On August 31 last year, the £1billion taxpayer-funded BBC news machine went into what can only be described as incontinent anti-Brexit overdrive in response to the killing of a Polish man in Essex.
This, its headlines declared, was being regarded as a race hate killing triggered by the Brexit vote two months earlier.
It emerged on Friday at the final sentencing hearing in this sorry case that what happened that day was the polar opposite of what the corporation projected so forcefully in in its headlines.
After the EU referendum, every part of the BBC was working flat out to show why the vote was a huge mistake, as illustrated in reports by my monitoring organisation News-watch here and here. Programmes in Radio 4’s Brexit Collection predicted – with scarcely a peep of counter-opinion – that there would be rioting on the streets over food price hikes.
Then, on August 31, the news broke that a well-liked Polish immigrant in Harlow had been killed. Rumours were circulating that a gang of feral youths were responsible and that there could be a racist element. Police were ‘not ruling this out’.
For the corporation, this was too good to be true. Reporter Daniel Sandford’s account in the main BBC1 bulletins that night suggested strongly that this was a ‘frenzied’ race-hate murder by feral youths and was triggered by Brexit. To reinforce the point, his report – along with other material on the BBC website – included edited reaction to that possibility from the local MP and a Polish diplomat. The full transcript can be seen here.
Later, over on BBC2’s Newsnight, John Sweeney ratcheted up this crude tabloid sensationalism by including an interview in his edited package about the killing in which a friend of the dead man suggested that Nigel Farage ‘now has blood on his hands’.
Let’s not mince words. The death of Polish immigrant Arkadiusz Jozwik, 40, following a late-night altercation in Harlow’s Stow shopping centre, was a sordid, tragic affair, and a sorry reflection of the escalating level of violence in Britain today.
But with Friday’s sentencing at Chelmsford Crown Court of the youth responsible for Mr Jozwik’s death, we know the full story. And it was light years away from what can now be seen as the BBC’s deliberate anti-Brexit editorial drive. Its elevation of the ‘race hate’ angle was especially biased and in tune with its overall portrayal – as also illustrated here – that the Leave vote was swayed by uneducated, bigoted thugs.
The facts that are now clear are, first, that Mr Jozwik was not the victim of a gang killing, nor was he murdered. One youth, said to be a ‘shrimp’ little more than five feet tall and then aged 15, was responsible, and he was convicted of manslaughter.
The youth felled Mr Jozwik with one ‘superman’ punch delivered from behind. But the cause of death was impact with the pavement. All parties in court – including the Crown Prosecution Service and the judge – accepted that the punch was vicious but was not intended to kill.
Second, the ‘gang’ involved did not instigate the incident which led to the punch, and were not spoiling for a fight. It was, as emerged on Friday in court, totally the other way round. The defendant and his friends were provoked. Mr Jozwik had been out drinking with a friend and, according to police statements gathered by a team of detectives and read out in court, was rolling drunk.
Patrick Upward, counsel for the youth, told the sentencing court: ‘Far from being the all-affectionate individual of those that knew him, the deceased and his companion, according to witnesses, were staggering from drink. They made racist remarks to the youths and invited violence from those youngsters, and they were considerably bigger and stronger than the young people. It was after the deceased pushed one of the youngsters that this defendant did what he did.’
The teenager, now aged 16, was sentenced to three years in a youth detention centre.
So what are the lessons? In any killing where the facts are not clear, there should always be a degree of caution by journalists in their framing of initial reports. This applies especially to the BBC which has to adhere to Charter impartiality requirements and its associated editorial guidelines.
On August 31 last year, Daniel Sandford did mention briefly that there was doubt in some quarters about the racist motive, but the race-hate angle was unquestionably most prominent in his report and online. The Sweeney report on Newsnight amplified further the overall BBC approach of outright sensationalism.
Immediately afterwards, News-watch formally submitted detailed complaints to the BBC’s Complaints Unit. With total predictability, they were dismissed.
Meanwhile, the deluge of anti-Brexit BBC reporting has continued, including the angle that race-hate was involved in the vote. And how did the BBC report Friday’s sentencing hearing? With a headline that this was not a race hate murder connected to Brexit? That Daniel Sandford had been wrong to afford such prominence to that possibility? That the (English) killer had been provoked by racist chants by a drunken Polish man 25 years his senior? And that the Farage blood-on-hands quote had now been shown to be preposterous?
Of course not. Tucked away in the BBC’s regional website Essex pages is a short 280-word report that makes no mention of last year’s intemperate sensationalism by the corporation, and notes only towards the end the key point that the racism involved did not emanate from the killer.