy & McRae's Peter WatsonLevy & McRae's Peter Watson

I find Alex Salmond’s ambition to strengthen Scottish press regulation in the form of a ‘McLeveson’ law slighty surreal. Because in my view the real challenge facing Scottish newspapers is not their reckless risk taking but their tendency to be risk averse.

It is a trait which is depriving readers of the sort of newspapers they want to read – which explains the relentless decline in circulations – but more importantly is depriving society of the sort of checks and balances vital to a healthy democracy.

As I have written before, you do not have to venture far off the well-trodden PR path to find mysteries, potential scandals and legitimate public interest questions abandoned in the undergrowth.

Much of this material is the sort of stuff which inspired many of those journalists reared on films like ‘All the President’s Men’ to get into this profession in the first place.

Now The Drum is not really in the business of holding the political classes to account. But even we can’t help stubbing our toe on the odd forgotten issue lying hidden in the long grass. Very often it’s the sort of stuff that would have been picked up by the old investigation teams of the past who once tended our public interest landscape.

A few examples spring to mind. The story of former newspaper executive Steve Sampson for example. He was the man who persuaded Scottish Enterprise to invest £1m in his start up Talent Nation only to be accused of transferring much of this cash into his own personal account shortly afterwards, leaving staff unpaid, a bankrupt business and much acrimony behind. Since other investors in Talent Nation – which was placed into liquidation by Scottish Enterprise - included Premier League football players and other sports stars you would have expected to see this story appear across the Scottish press, despite Sampson's denials that he had done anything wrong. Apart from in The Drum, it hardly merited a mention elsewhere.

Another example of where the Scottish media were surprisingly mute was in reporting the resignation of high-flying Glasgow City Council leader, Steven Purcell back in 2010.

He shocked the political establishing by suddenly resigning – citing a nervous breakdown.

But it wasn’t long before rumours of drug abuse and allegations of patronage surfaced, fuelled by the fact that he received a visit from police warning him of potential blackmail.

To put this in context, it is the equivalent of the career of Boris Johnson suddenly going up in a puff of cocaine; Purcell was seen as a potential Scottish First Minister.

The saga was covered unconvincingly. The Herald, for example, initially carried surprisingly little comment about the scandal.

Perhaps Purcell was simply really good at crisis PR. And he certainly had some good advisers. They included Jack Irvine – once an editor of The Scottish Sun (and colleague of Steve Sampson) - who is now seen as a Scottish Max Clifford. His business is called Media House.

Meanwhile he received legal advice from Irvine’s friend and business associate Peter Watson of Levy & McRae (who also at one stage advised Steve Sampson).

Levy & McRae were certainly well placed to advise on media matters. His team also worked (and still does) for many newspapers including the Herald, advising them on what could and could not, be published.

The arrangement struck The Drum as strange, which is why we wrote to every newspaper which was represented by Levy & McRae asking if they thought that the set up – where they were running stories on somebody also represented by the firm – might add up to a conflict of interest.

The Sunday Herald eventually carried a full page editorial which read: “There have been hints that some Scottish newspapers have pulled their punches because editors have been too close to Steven Purcell or worse have been cowed in submission by Peter Watson and PR firm Media House.”

Herald MD Tim Blott confirmed: “We are currently reviewing our relationship with Levy & McRae in the light about our editors’ concerns about any current or future conflict of interests.”

Adding impetus to this process was the fact that one arm of Levy & McRae had demanded a right of reply for a piece another arm of the firm had cleared for publication in a Herald title.

However, despite the public posturing the group re-appointed Levy & McRae, albeit with a new set of safeguards.

Levy & McRae were also well placed to advise Purcell on criminal law. Strathclyde Police, which investigated the Purcell resignation, sought advice from the Crown Office on how to proceed.

Watson acts for the Strathclyde Police Federation and has advised the Crown Office and its head honcho the Lord Advocate in the past.

The Drum has first-hand experience of this, because in 2009 the then Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, instructed Levy & McRae to take action against our company.

Our then sister title The Firm had published allegations that while Angiolini was Procurator Fiscal in Aberdeen, her office had failed to handle an investigation into an alleged paedophile ring properly.
In the end she dropped her defamation claim and a referral to the Press Complaints Commission was settled without an adjudication being made.

In the aftermath The Drum wanted to find out who had paid for her action – because in a defamation case the only recourse an individual can hope for is compensation which would be paid to them personally.

So did she pay her own bills? As the Lord Advocate she employs more lawyers than anybody else in Scotland, so you would have thought she would have been able to get advice for free. Or did the Government pay for outsourcing this to a private firm?

And there was another point too. The victim at the heart of the original allegations – a Down Syndrome child – received £15,000 as part of the criminal compensation scheme. Angiolini’s costs could have amounted to more than this. So did she spend more public money defending her reputation than this young girl received for being raped?

Of course there is also a bigger picture here. If a government starts using its vast resource to sue journalists it will inevitably compromise the ability of media to do its jobs and call politicians and their political appointees to account.

That was why we lodged a Freedom of Information Request with the Crown Office. And I suspect it was also why it was simply denied. To this day we do not know who footed Angiolini’s bill.

Now in itself none of this is hard evidence of wrongdoing. But it is evidence of all the untold stories lying submerged in the murk of Scottish public life. At the moment it is, in my view, short sighted commercial pressures that are stopping media owners doing their jobs. But in the future they could be further muzzled by McLeveson.

I have to say the composition of the Leveson advisory panel the Scottish Government are proposing doesn’t fill me with confidence.

It includes one Peter Watson of Levy & McRae. Perhaps it might adopt a paragraph the firm had on its website as its credo: “With a low profile, we aim to keep clients off the front page and take swift and effective action where required. Being networked at the highest levels and having access to major decision makers is key to our success.”

Update
Levy & McRae have been in touch on behalf of Elish Angiolini asking me to set the record straight in one important respect; which I am happy to do. Originally I wrote that the Press Complaints Commission rejected her complaint against The Firm. In actual fact they never adjudicated on the matter as The Firm and Levy & McRrae reached an agreement (which involved no admission of liability on The Firm’s part and both sides paid their own costs). It was after this that The Drum lodged its Freedom of Information request to find out if Angiolini had received a form of ‘Scottish Legal Aid’ to cover her costs. Our report on this matter led to another Press Complaints Commission referral by Levy & McRae which was ultimately rejected. I have amended the above blog accordingly. So sorry Elish, we all make the odd mistakes from time to time.

Gordon Young is editor of The Drum

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Comments

17 Dec 2012 - 16:44
kathl20020's picture

Glad someone is actually telling it like it should be......truthfully! Great piece

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18 Dec 2012 - 11:32
MacThomais's picture

How exactly will MacLeveson law impact on Scottish journalism? You never explained that at all in this fairly bland opinion piece. The Scottish and British media are selective about trashing their erstwhile pals in politics and business: more to do with media ownership issues than anything else. But give us a better case why media self-regulation should not have statutory underpinning. Perhaps with examples of how the Irish system works or not...

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18 Dec 2012 - 11:58
Gordon Young's picture

@MacThomais This link gives some practical insights into repurcussions: http://www.thedrum.com/opinion/2012/11/29/what-could-leveson-report-mean... But my primary point is that I do not agree the case has been made for greater regulation of the press north of the border, if anything the Scottish press is not currently challenging enough. Sorry if you found the blog bland. But to paraphrase; sometimes what is in the public interest is not necessarily of interest to the public!

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18 Dec 2012 - 13:51
peterabellfb

Ironically, referring to possible new legislation-backed press regulation in Scotland as "Alex Salmond's Leveson law" is just the kind of misleadingly pejorative language that has contributed greatly to bringing "Scottish" newspapers into disrepute. As is the tendency to mindlessly condemn everything the Scottish government does; proposes to do; is merely imagined to be contemplating; or is dishonestly portrayed as having done in the past.

More thoughtful readers will wonder how it is possible to bemoan legislation which hasn't even been drafted yet. They will wonder, especially given their experience of the generalised political bias and blatant dishonesty in the nominally Scottish media, what exactly it is about journalists as a group which makes them worthy of the special status that they demand.

If they are possessed of sensible caution and a measure of the open-mindedness we all might aspire to, people will await the advisory panel's recommendations before commenting. And they will be extremely wary of the special-pleading of a clique they have learned to regard as just another self-serving interest group, no matter how plaintive the protestations of journalistic dedication to the public interest.

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18 Dec 2012 - 15:26
Gordon Young's picture

@peterabellfb The ‘Salmond's Leveson law' heading simply reflects the fact that he is the driving force behind a separate Scottish response to Lord Leveson's report. Our concern is not the detail of future legislation but whether or not further regulation is required in Scotland at all. At the end of the day the public has more to fear from an unchecked government than an unregulated press.

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18 Dec 2012 - 16:12
sarah11775's picture

The Hollie Greig case has been proven to be based on a great number of lies, please see website http://www.theholliegreigcoverup.net/

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18 Dec 2012 - 16:54
Gordon Young's picture

@sarah11775

I agree that sorting out the fact from the fiction is a challenge here. However, the Criminal Compensation Board took the allegations seriously enough to award compensation. But my concern really revolved around apparent inconsistencies in then Lord Advocates account of her role, as The Drum explained at the time http://www.thedrum.com/news/2010/04/28/did-scot-gov-finance-lord-advocat.... At the very least it demonstrates a lack of transparency on the part of the Crown Office, which is a cause for concern in its own right.

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14 Apr 2014 - 17:48
HOLLI67266's picture

@sarah11775

28. 03. 2012We believe, beyond reasonable doubt, that Hollie Greig was abused and has been badly let down by the Scottish justice system and that this same system has treated Robert Green disgracefully.We are very angry and upset that the words and actions of a number of misguided people who think of themselves as supporters of Hollie and Robert, have created the present situation where this gravely serious case has been reduced to a farce.

Sarah McLeod

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18 Dec 2012 - 16:14
MacThomais's picture

I notice that no one has enlightened us about the awful Irish legislation which Salmond has hinted at as being a possible model to follow. We still get framed in the context of London-centric press views.

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19 Dec 2012 - 14:58
Gordon Young's picture

@MacThomais just came across this piece by Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review you might find of interest. He certainly has strong views on the Irish regulation too. http://www.scottishreview.net/

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18 Dec 2012 - 16:28
rmacp64187's picture

Where is the evidence that strengthening post-publication redress for those unfairly treated in the press will impact on risk-taking in what editor's publish? If the argument above is that Scottish papers are too timid (quite possibly true) under the current PCC regime it suggests that fear of retribution isn't the cause and that the two are probably not linked. It follows that it should be perfectly possible to both strengthen papers risk taking AND subjects' avenues for redress at the same time...

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18 Dec 2012 - 17:53
Pyrite's picture

CICA have numerous historical cases of false payments -

http://tinyurl.com/8u5eoyj http://tinyurl.com/d22yk37 http://tinyurl.com/95hdypv

and should you enquire they will tell you any payment by them is not an admission of a crime or proof of anything.

Also, as you have pointed out at the very beginning of "Hollie Demanding Justice" Angiolini was not the PF - which started in 2009.....but as the internet was swarming with all manor of false allegations, i would have thought that Angiolini had every right to take proper precautions.

You also stated "If she had won, she could have picked up more for damage to her reputation than the original victim did for being raped. The key issue is whether or not this sets a bad precedent."

Need i remind you that there remains no proof Hollie was raped - none whatsoever. No witnesses, no material evidence and most certainly no medical evidence - nothing. I am bound to suggest then, that this sets a bad precedent of reporting....

However i would agree the public have an interest in knowing who was paying for Angiolini's legal action, and i wish you good luck with that.

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18 Dec 2012 - 20:26
Gordon Young's picture

@Pyrite I doubt we will ever know for sure what happened in the case of Hollie Greig - but needless to say cases involving vulnerable children with special needs are always difficult to prosecute which is sadly why they are targetted in the first place. But somebody obviously found her evidence compelling enough to offer compensation. Our heading simply made the point that this sum may have been less than the Lord Advocate spent defending her reputation. Of course, we don't know for sure if that is the case - or indeed whether or not the public purse paid for Levy & McRae. I wish she would tell us.

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19 Dec 2012 - 15:45
Pyrite's picture

@Gordon Young Your headline did - but you also stated "than the original victim did for being RAPED"

You have no evidence for rape - yet you are telling people she was.....perhaps you should have used the word "allegedly."

CICA were convinced by her testimony - her mothers testimony - a correspondence from D.I.Ally saying that on the balance of probabilities Hollie was abused (because they did not know about her boyfriend, nor Anne's mental breakdown) and forensic medical evidence saying Hollie was not a virgin (again because they did not know about her boyfriend)

There has NEVER been any evidence that Hollie was the victim of a paedophile ring for 14 years, as claimed by her mother Anne, Robert Green, Brian Gerrish, Lou Collins and David Icke.

When something cannot be proved, people are found innocent - in this case, not only can nothing be proved, (yet people are still found guilty) we have shown an intolerable amount of lies and misrepresentations that clearly point to an alternative agenda. What that agenda is we leave you to decide.

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19 Dec 2012 - 16:00
Gordon Young's picture

@Pyrite we were not making a statement, but posing a question to make the point that The Lord Advocate defamation may have been funded by the public purse. Legal Aid cuts is a huge issue in Scotland with the poor being made to finance their own defense and solicitors taking strike action. Now more than ever it is reasonable to ask whether Agiolini benefited from her own special form of 'Legal Aid'.

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20 Dec 2012 - 14:40
Pyrite's picture

@Gordon Young Your knocking on an open door there Gordon - but i still can't see past the fact that the article is still misleading by stating the individual was raped when there is no evidence for such.

Perhaps it's me - perhaps i have read it wrong, so i will agree to disagree as i do agree with you on other issues also like no legislation on the press - even given the excellent points peterabellfb makes.

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22 Aug 2013 - 19:00
HOLLI67266's picture

@Pyrite

JON LIES AGAIN

FIND THE TRUTH ABOUT THE DISINFO TEAM

http://holliegreigjustice.blogspot.com/

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22 Aug 2013 - 19:00
HOLLI67266's picture
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19 Dec 2012 - 01:00
peterabellfb

You have a rather rose-tinted view of the activities - if not the ideal role - of the "Scottish" press. I reckon I'm far from being alone in saying that what I see is not some band of honourable scribblers valiantly holding to account the bastions of power and privilege. Rather, I see a coterie of shallow, venal hacks dutifully serving their corporate masters and the British establishment without a moment's thought for a public interest which can only be served by the kind of unwavering honesty and analytical rigour which are all but totally absent from mainstream journalism.

In demanding extraordinary privilege for these journalists you ask us to set aside all that was revealed by the Leveson inquiry and disregard our own experience of what we see in the "Scottish" press every day. Why would we do that? Why would it be in our interests to do that? What gives you the right to insist that we simply turn a blind eye to the myriad faults and failings of the media?

Of course, you will hold up the bogey-man of "unchecked government" as if there were an imminent threat from some kind of totalitarian power. You will exaggerate this menace, just as you will massively overstate the threat of regulation, even as you hyperbolise the willingness of journalists to defend us against all this evil. But we have an unregulated press now and it is patently failing to defend us from the vested interests of the British state. It is not draconian regulation that is preventing the press from properly serving the people of Scotland. It is the fact that the preponderance of newspapers and those who make their living from them are servants of that state rather than its inquisitors.

You want the public's help in preserving journalistic privilege. But how do you go about getting that help? By assaulting us with the same mix of scaremongering sensationalism, self-righteous superiority and supercilious sense of entitlement that contributed to you losing the public's respect in the first place.

I value a free press as much as anybody else. But the press has to earn the right to the the social licence that we afford it. Having failed to do so, we are perfectly justified in seeking to amend the terms of that licence. Let's wait and see what our democratically elected representatives come up with in that regard. Let's trust the people to decide whether they have gone too far. The press has forfeited the right to be its own judge and jury.

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19 Dec 2012 - 06:41
Gordon Young's picture

@peterabellfb Using the word 'licence' in the context of a free press is chilling on several levels and rather makes my point.

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19 Dec 2012 - 15:52
Pyrite's picture

@peterabellfb "Of course, you will hold up the bogey-man of "unchecked government" as if there were an imminent threat from some kind of totalitarian power." You mean there isn't such a threat? I beg to differ...more and more of our rights and freedoms are being eroded away as we see ever more legislation...but in the main i agree with you.

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19 Dec 2012 - 02:30
aloca17614's picture

Gordon Young is one of the few journalists who has simply assessed irrefutable facts, and come to the courageous decision to highlight these facts to the public, and to hopefully ascertain the truth surrounding these facts. He is not defaming anyone. If he was he would have to stump up £185,000 or £125,000.

If the public were made aware of the substance of http://holliedemandsjustice.org campaign website they would demand action by the government. The website contains voluminous details, any number of which could be addressed by any one of the appropriate authorities, and if proven false would mortally discredit the HDJ campaign.

To date this has not happened. Highly unusual given the high profile of a number of these public servants. Common sense produces the conclusion that facts and truths are being covered up.

The jailing of Robert Green for 1 year, the result of being en-route to hand out leaflets in Aberdeen as part of the HDJ campaign. The fact that he experienced 18 different court appearances at a cost to the public purse of £500,000 should have been all over the mainstream media. By any consideration this is a matter that is in the public interest. Not a squeek from msm - this can only happen when the press is controlled.

Freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are under relentless attacks by the UK and Scottish Governments. When government denies the people the truth and denies them the right to speak openly and freely we have dictatorship.

Recent history has shown us that if we do not support those trying to expose truths, we permit dictatorship to develop and grow. No-one is safe in a dictatorship, even those supporting it.

We need more courageous journalists to stand up and speak out on what they know. This is probably their last chance.

Well done Gordon, Hold Fast,

Jim Graham.

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19 Dec 2012 - 15:28
Pyrite's picture

@aloca17614 Yes- please do look at the official website http://holliedemandsjustice.org - and then look at ours http://www.theholliegreigcoverup.net/ you will see the complete lack of real and verifiable evidence on the official site as it is full of hearsay. If you want to believe it, that is exactly what you have to do - BELIEVE because all that's there is opinion and conjecture.

The same can be said for Robert Green's £500,000 court case - anyone seen any evidence for that? Oh and please don't start again with the line "he was arrested for giving out leaflets" - he was arrested for sending letters to the neighbours of Wyn & Sylvia telling them they were surrounded by paedophiles causing them harm and distress....BoP don't you know! I know Robert told you all that he was arrested for leafleting, but that's because he lies you know! He did it about the Autopsy - he said Roy had a fractured skull - he didn't, it was a tiny bump on the head! Even Stuart Usher (Scotland against crooked lawyers) admitted the Autopsy didn't say what Anne and Robert said it did - how much more do you need to know?

What about the accused that don't exist? What about the house where both Anne and Robert said most of the abuse took place? Oh, haven't you heard? It didn't exist either!! What about the other children named as victims? They have made public statements saying they have never been abused! The list is endless - but of course it HAS to be a conspiracy because the authorities are involved!! Yeah right!

As the authorities addressing any of the details on the HDJ website, its been done! Did you not read the PCCS report where Hollies testimony was discredited? It's also been done on our website where we show you the evidence in full!!

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19 Dec 2012 - 11:16
neale_gilhooley's picture

I vote @peterabellfb comments to be the funniest.

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19 Dec 2012 - 11:27
kenmc11792's picture

There is another issue that worryingly underpins some of the original blog. And it is this. Scotland is now sadly lacking any credible newspaper-led investigations that properly shine a light into the darker recesses of Scottish life. An example of this is Craig Whyte's purchase of Rangers Football Club. The Scottish press were asleep at the wheel while this takeover was going on. A simple check at Companies House would have revealed the background to Whyte's previous business dealings and the fact he had been banned from being a director. Instead, it was only when the BBC documentary was broadcast - with all its flaws and foibles - that most newspapers hopped aboard the train. Because it revealed that one irrefutable nugget - that he was banned from being a director of a company. It was hardly Woodward and Bernstein but it was enough to set in motion a sequence of events that took saw the story lurch forwards. Yes, some papers did try to get on top of the story, notably The Record re Ticketus etc. But the feeling persists that others were slow to react. So have newspapers sacrificed solid investigations on the altar of showbix pap and X Factor drivel? Sometimes, it looks that way.

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20 Dec 2012 - 22:06
blues81700's picture

I should just make it clear that the Hollie Greig campaign is based on the complete failure of Grampian Police to question a single person named to the force by Hollie on 8th September 2009, despite overwhelming support for Hollie`s allegations by expert witness statements, including that of Grampian Police`s forensic medical officer and the aforementioned CICA award.

Thus, the whole issue revolves around the police`s failure to conduct even the most cursory investigation, not whether those named can be found guilty in law or even arrested

One fact that may be of some interest to the observer was that during my trial, no complaint about me was made by the two individuals against whom the evidence was strongest.

From the said expert witness evidence, on which I largely relied, there is absolutely no question that Hollie Greig was the victim of sexual abuse. There can be no possible argument about that

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25 Dec 2012 - 18:53
willi18400's picture

Alex Salmond and the SNP are just like ALL the other political parties and have a lot to hide just like them. There are already laws that exist that can be used to deal with the press so WHY the rush by Salmond like ALL the other party leaders to bring forward government control of the press.

Is Salmond and the SNP being blackmailed or are they controlled by the BANKERS and GLOBALISTS like the Labour, Lib-Dems and Tory parties? www.paisleyexpressions.blogspot.com

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20 Aug 2013 - 20:48
HOLLI67266's picture

do doctors not ask victims of sex crimes if they have had sex anymore ?

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