You may have listened to North Thanet MP Roger Gale’s interview on BBC Radio Kent this morning and you may even be picking-up a copy of the Thanet Gazette to read his ‘Gale’s View.’
In fact, I’ve had the same editorial for several days now but decided to run it this morning, just in case you were tempted to compare the version you find here, with the version in the Thanet Gazette. They should be both identical and if they are not, then you should ask why?
I offered Roger space here to write a reply to last week’s story in the Gazette, as far back as the morning of its publication. I would have done the same for anyone, Steven Ladyman, or even John Prescott in similar circumstances because I thought it was the right thing to do and having walked into the NTCA office,I saw how deeply upset the person at the centre of the allegations was.
In employing someone with a criminal conviction in a trusted role, Roger Gale did a brave and some might say foolish thing. It was however sincere and his decision to give someone a fresh start should not be held against him in the way in which it was in our local paper.
Roger Gale had, I believe, hoped that the Gazette would enter into some form of sensible dialogue over the story and the damage it had caused, which is why I chose not to run any comment here. Until late yesterday afternoon, a “head to head” BBC Radio Kent interview between Roger Gale and Gazette editor Rebecca Smith had been on the cards but at teatime, the Gazette reportedly pulled-out, issuing a statement instead and preferring to "Stand by" their story. Draw your own conclusions as to the true reason.
So here is Gale’s view, his account of the story and until today, the side you weren’t allowed to see. Nothing has been changed, other than a couple of punctuation corrections!
This will not be the last "Gale’s View" that I write but it will be the last that I write for publication in the Isle of Thanet Gazette.
Let me explain why.
Last week's Gazette carried a front page banner headline that screamed "Asylum Shame of Gale’s Aide". The author of the story that followed likes to describe himself as the Gazette's "Chief Reporter" and the tale was awarded the slogan "Exclusive".
This "exclusive" piece, not of news but of history, related to a crime committed by one of my constituents four years ago, to a trial and conviction that took place two years ago, to a sentence that has been served and completed and to a lady who has moved home and re-built her life with her lawful husband.
She worked briefly, as part of her rehabilitation process, under strict supervision in my office and subsequently she was interviewed by the officers of the North Thanet Conservative Association who were aware of her background. She has since been employed for many months as a loyal and hardworking secretary in their offices.
I am completely satisfied that the security and confidentiality of my own records has not been compromised by this lady and that the only breach of confidence has been perpetrated by the Gazette’s malcontented "source".
The "justification" for what many might regard as a piece of gratuitous spite with no news value whatsoever "might be" according to the Mirror Group's local "Editor in Chief", a Ms. Lesley Finlay, that “the MP had demonstrated double standards in his attitudes to asylum seekers".
For the record, I handle a significant number of asylum claim cases. Whether I agree with the manner in which people have entered the country or not they are entitled to the representation of their MP and if they live in my constituency that is what they get, without fear or favour, from me.
Carrying out my duty in no way compromises my unequivocal view that immigration must be firmly controlled and that the present government has signally failed in that regard.
In the "exclusive" case, widely reported in all of the national press at the time of the court hearing, the lady concerned was convicted of bigamously "marrying" two immigrants. Recognising her foolishness, she had reported herself to the local police, acknowledged her crimes, taken her punishment and served her sentence and, at the same time, she had brought about the conviction of a crook who had been helping to smuggle illegal immigrants into the UK.
I know of no justification on news grounds for regurgitating this story now.
"Asylum Shame of Gale's Aide?"
I would cheerfully employ the lady concerned, who has proved herself to be diligent and efficient but I do not, in fact, do so.
She is not, therefore, "Gale's Aide" and the Gazette's lurid headline was clearly designed to give credibility and spice to a clapped out piece of malicious gossip.
The group "Editor in Chief", Ms. Finlay, asserts that I was offered the opportunity to comment.
When I met, for the first time, the Gazette's new editor, Ms. Smith, she said to me that "I don't want this political crap - I want your constituency casework". I found it necessary to explain to her, as I have explained to other journalists, that constituents` casework is confidential and that only in the rarest of instances and only at the request of the individual do I discuss cases with reporters.
The lady referred to in the Gazette's front-page story had, some years ago, sought my assistance in relation to what was clearly a very real problem. Of course I declined to discuss details of her private and personal concerns with a journalist.
Ms. Finlay says "As I understand it the news desk did want to speak to her and to talk about her experience and was given a flat - sort of basically - bugger off" ". Demonstrating her ignorance, she adds” I’m not involved in the story - she's still tagged, isn't she"?! (No, she is not, and has not been for months!)
Why is my constituent required to talk about past experiences, relating to a debt to society that has been paid and to matters that she wishes to put behind her, to a jumped-up journalist trying to manufacture something out of an old story? Under similar circumstances I suspect that most of us would have said "go away!" or words to that effect!
On the morning of the publication of this story I called in person to see Ms. Finlay at her office in Canterbury. Later she whined that I had "arrived unannounced and without an appointment at 09.00" and had "dragged me back from Surrey to meet you".
A publication for which this woman holds responsibility as "Editor in Chief" had sent reporters "unannounced and without an appointment" to doorstep the NTCA offices and had used a photographer to snatch clandestine pictures, in true gutter-press style, of my constituents.
So it's alright for the Gazette to behave like thugs but the Mirror team don't like it when someone pays a call on them!
In the event, we have gained no satisfaction from this squalid episode. I am not remotely concerned for myself: I stand or fall by my record, but I regard with contempt the fact that a deliberate attempt has been made to damage people - my constituent and her husband - who have already suffered considerably. Those responsible for this unwarranted intrusion offered the opportunity to apologise to them, have declined to do so. They will no doubt continue to peddle the half-truths that are their stock in trade.
Suzy and I have, like many others, spent much of our lives and the last 23 years connected with public life, trying to help those less fortunate than ourselves. As long as we have breath in our lungs and energy in our bodies we will continue to do so and as long as the electorate of North Thanet decides to return me to Parliament I will use that office to try to better the lot of the people that I have a duty to represent.
What I do not have to do, however, is to allow my name to be associated with newspapers that, after many proud years under dignified proprietorship and good editorial control, apparently believe that they will enhance circulation by descending into the muckraking business..
That is why this is my last column for the Gazette and why, in future, I shall not engage with its journalists.”