Scottish Labour’s Deputy leader, a Scottish newspaper and the ‘fabricated’ rape-case

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By G.A.Ponsonby 

It has run under the radar since Friday when two online news outlets, allmediascotland.com and Holyrood.com, both ran the story of the Evening Times apology relating to an article based on a rape case.

The original Evening Times article on 5th October detailed the shocking tale of a 21 year old rape victim called Louise who had attempted suicide after being subjected to humiliating questions and being forced to hold up her underwear whilst giving evidence in court.

The story underpinned an article on sexual assault in Glasgow and featured an interview with a representative of Archway, Scotland’s only Sexual Assault Referral Clinic.  The following day a similar short article on sexual assault was published in the Evening Times’ sister paper the Herald.

That same day at First Ministers Questions, Labour Deputy Leader Johann Lamont raised the matter with the First Minister.  Ms Lamont highlighted the most shocking aspect of the story, namely the victim’s description of being forced to hold up her underwear.  The Labour MSP finished the question by mounting an attack on figures for rape convictions.

However, following investigations by the Crown Office it transpired that there was no such recent case.  A statement released by the Crown Office described the story of the rape victim as “unsubstantiated” and added:

“Should it be the case that this story has no substance it is clearly a matter of serious concern as to what the impact of this might be for those who are the victims of such crimes, but might now be discouraged from reporting such crimes as a result of what they have read in this story.”

The episode resulted in the Evening Times article being condemned by Rape Crisis Scotland who described it as “fabricated”.  The organisation also criticised the wording of a subsequent apology from the newspaper as “just as damaging”.

According to all reports, the origins of the story remain shrouded in mystery.

However, Newsnet Scotland believes that it can shed light on this aspect of the issue.  There was indeed such a case that involved a young victim who went through a court ordeal that included having to hold up the underwear she was wearing at the time of the attack.  It also included a suicide attempt – sadly though the young woman died as a result.

The tragic case was not a 21 year old called Louise but a 17 year old called Lindsay Armstrong who committed suicide weeks after giving evidence against her attacker.  Forced to hold up her underwear twice in court Ms Armstrong was also subjected to cross examination by her teenage attacker.

There are other similarities between the ‘fabricated’ story and the actual attack.  Both also feature a mobile phone, the fabricated story describes the victim trying to contact her boyfriend and the attacker throwing her mobile away.  In Lindsay Armstrong’s case the victim was contacted by her mother but was unable to speak as her attacker was still present.

The case though was not recent as Johann Lamont claimed but in fact happened in 2002, some nine years ago.  In power at the time were Labour and their partners the LibDems.  The Justice Minister at the time was Jim [now Lord] Wallace, his deputy was Labour’s Dr Richard Simpson.  Dr Simpson would be replaced four years later by Johann Lamont.

Months after Ms Armstrong’s tragic suicide, the Sexual Offences Act was passed by the Labour/LibDem executive that gave greater protection to rape victims.

The story raises two immediate questions:

The first of course is where did the ‘fabricated rape case’ story come from and who wrote it?  If it is the case that there was in fact no person called Louise and the story is an entirely fictitious account based on Lindsay Armstrong’s case then the Evening Times should say so and explain who wrote it.

The young journalist whose name is attached to the Evening Times article is under 24 years of age and would herself have been a teenager when the tragic case of Lindsay Armstrong hit the headlines.  The details of both stories though are so undeniably similar that it is surely inconceivable that the tragic case did not influence the fictitious one.

The second question is why were no checks carried out by either the Evening Times or the Holyrood Labour group?

The newspaper has already issued an apology, albeit qualified.  The Labour party on the other hand have said nothing as far as we can tell.  It is surely incumbent on the official opposition at Holyrood to check the veracity of stories if they are to be used in order to attack the Scottish government.

In this case, should the Crown Office be correct and no such case actually exists, then Ms Lamont may well be guilty of unwittingly misleading Parliament.  It would serve as a reminder to all in the chamber that newspapers, especially Scottish newspapers, should not be taken at face value.

This isn’t the first time that newspaper articles have been used in order to attack the SNP.  Indeed some inaccurate stories can grow in stature as other news outlets pick them up, and pretty soon what started as a small manipulated news item develops into something bigger as broadcasters, opposition politicians and newspaper journalists jump aboard the bandwagon.

Think of the Trump story where an entirely appropriate meeting between Alex Salmond and the Trump team in 2007, and reported in regional newspapers in the area at the time, was portrayed by central belt newspapers as secret.  Former LibDem leader Nicol [now Lord] Stephen insisted he “smelled sleaze” – and the Trump saga was born.

So far the only thing we can say for certain is that this ‘rape case’ story looks to be fiction.  The other thing we know for a fact is that it has been used in order to attack the Scottish government over the rate of rape convictions.

On the face of it a synergy seems to be evident between Labour and the Evening Times over sex crimes and convictions.  It could be mere coincidence, but the timing of the story – the day before FMQs – and the article in the Herald look suspicious.

The connections between elements of the Scottish press and the Labour party are a matter of public record – the Friday meetings between newspaper representatives and Stephen Purcell probably the most infamous example.

Earlier this year Evening Times editor Tony Carlin was honoured by Labour run Glasgow City Council for his newspaper’s community campaigns, singled out was the paper’s ‘Ripped Off Glasgow’ campaign that sought to portray the Scottish government as having shown preferential treatment to Edinburgh over Glasgow.

Whatever the truth of this unfortunate article, this ‘rape case’ story ended up in the Scottish parliament being ‘thrown’ at the First Minister.

Someone needs to explain how this happened.