The English Churchman (8 January, subscription only) has apologised for publishing an article by David Virtue concerning the case of Patrick Sookhdeo, who was found guilty of a sexual assault and of intimidating witnesses last year:
We published an article on the trial of Dr Patrick Sookhdeo in good faith in EC 7939. It was written by David Virtue who has a reputation as the editor of a large website of Anglican news, that claims to have 4 million subscribers. He attended the trial and also interviewed various people, but we now understand, he did not contact female prosecution witnesses for right of reply or notify them he would be naming them…
We were careful to state at the head of our article that we did not believe that David Virtue’s friendship with Dr Sookhdeo would have prejudiced his professional journalism and his report… The article was not published as a statement of facts but as the opinion of Mr Virtue.
A similar article was first published on the Virtueonline website. However we understand that attempts by offended parties to respond to Mr Virtue in the comments sections of his website have been removed. Obviously a website has the right to remove comments but in this case we are quite disturbed that this should be so and it does not bode well. Very serious objections have been made to Mr Virtue’s report. We have been told that many of his facts are either wrong or part-truths while other material facts are missing. This is deeply disturbing. We stated initially that we did not intend the inclusion of the article to be an expression of our judgment on the honesty of any person but feel obliged to repeat that we formally disassociate ourselves from any accusations made against individuals in the article, particularly, following new information, suggestions they may have lied on oath….
My view is that if someone genuinely believes that a miscarriage of justice has occurred, they should be allowed a fair hearing even though it may be upsetting for complainants or their relatives. However, those making the case for the convicted ought to have something sensible to say, and they should express themselves reasonably. They should be particularly circumspect about how they raise counter-allegations against prosecution witnesses.
I became aware of Virtue’s advocacy for Sookhdeo a couple of days ago, when he supplemented his own earlier articles on the subject with a repellent post by Richard Carvath, entitled “Patrick Sookhdeo, Jezebel and the Satan Gang”. The title speaks for itself, and Carvath set about smearing and mocking witnesses with distasteful and gratuitous observations such as that one witness has a Facebook profile in which her “arms are uncovered and she wears a figure-hugging dress, her buttocks clearly presented to the beholder.”
Under British law, the name of the sexual assault victim cannot be published, although Carvath appears to have enjoyed using the name “Jezebel” as a substitute. There are also rules against facilitating “jigsaw identification“, which Virtue and Carvath risk skirting with by naming the other witnesses and referring to their social media presences. In this instance, naming prosecution witnesses serves no good purpose (they are not anyone known to the public), and in the context of continuing civil litigation its effect may be intimidatory.
It has also been brought to my attention that Virtue made sure that those named in Carvath’s article were made aware of the piece, by sending them an email headed “A FURTHER VINDICATION OF DR. SOOKHDEO AND CHARGES LEVELED AT HIM” (crank capitalisation in original). Such an email amounted to an invitation to his subjects to read the allegations against them – meaning that his decision to delete any comments he received in reply puts him in an even poorer light.
(Thanks to a reader for details of the English Churchman statement)
UPDATE: On Twitter, Carvarth has claimed that two editors have been “threatened for covering the Patrick Sookhdeo miscarriage of justice”. However, it seems to me that the statement from the English Churchman goes far beyond the kind of reluctant distancing that might be necessitated by a threat of legal action.
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