Friday, April 28, 2006

The Kennedy Story

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!

Gale’s View

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.”


James Maskell said...

Absolutely. The Gazette has published a story which is ethically unjustified for publishing and has thus conceded the moral highground. Its pulling out of the debate just shows the arrogance that this paper has.

Gale has done the right thing in doing this, seeting the precedent that the media should not intrude on peoples personal lives when in doing so, considerable hurt is caused to those involved. Good call, Roger. At the very least, the Gazette should issue an apology.

Anonymous said...

Simon, could you do us poor ignorant readers a favour, put on your journalist hat for a moment, and spell out for us who owns the IOTG, who the shareholders are, that sort of thing? A bit of background would be helpful in illuminating where the Gazette is coming from. I think we're all familiar with the main characters from the NTCA side of things.

DrMoores said...

The Gazette is part of the Trinity Mirror Group of Mirror fame.. as to where they are coming from on this subject, I wish I knew, rather than simply chasing a sordid story!

Anonymous said...

anon again!

I said on that first link to Mr Gale's/IOTG little fiasco, that HE had nothing to worry about but the IOTG had. It looks like I was correct in my estimations. Mr Gale, if you read this, Well done!

IOTG..."you're fired!"

Anonymous said...

Well said Roger. IOTG needs to apologise gracefully and fulsomely.

Anonymous said...

Eastcliff Richard calls the Gazette the Gazunder. (Chamber pot for those too young to remember outside loos. Goes under - the bed) Do you suppose the inference is that the IOTG is full of the same stuff?!!!

Anonymous said...

It is a little churlish of Mr Gale to claim that having a bygamist work in his office is not a story.
Nick Dorman's scoop is a story alright, as much as a Jesus-shaped carrot is in the Minster village fete.
Roger knows very well what makes a story, having worked in the media long before he became an MP.
His feelings about an admittedly sensationalist tale evince a childish shortsightedness.
Politicians want, more than anything, not to look bad. And right now he does.
He says he'll never speak to a Gazette journalist again, despite that paper doing a tremendous amount over the last 10 years to publicise his charity work, thoughts on politics; and on one occasion his taste in Rook's sausages.
That smacks a little of ingratitude.
If Ladyman had an illegal immigrant working in his office, Tories would relish the chance to expose it. Even though immigrants have surely done much less wrong than a woman who was once tagged.

Mr Gale is a former media type who knows very well that that letting a bigamist work

Anonymous said...

Quite right, illegal immigrants aren't a problem at all. They contribute all sorts of interesting things to our country.
Charles Clarke

Anonymous said...

Cutting edge journalism from the Gazette next week. In a world exclusive they will be revealing the victors of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Anonymous said...

Reading between the lines of Sheila Brunsfield's letter to the Gazette, it was someone within the North Thanet Conservative Party who was the unprincipled rat that "outed" Roger Gale on the illegal immigration hypocrasy issue. Rumour is that it was a TDC councillor. Shouldnt we know who?

James Maskell said...

I see no reason why the public needs to know who the source is.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the confirmation James.
Perhaps I should ask your Chairman Cllr Cohen for the name?

James Maskell said...

I wasnt confirming anything. Cllr Jack Cohen is no longer Chairman. Jim Fry is the new Chairman, elected in March and doing a good job too.

Anonymous said...

Mr Gale, you have always been a man of integrity and honour. I am glad that there are at least some people in authority who still have these virtues. They are becoming a rare commodity, especially amongst the self serving idiots in Thanet. Council and Gazette especially.

Anonymous said...

Cllr Jack Cohen was seen talking to Nick Dorman, who frantically took notes to keep up with Cohen's comments. Ironic since cohen employed this person in the first place !

Anonymous said...

Has anyone stopped to consider that maybe this lady is doing a good job, and how many times must she pay for her crime ? Trial by media for the second time is grossly unfair. What we should be asking is, how can a councillor be trusted when he is ready to give out confidential details about an employee who was hired by him ? It's time to let her get on with her life and for the informer to be exposed. Sheila Bransfield has got it right, as has Roger Gale.

Anonymous said...

I personally know Karen and have worked with her for the last 18 months or more. She is compassionate, considerate, caring,sensitive and one of the funniest ladie's I have ever met. I would trust her with my life. She has harmed noone, she made a severe mistake, noone knows the full circumstances. She has paid dearly once, more than people realise. Have you ever wondered what it's like to be in prison alongside people who have murdered and are dangerouus? To be locked in a tiny cell with no daylight for days on end with no stimulation at all. Bigamy is a serious crime, but please, who did she really harm? Only herself, and now a strong, proud, extraordinary woman is being made to pay the consequences again by having her privacy invaded in the worst possible way. Why would anyone want to shame her all over again? Ruin her and Jim's life?
The one who wants shaming is the one who gave this private information to the circling buzzards who couldn't wait to destroy reputations, at any cost.
Where would we be if nobody was given a second chance?
If people like Roger and Suzy weren't around to keep the flame of human dignity and forgiveness alight?
A candle loses nothing ny lighting another candle.

Anonymous said...

Gale's hypocrisy is amazing. The story IS newsworthy - far more so than the one about his wife's mystery car accident of a few weeks ago. On that occasion he revelled in the publicity. He is pompous and arrogant.

Anonymous said...

You are in a minority, 21,000 voted for Roger and he's been our MP for 23 years. You might find him pompous and arrogant, but when you've got a problem, he will try his best for you. There was no `mystery` about his wife's car crash and he did not revel in the publicity, he was distraught as any husband would be.

Anonymous said...

The fact that Gale has been the Thanet North MP for 23 years simply reflects the fact that this is a relatively safe Tory seat, and he has done nothing to offend the majority of those who would vote Tory regardless. I can assure you he is despised by many for his extreme right wing views on a range of issues.

As for votes, more people voted against him last year than voted for him. His share of the vote slipped compared with 2001, wheras most Tories saw their share increase. And 30000 people didn't care enough about him (or the other candidates I acknowledge) to vote at all.

His wife's accident was a private family matter and should have been kept as that. Gale's decision to write a column about it in the newspaper he now criticises gives the lie to your suggestion that he was simply a distraught husband. Any publicity, as they say...

Anonymous said...

Whatever you feelings about Roger Gale, his record stands as testimony as to how good an MP he is and many, many people have reason to thank him for his help. He has a genuine love for the people of Thanet and cares deeply about Thanets' decline.

Anonymous said...

A decline for which he and his Party - in national and local administration - must take much of the responsibility. What a curious thing love is.

Anonymous said...

And of course he loves the people of Thanet. Some of them have kept him - and his wife - in paid employment for 23 years.