20 November 2007

Myth-making

Last week's Western Telegraph recalled the events of late 1989 when police surveillance team arrested members of an IRA gang who had returned to Newgale to recover a buried cache of explosives and other bomb making equipment.
The story was written by county council spin-doctor Len Mullins, who was the WT's news editor at the time.
"It was a blustery November afternoon 18 years ago when the newsdesk phone rang." He wrote. "We'd just put the paper 'to bed' and the reporters and sub-editors were beginning to unwind before preparing for the following week's issue."
"On the other end of the phone was Dai Davies, Dyfed Powys Police press officer. 'Can you get up here pronto?' he asked me. 'We've got an important briefing, but I can't tell you about it now.' "
An hour later Mr Mullins and a score of other journalists found themselves at police HQ.
"What we were told was shocking", he says. "A huge arms cache had been been discovered just off the coast path at Rickets Head, Newgale. Anti-terrorist officer from the Met would be carrying out a 24-hour surveillance at the scene [operation Pebble] and planned to catch the gun-runners red-handed."
"Would the press agree to a news blackout and not blow Operation Pebble wide open?"
The press agreed to go along with this request and, Mr Mullins says: "Not a word of the arms cache discovery appeared in newsprint, on TV or over the radio."
This cloak and dagger scheme worked a treat and seven weeks later, just four days before Christmas, two Irishmen turned up to recover the hidden cache and were promptly arrested by the waiting police.
They were later tried at the Old Bailey and given 30 years apiece.
Unfortunately, Mr Mullins' account of the events of early November 1989 is not on all fours with the facts.
The police discovered the hidden arms on, appropriately, Sunday 5 November 1989.
Naturally, local people noticed all this activity and contacted the Western Telegraph which checked the story out with the police who confirmed the find.
Thanks to Grumpette's carefully filed library of old press cuttings, I am able to reproduce the following article which appeared on the front page of the WT dated 8 November 1989.


In fact, although the Western Telegraph's publication day is officially Wednesday, it is actually printed on the Tuesday.
So this was the paper that Mr Mullins had just 'put to bed' when he received the urgent phone call from police HQ.
That being the case, it is difficult to see how, having only a matter of hours earlier put the story on the front page, he could have found what the police had to tell him about the arms' find 'shocking'.
What actually happened was that the local police were initially keen to publicise their coup but when the big boys from Special Branch became involved and decided to run a covert surveillance operation it was realised that publicity could be fatal.
So the urgent meeting on the Tuesday evening was not part of a carefully worked out plan but a damage limitation exercise designed to prevent the story gaining wider currency.
Fortunately, the IRA men concerned were not readers of the Western Telegraph, and Operation Pebble turned out to be an outstanding success.
The WT can't be criticised for running the original story which they had checked out with the police before publication.
However, that is no excuse for rewriting history.

One rule for the rulers and . . .

 

Another thing in the WT that caught my eye was the headline "Councillors clash over local markets" above a story that council leader John Davies had launched a withering attack on Cllr Joyce Watson AM for telling the Assembly that Haverfordwest farmers' market had been established as a result of a Labour Party initiative.
Cllr Davies claims that the setting up of farmers' markets was part of the council's corporate policy and that their success is due to the 'endless energy" ploughed into the project by council staff.
He is demanding that Cllr Watson ". . . offer her unreserved apology to those unsung heroes and for misleading the Welsh assembly."
Now, the last thing Old Grumpy would seek to criticise is the idea of local politicians knocking lumps out of each other.
My own view on the subject is that the present cosy relationship between the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group and certain members of the opposition is not a sign of robust democratic good health, and the more our spats and disputes are reported in the local press the more the electorate will be able to make informed decisions on how to vote.
However, what bothers me about this particular story is that it was issued by the council's press office and I would question whether this is either in keeping with the requirement of neutrality in the officers' Code of Conduct, or an appropriate use of public money.
Surely, the authority's press office is the servant of the council and not the Independent Political Group and if Cllr John Davies wishes to criticise a fellow member he should do it in his own time and at his own expense.
I suppose the acid test would be whether the press office would assist Cllr Watson to compose and publish an attack on Cllr Davies.

Blind justice

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from someone with whom I had previously crossed swords over the showing of Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth" (AIT) to school children.
It was my case that this film is political propaganda and that, as governors, it is our statutory duty to ensure that children are not subject to such material.
This point was tested in the High Court by a school governor from Kent who applied to have the film banned from schools.
In the course of this e-mail my critic provides a link to an article that appeared in the Observer in which it is revealed that the Kent lorry driver, Keith Dimmock, who took the case to the High Court, is a member of an extreme right wing political party and was bankrolled by a rich "Scottish quarry magnate" who makes a speciality of trying to debunk environmentalists' claims.
In terms of logic this is known as the fallacy of argumentum ad hominem, or, in Match of the Day parlance, playing the man and not the ball.
It really doesn't matter a fig whether Mr Dimmock makes Genghis Khan look like a long haired leftie, the fact is that he took he case to court, and, after listening to the evidence, the Mr Justice Burton decided that AIT contained nine episodes which were not supported by the scientific evidence before ruling that, while he couldn't grant Mr Dimmock the remedy of a complete ban, Sections 406 and 407 of the Education Act 1996, which provide, inter alia, that schools should not promote "partisan political views" and that children should be offered "a balanced representation of opposing views" ,required that the film could only be shown to schoolchildren if accompanied by a suitable health warning about its political nature and the inaccuracies it contained..
That is what the Rule of Law demands: that judges decide cases on the basis of the law and not their approval, or otherwise, of the contesting parties' lifestyles or political beliefs.
It is rather disturbing that apparently intelligent, well-educated people don't seem to have grasped this simple truth.

 

Trying to keep the grandchildren amused is a constant challenge.
Grumpette's latest brainwave is a jig-saw of a Lowry street scene which was brought out of the drawer when our granddaughter was on one her regular overnight visits.
That was more than two weeks ago and, despite our frequent but sporadic efforts, it sits on the living room coffee table with only a quarter of the pieces in place.
I'm afraid I've been drawn into this endeavour which is proving very frustrating.
To begin with, the jig saw is circular and there are few really strong features in the picture to get a grip on.
So Grumpette and I sit there staring at the pieces with the silence interrupted every half an hour or so by the cry: "I found one that fits".
Clearly, doing jig saws requires no great skill because the vast majority of these cries are uttered by Grumpette.
As a man, I of course attempt to bring logic to bear and work on the basis of both the colour and the shape of the piece.
For the past week, I have been systematically sifting through the pieces looking for one with knobs on the top and side and an indent in the bottom; making it look like a little cartoon man.
I also know that the top knob is black and the left arm is brick red.
But, diligently as I search, it can't be found.
I have to say that this is probably no fault of mine because the jig saw was bought second hand from Barnados.
So, if the person who dropped it off at the charity shop should happen to read this, would they please have a quick look down the back of the sofa and put me out of my misery.

Soft options

There's something strange
'bout Terry Grange.
Instead of being fired,
He's comfortably retired.