A regional daily faced a backlash from readers after deciding not to publish birthday greetings celebrating notorious prisoner Charles Bronson’s 60th.
The Worcester News refused to accept an advert from a reader wishing a happy birthday to the violent criminal, currently serving a life sentence at HMP Wakefield following his conviction for kidnap in 1999.
Editor Peter John ruled that the advert in the paper’s Family Notices section would offend readers and it was pulled.
Angry supporters of Bronson then telephoned the paper to complain, while dozens more posted protests on the paper’s Facebook page accusing staff of discrimination.
One said: “I would like a written explanation of why I cannot wish my friend a happy 60th birthday in your paper. Is this discrimination? I shall be taking it up with the ombudsman for publications. Totally ridiculous.”
Another said: “I believe this to be discrimination. Why have a birthday events page if the editor decides who can advertise the birthday of an individual. In my eyes this local paper seems to be a law to [sic] themselves.”
Bronson’s supporters have also turned on those posting messages of support to the paper, labelling them “close-minded” and “hate mongers”.
One, posting from the Charles Bronson Appeal Fund, even shared a handwritten note from the convict establishing a “few facts” and labelling his long incarceration a “joke”.
Peter later approved a statement to be published on the paper’s Facebook page explaining the decision.
It read: “Regardless of Mr Bronson’s current celebrity status thanks to movies and books, and despite the fact that many people now seem to idolise him because of the glorified manner in which he has been portrayed, Mr Bronson still has a lengthy history of extremely violent criminality against ordinary people.
“His current behaviour may not be what it once was but his past crimes cannot be overlooked.”
“We don’t expect everyone to agree with our decision, but nevertheless that is the decision we have made. Everything published in the Worcester News is at the editor’s discretion and the editor’s decision is final.”
Speaking to HTFP, Peter said even though the advert simply wished Bronson a happy birthday and carried a small caricature of him, he felt they needed to be “particularly sensitive” about what appears in the Family Notices section of the paper.
“We judged that accepting payment to send greetings to a notorious convicted criminal through our columns would have offended many of our readers, so declined the advert, as we are entitled to do,” he said.
Nevertheless, he added, the paper ran a story about a local campaign to free the prisoner and included some of the objections to the decision not to run the announcement.
Charles Bronson was initially jailed for seven years in 1974 for an armed robbery on a post office, but the sentence was extended following violent crimes committed in jail.
He was released in October 1988 but was back behind bars in under 10 weeks after committing an armed robbery of a jewellery shop.