10 things the Daily Mail got wrong about the trial of Mark Alexander
This article could just as easily have been called ’Ten ways the Daily Mail were misled by the crown prosecution service’, because in many ways the press isn’t to blame for the inaccuracies and calculated falsehoods recited in the prosecution’s opening speech – which they perhaps naturally, albeit uncritically, relied on as an authoritative and reliable source. Over the next few weeks I’ll be setting out how and why ten key ‘facts’ were misreported by the Daily Mail both during and after my trial.
Counsel for the Defence: “The second matter is this, and it has been raised on other occasions when perhaps the press gallery has not been so full. But there has been a concern with this case in particular as to how certain facts have been reported in the press. Those matters have been raised with your Honour when perhaps those who seek to report on this case were not here. On a day as important as this, can I ask your Honour to stress accurate reporting of this matter, bearing in mind that everyone has been here to listen to your Honour’s summing-up?
The Honourable Judge Reddihough: “Yes. I said, I think, when it was raised earlier in the trial, that the media must have a duty accurately to report matters in court. It has been brought to my attention that some previous reporting of this case has contained factual inaccuracies. I therefore hope that if there is any press reporting during the time when the jury are considering their verdict that it will be ensured that the reporting is fully accurate”.
Trial transcript for 6 September 2010
I’ve focused on 2 articles from the Daily Mail which appeared on 28 July 2010 (the second day of my trial) and 11 September 2010 (the day after I was wrongly convicted and sentenced) respectively, because these are the sources most often quoted when people ask me about my case. The very same mistakes appeared across the board however, in media outlets as distinguished as the BBC, the Guardian, and the Independent. In the interests of objectivity, I distinguish between those ‘facts’ which are just plain wrong, and those which – at the very least – represent unbalanced reporting. I’ve also limited myself to the evidence that was available at my trial, rather than any evidence which has been discovered since then which the press couldn’t have known about.
Many of us take it for granted that what we read or hear in the media is an impartial and reliable account of what really happened. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, particularly – as here – when reporters have been led up the garden path. Even if we can’t always take news stories on face value, it can be extremely difficult if not impossible to know which bits are right and which bits aren’t, especially if there are no alternative sources.
When you face the shock of being the subject of a wrongful conviction, the most obvious mistake is that they’ve made you out to be guilty of something which you’re completely innocent of. Until now then, it seemed a little pointless to nit-pick about factual errors when the most basic premise of all these articles was fundamentally wrong. Yet the questions I’ve received from people over the past few months have made me realise just how important those details really are, and indeed just how prevalent these misconceptions remain, even 7 years down the line.
I hope to redress the balance over the next few weeks, mainly to avoid confusion moving forward, but also to enable those of you who’ve shown an interest in this case to tackle things from a neutral standpoint. Only then can we get to the truth of what really happened to my father, and how I now find myself in this awful position.
By way of overview, the 7 corrections of fact conceded by the prosecution during the trial are that:
2) There is no evidence that my father was ‘battered’ to death. The cause was in fact ‘unascertainable’.
3) The neighbours did not notice a strange smell coming from our house. Indeed, there was none.
4) We do not know when my father actually died. We (the defence) believe he died in October, not September (per the prosecution), 2009.
The 3 defence points that, though still contested by the prosecution by the end of my trial, were not reported from a balanced perspective:
7) I didn’t ‘resent’ my father’s ‘meddling’ and if I wasn’t already living the ‘life I wanted’ then I’d simply have left home.
8) I would have preferred to go to Paris, but did not meet my grade targets. My father helped me search for a flat in London instead and fully supported me moving in with my girlfriend.
9) I wasn’t lying when I told neighbours that I thought dad was in London, and I never claimed that he was living there ‘with’ me.
In November 2018, The Independent Press Standards Organisation published a statement about recent reporting on Mark’s case, following a thorough investigation of the facts and evidence available at trial. It considered a number of the issues above.
How the Daily Mail got it wrong
So how did these ten errors slip by the press in the first place? What tends to happen is that reporters turn up for the first and last day of the trial and don’t bother to sit in on all the stuff in between. This gives them a peculiarly distorted sense of proceedings because the prosecution’s opening speech has yet to be put to the test. By coming back only to hear the verdict, the press has no idea whether the allegations and assertions made during – in my case, a 6 week-long trial – stood up to scrutiny. The assumption made is that, if the defendant is found guilty, then the claims made in the prosecution’s opening speech must all be true. In fact, in my case the prosecution made a string of retractions and amendments during the trial which meant that their final version of events was significantly different to the one they started with. Since the press wasn’t there to witness these changes, it was largely unaware that they had in fact taken place.
Prosecutors take full advantage of this reality, and seek to capitalise on the inevitable press coverage their opening gambit will inevitably receive in order to set the narrative of the entire trial. When their claims are reported in the media it only reinforces the belief that they are accurate. People’s perception of the truth is thus influenced by this tautologous legitimation process in which: the news must be true because it is based on the prosecutor’s allegations; and the prosecutor’s allegations must be true because they were reported in the news. The defence rarely get a look in here, since they only deliver their opening speech once the prosecution has closed its case (so not until the fifth week of my trial), and usually to an empty press gallery. This inevitably leads to unbalanced and misleading reporting, not only in my case, but in any court case where the press isn’t present for every day of the proceedings.
Start uncovering the myths with: Mistake #1