An editor has accused “racist” Facebook commenters of spreading “fake news” about his newspaper by suggesting it was party to covering-up a child sex abuse scandal.
Rotherham Advertiser editor Andrew Mosley has hit out at “keyboard warriors” who have falsely suggested his paper had colluded with the government or Rotherham Council – and even that it was paid not to report certain details of recent child sex abuse trials in the town.
The comments came after a recent visit to Rotherham by the right-wing actvisit Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, in which he claimed the “true details” of such trials were not being heard due to reporting restrictions being put in place.
Now Andrew is to take up the issue again in a follow-up editorial, to be published in this week’s Advertiser due out tomorrow.
He writes: “There has been a strong reaction to a number of stories that have appeared in the Advertiser, on our website and social media over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, on Facebook and Twitter many of the comments made were wide of the mark, unsubstantiated, contained completely false information presented as fact and in many cases were racist.
“As a strong supporter of free speech the Advertiser does not, as a norm, seek to ban people from commenting or stop them from accessing material and entering into debate with other readers.
“What we cannot accept, however, is racism, libel and abuse, whoever it is directed at.
Andrew said the Advertiser had attempted to explain what it had and had not been allowed to print during its coverage of recent trials resulting from Operation Stovewood, the investigation into non-familial child sexual exploitation and abuse in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.
He went on: “These are not laws invented to cover up what has been happening, but to make sure a trial can go ahead without prejudice and to offer protection to victims as well as those in the dock who may not yet have made a plea.
“Some chose to say we were in collusion with the Government and/or the council and even that we were paid to not report certain aspects of trials due to political sensitivity. Others chose to comment that because we did not think a visit from Tommy Robinson was the answer to any of this town’s problems we were on the side of child abusers, which is just stupid.
“If some of the outrageous claims had been made by us about another business we would, quite rightly, be sued. It is easy to understand why people are angry and that they want someone to blame for whatever has upset them and they also want a cheerleader.
The Attorney General is currently considering whether to pursue a Contempt of Court case against Mr Yaxley-Lennon, after he was accused of breaking a blanket reporting restriction on a series of linked grooming gang trials in Leeds with a Facebook Live video in May.
Mr Yaxley-Lennon was initially imprisoned for the alleged offence, and as reported by HTFP at the time, Leeds Live court reporter Stephanie Finnegan received rape threats after reporting on his sentencing.
The Court of Appeal later overturned the ruling, and Mr Yaxley-Lennon is currently free on bail, on the condition that he must attend the next hearing where he is required and not approach Leeds Crown Court.
Mr Yaxley-Lennon has recently become an adviser to the leader of UKIP, Gerard Batten, prompting former Birmingham Post and Daily Express political editor Patrick O’Flynn, now an MEP, to quit the party and join the SDP.