Mail on Sunday apologises to Miliband after gatecrashing his uncle's memorial service

Editor Geordie Greig suspends two journalists and says the reporter was sent without his knowledge.

Update 15:24pm: David Miliband has just responded to the story on Twitter. 

After outrage at the news that a Mail on Sunday journalist gatecrashed a private memorial service for Ed Miliband's uncle , the paper's editor Geordie Greig has just issued a statement apologising "unreservedly" and announcing that he has suspended two journalists. Here it is in full: 

I unreservedly apologise for a reporter intruding into a private memorial service for a relative of Ed Miliband. The reporter was sent without my knowledge; it was a decision which was wrong. Two journalists have been suspended and a full investigation is now being carried out. I would further like to apologise to members of the family and friends attending the service for this deplorable intrusion. I have already spoken personally to Ed Miliband and expressed my regret that such a terrible lapse of judgement should have taken place. It is completely contrary to the values and editorial standards of The Mail on Sunday. I understand that Lord Rothermere is personally writing to Ed Miliband.

Below is Miliband's earlier letter to the paper's proprietor Lord Rothermere, which revealed the paper's behaviour. 

Dear Lord Rothermere,

Yesterday I spoke at a memorial event held at Guy’s Hospital in London for my uncle, Professor Harry Keen, a distinguished doctor who died earlier this year. It was an event in a room on the 29th floor of Guy’s Hospital which was attended only by family members, close friends and colleagues.

I was told by one of my relatives late yesterday evening that a reporter from the Mail on Sunday had found her way into the event uninvited. I also discovered that, once there, she approached members of my family seeking comments on the controversy over the Daily Mail’s description of my late father as someone who “hated Britain”.

My wider family, who are not in public life, feel understandably appalled and shocked that this can have happened.

The Editor of the Mail on Sunday has since confirmed to my office that a journalist from his newspaper did indeed attend the memorial uninvited with the intention of seeking information for publication this weekend.

Sending a reporter to my late uncle’s memorial crosses a line of common decency. I believe it a symptom of the culture and practices of both the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday.

There are many decent people working at those newspapers and I know that many of them will be disgusted by this latest episode. But they will also recognise that what has happened to my family has happened to many others.

I believe no purpose would be served by me complaining to the Press Complaints Commission because it is widely discredited.

Instead, I am writing to you as the owners of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday because I believe it is long overdue that you reflect on the culture of your newspapers. You should conduct your own swift investigation into who was responsible at a senior level for this latest episode and also who is responsible for the culture and practices of these newspapers which jar so badly with the values of your readers.

There are bigger issues for the people of Britain in the midst of the worst cost of living crisis for a century than intrusion into the life of my family. But the reaction of many people to the Daily Mail’s attacks on my father this week demonstrates that the way your newspapers have behaved does not reflect the real character of our country.

It is now your responsibility to respond.

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband speaks at the Labour conference in Brighton last week. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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.