Sarah Champion Links Lost BBC Phone Connection to “Trying to Speak Out against Grooming Gangs”

An alarming suggestion from Sarah Champion MP:

Grrrrr! I can’t tell you how annoyed I am that @BBCr4today messed up the line so I couldn’t be heard. Symptomatic if anyone trying to speak out against grooming gangs!

The implication here is that the BBC deliberately sabotaged its own radio interview with her in order to suppress discussion of grooming gangs – an extraordinary and inflammatory allegation.

Champion had been asked to contribute to a segment of the Today programme on the subject of the Huddersfield grooming gang convictions that were announced yesterday: the phone connection was dodgy from the start, but the interviewer, Mishal Husain, did everything possible to facilitate communication by asking Champion to repeat herself whenever the call cut out. Once it was clear that the connection had failed completely, though, the programme moved on to another subject, as is standard broadcasting practice.

After her Tweet blaming the BBC for the lost connection, Champion responded to a query as to whether her mobile phone might have been at fault by saying that “Engineer said it was fine”. It’s a bit unusual to call an engineer after just one failed call, and all this tells us is that the glitch had been brief and temporary (this was less than a hour after the radio interview). Further, it seems that she was using an internet phone service – Husain responded by Tweeting that “We were equally frustrated at the instability of the connection via the internet”. The fault mostly likely lies with the service that was used.

Champion was on the programme as a member of Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, and she is prominent campaigner on the subject of abuse against women and girls. Last year, she wrote an op-ed for the Sun in which she highlighted “a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”. She later complained that the article had been “stripped of nuance” by editors, but in the ensuing controversy over the way her article was framed she was forced to resign her shadow ministerial position.

As such, in the popular imagination Champion is someone who has suffered for “speaking out” on a matter of public interest. This impression was further ingrained when a charity criticised her article and suggested that innocent Asian men had been subjected to racial abuse in its aftermath; Champion, working with the Times’s dubious Andrew Norfolk, turned this around by claiming that this criticism had led to her receiving death threats.

It may seem that I am making too much of a single Tweet posted off-the-cuff, particularly as Champion has not developed her claim into a coherent and explicit accusation. However, it seems to me pernicious and unwarranted to claim that “anyone trying to speak out against grooming gangs” is being thwarted by underhand means, when the subject is actually being widely reported, and when fringe-right elements explain Tommy Robinson’s recent legal difficulties in exactly the same conspiratorial terms.