The Blair daughter’s attempted suicide and the public’s right to know

The British mass media claims it is committed to informing the public. The reality is that it  frequently colludes with politicians to suppress stories. A important  example is the attempted suicide of Blair’s daughter Kathryn in the Spring of  2004 (reports on the web by non-mainstream media  suggest she was taken to hospital on Thursday 13th May 2004, for example, http://www.public-interest.co.uk/aseye/index.htm#Tony ). Every single national  newspaper and broadcaster (including the BBC) refused to use the story.  The BBC’s failure is especially reprehensible because  a public service broadcaster has a special obligation to put anything of political importance  before the public.

How do we know the story is true?  Well, Martin Bright when political editor of the New Statesman confirmed the story verbally to me at a meeting of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom and Tom Leonard when he was with the Daily Telegraph sent this email when I raised the matter with him:

“ In message <011401c5913d$53a14e40$171b1…@tgl.telegraph.co.uk>, Tom Leonard <tom.leon…@telegraph.co.uk> writes

Dear Mr Henderson, thanks for your email. The problem with the story about the Blairs’ daughter is that the BBC was far from alone in ignoring it. I think the whole of Fleet Street ignored it too on the grounds of sensitivity and intrusion into privacy (she is a minor of course).

However, you are completely right about the BBC’s vested interest and well done for pointing it out to Mr Grade. The BBC is too used to never being properly grilled by >the public.

Regards, Tom Leonard”

Then there is the behaviour of  the BBC.  I twice confronted  Michael Grade when he was  BBC chairman with the failure of the BBC to run the story.

The first occasion was at the Viewers and Listeners Spring Conference in April 2005. Grade claimed not to know the story, but refused to discuss the matter. Later I wrote to him asking him to justify his failure to make the story public. Grade did not reply but I received a letter from the BBC’s Head of communications Tina Stowell which ran “The question you raised at the VLV Seminar on 25 April relating to the Prime Minister’s daughter is not one which the BBC Chairman will respond to in public or via correspondence.”

The second occasion was at the Governors “AGM” at Television Centre on 19 July 2005. After the programme, The Governors rashly mingled with the audience. I managed to corner Grade for about five minutes and ask him in front of plenty of witnesses why he had censored the story of the Blair daughter’s attempted suicide, especially after I had raised the matter with him in April 2005 at the Voice of the Viewer and Listeners Spring Conference. He tried to make a joke of it, but before he escaped I asked him the following question: Do you believe the story is true? He refused to answer. ’nuff said.

At the same meeting I lobbied four other Governors: Deborah Bull, Merfyn Jones, Fabian Monds, Ranjit Sondhi and Angela Sarkis. Without exception they all seemed painfully startled by the news. I got a promise from each to look into the matter if I sent them the full details. I wrote to them and the other Governors on 20 July 2005. None have replied. Instead, I again received a letter from Tina Stowell (22 July 2005). This ran “Thank you for your letter to the Board of Governors. The BBC’s position remains the same as in my previous letter.” I then submitted a formal complaint through the governors’ website of 28 July 2005. This elicited no reply.

I raised the failure of the  BBC to act on BBC phone-in programmes and was always cut off immediately I had raised the subject.   I wrote to Feedback, the programme which supposedly deals with listeners concerns with the BBC, asking them to investigate the censorship. They failed to do so.

In addition to this evidence, there were  also references in the mainstream media  in 2004 of a family matter which could persuade Blair to resign.  It is reasonable to conclude that the ‘family matter’ was Kathryn Blair’s attempted suicide.  Interestingly, Cherie Blair said this in an interview in 2009:

”  Mrs Blair has also told Italian paper La Repubblica that Nicky and Kathryn were taunted at school over their father’s decision to send troops into Iraq in 2003 to stop Saddam developing weapons of mass destruction.

‘They had some really difficult moments at school. Everybody called their father a liar,’ she said.” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1211450/The-young-OBlairs–Former-Prime-Ministers-children-Irish-passports-thanks-grandmother.html

There is the strongest public interest in the media running stories such as Kathryn Blair’s suicide.  Politicians are by definition professional moralists because they tell  everyone how to live through the laws they pass and the moral judgements they publicly make. For that reason alone, in a democracy the electorate need to know how their private lives match up to that which they ordain for others.

But there are other good reasons. Blackmail is one and the effect on a politician’s mind and behaviour of traumatic events another. Clearly, this event was such as to potentially seriously  destabilise Blair’s mental balance. As he was PM  the public had a right to know what he was undergoing.

To argue that a child must be given anonymity at all costs is nonsensical. It would, for example, prevent the release of names and details for a child who has gone missing.

Nor is there any reluctance on the part of the media to constantly name children who have done something wrong which stops short of an appearance in a criminal court. In addition, in some criminal cases, the ban on identifying children is lifted and the media again is only too happy to identify them, often in ways which may incite attacks on the child or parents.

It is also true that children generally have to bear the humiliation and shock of seeing their parents and other adult relatives named in the media when they have committed a crime or behaved immorally. That is at least as traumatic as the child being named.

Tellingly, the media have no difficulty with reporting failed teenage generally can be seen from the vivid example of Rebecca Ling, the survivor of a suicide pact*. Both at the time of the suicide pact and during the inquest into the girl who died the BBC and every other mainstream media outlet reported the story with her name, in depth and sensationally. What is sauce for the Man on the Clapham omnibus gander should be sauce for the PM goose. It should not be for the media to decide what they will and will not put before the public when there is a matter of great public interest at issue. Clearly, the Blair child’s case was  suppressed because of political pressure and/or bias on the part of the media.   (It is worth adding that the children of the elite gain great privileges simply by virtue of their accident of birth. The downside is that they may be under greater scrutiny than the ordinary child in the street.)

Why was the story so completely suppressed? I would suggest this. In modern Britain it is next to impossible to force a Prime Minister out of office for political reasons. Where a Government has a massive majority it is impossible. The only thing which could bring Blair down was personal scandal. that is why the story of his daughter’s attempted suicide was  so ruthlessly effected.

* See these examples of British mainstream media coverage of Rebecca Ling’s attempted suicide:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_west/3651008.stm

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/tragedy-of-the-suicidepact-teenage-girls-who-met-in-internet-chatroom-551402.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-316749/Suicide-pact-girl-bullied.html#ixzz11P5vVRDz

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Comments

  • daftaida  On June 20, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    The big news is that it’s not his daughter. Ask Michael in Manchester …Another oddity was the coverage of ‘the blair’s’ Elect-ion Victory with the ‘happy family’ lining up outside No10; clearly the youngest child was very upset about something; the other boys didn’t look too happy either. Just ‘no comment’ as per use-you-all whilst the camera told another story for those who cared to see.

  • fuck you  On November 15, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    How is it off political importance if a 14 year old girl tries to kill herself? Even if she is the Prime Ministers daughter, it does not effect his ability to perform his job. Frankly the private lives of politicians are none of our business. It only matters if they are doing something criminal or missappropriating public funds. If not, as long as they do their job, leave their families out of it. It is not their fault they happen to be married to/ the child of a politician

    • Robert Henderson  On November 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm

      I do explain in detail why it is important in the post. If you want th short version it leaves him open to blackmail and the public have a right to know what stresses are upon their PM

  • James  On October 14, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    I can’t see how it is in the public interest for this to get out – it really is no one’s business but the Blair’s. What I do find disconcerting, however, is that Blair wielded the sort of power and influence that could keep a lid on it. If he kept that quiet (and it might have elicited people’s sympathy, actually) then think what else he might have successfully kept under wraps. The issue, then, is not right of the public to know about the alleged suicide attempt – for they have no such right – but that Blair was capable of silencing the media at all. (Obviously there are things that are to be kept secret, in the interests of national security, but by their nature such things exist under the radar.)

    • Robert Henderson  On October 14, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      1. The attempted suicide occurred because of Blair’s political action over Iraq.

      2. The attempted suicide will have seriously affected Blair’s state of mind.

      Both facts make knowledge of it to be in the public interest.

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