I’m rather shocked about this. A ‘private’ interview with Tom Stephens (the prime suspect in the recent Ipswich murders) was transmitted to the general public yesterday. The BBC justified this decision as follows:
We felt there was a compelling public interest in letting the public hear what he had to say. He knew all five of the murdered women, two of them well. He had much to say about the world of drug dealers and financial pressures in which they lived. On balance it seemed to us to be wrong to deny people the opportunity to hear his thoughts on the events of the past few weeks.
Of course, we reflected long and hard about the legal and ethical issues this interview raised. We are confident that nothing we have broadcast could prejudice any future trial. We also reached the conclusion that nothing we broadcast could reasonably be expected to impede the ongoing police investigation. A full copy of the interview had been made available to the police.
Ultimately our judgement was based on what we felt would be right for our audiences – should there be an opportunity to hear the interview or did it remain inappropriate to broadcast something recorded six days earlier on a different basis? In the very rare circumstances of this case, we took the decision to share Tom Stephens’ account.
Ultimately, this man has not been found guilty of any crime (the police haven’t even finished interviewing him) and the fact that he knew all five victims is still only circumstantial. In the UK we seem to pride ourselves on having an informed and ethical criminal justice system, but surely that must be questioned when we see actions like this being taken. Why did the BBC decide that the general public needed to hear what this man said about the world these women lived in? And why does such an opinion apply to this case and not others? Why don’t we hear the interviews of other suspects in other cases? And what exactly constitutes an ‘exceptional change in circumstances’ and why does this matter?
Might the BBC’s decision be more around the newsworthy nature of this interview (and case) and might their broadcasting it for all to hear be because it’s a juicy and sensational story that’s good for viewer ratings (everyone loves a good story), and nothing at all to do with what they seem to be calling an obligation to the public? I just hope if it’s found that Stevens is not connected with these murders, the BBC hasn’t jeopardised a further investigation into these crimes. And I don’t for a second believe that this decision will have no effect at all on a forthcoming trial. The whole point of the media is to inform the public (albeit in a biased manner, normally) and to encourage debate and discourse. I can’t help but think that this particular case should be kept as classified as possible until a resolution is reached.