Fake news is fanning the flames of hatred against minorities. You’re supplying the tinder.
Dear Siobhan McFadyen,
On 31 July 2016, this story appeared on the Sun’s website. The headline was “Hundreds of Syrians in UK arrested over string of offences including rape and child abuse”.
The report went on to explain that in response to Freedom of Information requests, most of the police forces in England and Wales had supplied figures showing that almost 900 people of Syrian descent had been arrested in the UK over the previous year.
Towards the end of the story, the reporter included the line: “In England and Wales the majority of offences that Syrians were arrested for were immigration violations.” The number of actual arrests for rape listed in the story is two.
Within hours, the Express and the Daily Star had published their own versions of the story. Both took similar lines to the Sun’s. Star: “Hundreds of Syrians arrested in the UK for offences including rape and child abuse”. Express: “Police arrest 900 Syrians in England and Wales for crimes including rape and child abuse”. (But the headline that still appears in Google’s search results — which usually reflects the original — is “Police arrest 900 Syrians in England and Wales for rape, death threats …”)
The Express story — the story that ran, and still runs, under your byline — did not see fit to include the rather pertinent information about most of the arrests being for immigration violations.
On September 30 2016, after a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation pointing out the misleading presentation of the article, the Star amended its headline.
The Express did not.
On 29th January 2017, a 27-year-old Canadian man, Alexandre Bissonnette, walked into a mosque in Quebec and shot dead six innocent Muslims, leaving five others critically injured. Bissonnette was renowned for his far-right views.
On Wednesday 22 February 2017, Adam Purinton, 51, got into an argument with two Indian men in a bar in Olathe, Kansas. He shot them both, reportedly after shouting “Get out of my country”, leaving one, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, dead and his friend wounded.
On 3 March 2017, a Sikh resident of Seattle was shot in the arm by a white American man, who screamed at him to “go back to his own country”.
How do these people form their abhorrent views of racial and religious minorities, I wonder?
On March 11 2017, eight months after the Sun on Sunday story, the far-right, pro-Russia, lunatic conspiracy website Planet Bros ran this “article”, rehashing the information in your report and linking directly to it, with the slightly — but crucially — adjusted headline, “Police Arrest 900 Muslim Migrants In England And Wales For ‘Sickening’ Crimes”. Needless to say, the detail about immigration violations is nowhere to be seen. [Edit, 16/6/17: this story has since been taken down. Which I suppose is to be regarded as a small victory.]
Thousands of people shared it online. It is still being retweeted as I write.
I work in news, so I know it’s highly unlikely that you wrote the headline for the original story yourself. I also know it’s probable that the words you wrote were significantly changed and/or reordered by a desk editor or subeditor. However, your name is the only one publicly associated with the Express story, and so it is to you that I write.
I ask only this. Are you happy with the way your report was presented? Are you happy that your work is actively being used to mislead people, to poison public discourse, and to stir up hatred against an entire race of people, most of whom are guilty of nothing more than overstaying their visa?
Are you happy to be contributing, however indirectly, to the deaths of innocent human beings?
Update: Siobhan McFadyen’s response
(Received by email, 16/6/2017, three months after my request)
“I, Siobhan McFadyen, have reported Andy Bodle to police for harassment. Your claims and false, threatening and defamatory.”
I’m extremely curious to see whether writing one blogpost, sending one email and listing some incontrovertible facts constitutes harassment in the eyes of an English court of law.
I’m adding a screenshot of the embedded tweet here in case it mysteriously disappears in the next few days.