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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 15:16 GMT


April: Gitta Sereny



Review of the Year
Gitta Sereny is an author who has written books ranging from profiles of Nazi commandants to the murder of toddler James Bulger.

In April, leaks about her new book on child killer Mary Bell, "Cries Unheard", sparked off a media firestorm.

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The reception of the book now is rather good. But at the beginning it was rather shocking when the tabloids - after 30 years - again called Mary Bell a monster and hunted her down to the point where the police had to take her and her daughter and hide them away. That was one of the worst things the British media has ever done.

The tabloids totally misrepresented my book, which wasn't even published when they began their campaign. In April, no one knew anything about it, including Prime Minister Tony Blair and Home Secretary Jack Straw, who both pronounced on the subject.

Now it's alright. We've had reviews from people who understand the subject and who understand it is essential to do something to change the system which puts children who commit serious crimes on trial in adult courts.

I don't think 1998 will be a watershed in this matter. The book may be the beginning of a little watershed, but I wrote another book on this subject 30 years ago and it did not have that result.

Blair 'has the courage'

I am being a little negative though. This book has been having some effect in that direction. I think the climate is changing - first of all among the professionals, but also among the public. I am getting unexpectedly large audiences for the lectures I give, which I have never done before.

Oddly enough, I think this government could be the one to take action, despite that not very thinking intervention by Tony Blair and Jack Straw last April. I think Blair is someone who dares and of course he is in charge. If he wants these changes, they might happen. In the final analysis Straw has to execute, but the head of it is Blair and I think he would have the courage to do it.

The furore will not change my way of working or my thinking. What it has done is make me extremely tired. It was a very, very violent time. It reflected the increasing vulgarity of media thinking and the violence in society.

A shocking year

It hit me and my family quite hard. My telephone was tapped, our telephone billings were bought, and our friends all over the world were phoned by the papers. We suspected who was responsible for the tapping. We couldn't prove it, but it was definitely the media.

More important was that they bought the billings. No doubt in an effort to find Mary Bell, who of course I telephoned many times. It is quite dreadful to see how easily they can do this.

The harassment settled down after a while. To be exact, it lasted from 19 April to 1 June, during which time the newspapers published 182 articles. Then it just stopped, not overnight but the articles decreased so we knew it was coming to an end, thank God.

I'm afraid that in connection with what we've been talking about, 1998 has been the worst year I've had.

Not the worst year of my life, that's being too dramatic, but from the working point of view, it has been a shocking, a shocking year. And it's taken some getting over. But we're fine now.
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In this section

January: Scott Ritter

February: Touched by an angel

March: Jane Couch

April: Gitta Sereny

May (1): People of Northern Ireland

May (2): Mo Mowlam

June: The England-Argentina referee

July: Gill Samuels, Viagra creator

August: David Shayler

September: Neville Lawrence

October: Ann Widdecombe

November: Sally Becker

December: Deborah Hickey