The utterances of Vincent Tabak during his recent trial for the murder of Joanna Yeates have, at times, made me want to throw something at the radio or TV each time I heard his thoughts broadcast.
The man took no responsibility whatsoever for what he’d done and even had the nerve to give a sympathy-seeking, sobbing apology to Joanna’s parents. Fortunately the jury saw through his charade and convicted him of murder and now the real truth is coming out about him, his lifestyle and distasteful preferences. It is, sadly, the world-weary truth that a journalist will often know more than they can report and expect that more information will be revealed after a conviction.
The murder of Joanna Yeates and subsequent trial of Vincent Tabak has had an incredible amount of coverage in the media. There has been, on average, 800 murders per year since the year 2000, although there was a drop in the statistics in 2010 to 651. What is it about this case that has generated so much interest and publicity?
As a resident of Bristol, I found myself to be overly curious about Joanna’s initial disppearance.
It was a strange case as it showed that murder could happen anywhere, even in leafy Clifton, and to anyone. But the most disturbing thing was that a person could just disappear and that the murderer could be the ordinary, non-descript, man next door.
As the investigation began, each nugget of information was seized upon by the media and repeated. In such an excited situation there is a huge pressure as a reporter to get the story first, especially now that news is broadcast around the clock. But it comes at what cost? It reminded me of the frenzied and inaccurate reporting that happened during the initial stages of the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. There were huge fines that newspapers had to pay following the investigation into inaccurate reporting and now there is also an inquiry into press conduct being led by Lord Justice Leveson.
There is a clear line as a journalist between reporting the facts, and conjecture, and it is emphasised repeatedly in journalism training.
Speculation makes people tune into your broadcast and sells newspapers, but it is a gamble. Unless you can validate those assertions in court, you, and your publication, could be prosecuted. And as a journalist, surely your responsibility is to report the facts so that an accurate picture of the story can be understood.
If you are not independent in thought, it is easy to mislead…or be misled.
In fact, the media were manipulated by the very man guilty of Joanna’s murder. One of the facts that has now emerged is that the person who pointed the finger of suspicion at Christopher Jefferies, the landlord of Joanna Yeates, was in fact…Vincent Tabak. The police arrested him and he was vilified by the press. I remember one report was trying to link him to previous unsolved cases in Bristol going back thirty years. Released without charge, he was guilty of nothing except having a bad comb-over hairstyle and a rather louche style of dress.
I’m not surprised that other details about Vincent Tabak have emerged post trial. In a way, it is a slight reassurance, that the neighbour on your doorstep is probably just that, and not a potential murderer.