‘Is justice served by these tales of beheading?’ asks Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen 3Nick Cohen writes: “Last week’s papers were full of accounts of the supposed plot by nine men held in raids in Birmingham. Every type of paper, upmarket and down, ran headlines such as ‘Terror gang planned to kidnap, torture and behead a soldier on our doorstep’ or ‘Terror hitlist named 25 Muslim soldiers’ with barely an ‘alleged’ thrown in to hint that none of the claims had been proved in court.”

Observer, 4 February 2007

So, you may ask, does Cohen condemn this media campaign against the individuals who have been arrested, but not even charged yet? Does he point out, in good liberal fashion, that this disgraceful reporting in right-wing newspapers has undermined the chance of any of them receiving a fair trial?

Don’t be silly. The previously accepted media practice, whereby people were treated as innocent until they were proven guilty, was, Cohen tells us, “insulting” to jurors, who were treated as “children who could not reach a true verdict if they read about a case before or during a trial”.

But let’s be fair – Nick has a solution. If the police and security services (and in this particular case, it would seem, Whitehall spin doctors eager to “bury bad news”) are allowed to brief the press, he argues, “then defence solicitors should surely be allowed to go to the media, brief back and appeal for witnesses. Terror may change the rules, but it shouldn’t tilt the level playing field of the courtroom.”

What a brilliant idea, Nick. So presumably we can look forward to the day when a banner headline in the Daily Mail reading “Al-Qaeda Was Behind Plot To Behead Soldier” will be balanced by a front page article in the same paper headlined “Defence Lawyer Says Client Had No Connection To Al-Qaeda”?