Anatomy of a cock-up: how the People's fake Roger Moore interview made it to New Zealand

Featuring a cameo from Mail Online.

The Sunday People's apology for a Roger Moore interview which never happened has been spread far and wide:

On 16 September we published an article headed “I’ve had Moore women than James Bond” which claimed that Sir Roger Moore had recently spoken exclusively to The People and made comments to our journalist about his private life.

We now accept that Sir Roger did not give an interview to our reporter and did not make the comments that were reported in the headline.

We apologise for any distress and embarrassment our article has caused to Sir Roger Moore and we have agreed to pay him damages and legal costs.

But what also spread far and wide was the "interview" itself. That's not quite so good, given it didn't actually happen.

Firstly, it appears the Daily Mail lifted the interview — rewriting a piece from another newspaper as a news story of their own, usually not crediting the original source in the process. Since we know the encounter between Moore and the People's journalist never actually happened, they must not have checked with Moore or anyone involved with him. Instead, they appeared to have directly re-printed quotes from the now-removed People piece.

The Mail piece is also down, though. So how do we know it existed? Because the Australian Associated Press picked it up, and syndicated it out as news to its subscribers. And those stories are still up.

Take this one, from New Zealand's Otago Daily Times:

British actor Roger Moore says he has bedded more beauties than the suave, sophisticated and fictional spy who made him famous.

The four-time married 84-year-old who played James Bond for 12 years in seven films, told Britain's Daily Mail he was more suited to the phrase: "Moore ... Roger More" than his on-screen persona's famous introductory line "Bond ... James Bond".

"I've always been a hit with the ladies," Moore said.

"I couldn't possibly say how many I've been out with because I'm a gentleman. But more importantly, I just haven't kept count. I've had more women than James Bond. It was always `Moore ... Roger More'."

Moore didn't actually say any of that, of course. It all seems to have been taken from the retracted interview. But that doesn't stop the 49 news sites which have reprinted that exact quote, word for word, punctuation for punctuation. As for the headline claim — that he said "I've had more women than James Bond" — 216 places have carried the claim.

When it comes to best journalistic practices, this is obviously an argument for doing your own research. But if nothing else, it's an argument for actually making the most of the fact that the internet, unlike paper, lets you link back to your sources, so that you — and readers — can notice if you've used a claim which has since been retracted.

If nothing else, it helps avoid embarrassing mess-ups like this.

The one thing we still don't know is why the Sunday People ran the interview in the first place. Were they duped by a fake Moore or a bad freelancer? Or were they the dupers, hoping that no-one involved with Moore would notice?

Roger Moore, smouldering. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn become historical investigations because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.