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Friday, May 1, 1998 Published at 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK


Straw says Bell's hounding self-inflicted
image: [ The British press defends its actions in its coverage of Mary Bell ]
The British press defends its actions in its coverage of Mary Bell

The Home Secretary Jack Straw says child-killer Mary Bell has "herself to blame" for the intense media scrutiny which has forced her to seek police protection.

Jack Straw says Bell has to take responsibility (0'23")
Responding to questions on the BBC's Question Time, Mr Straw argued that she had to assume responsibility for the press interest in her.

"Mary Bell has herself principally to blame for the fact that she is under these pressures," he said. He believed she should not have co-operated with the author of her life story.

Gitta Sereny has written a book analysing Mary Bell's life. She was paid for her assistance and although no figure has been disclosed it is thought to run into thousands of pounds.

[ image: Straw: Mary Bell has herself to blame for press interest]
Straw: Mary Bell has herself to blame for press interest
A child-killer, she was sent to prison in 1968 at the age of 11. Since her release she has lived in anonymity under a new identity.

Two inquiries have begun into the furore. Mr Straw has ordered an investigation into why Home Office officials failed to tell ministers two years ago when they knew a book on her life was in the offing.

The Press Complaints Council is also to look into a possible breach of its code of practice by The Times newspaper, which is paying the book's publishers for serialisation rights.

The commission has received a hundred or so calls from the public complaining about alleged harrassment by reporters who besieged Ms Bell's home.

She has now fled from there with her 14-year-old daughter but the commission cannot act on until a formal complaint is made by Ms Bell.

Pat Kennedy is sympathetic to Bell's daughter (10")
The sister of three-year-old Brian Howe, one of Bell's victims, said she sympathised with the double killer's daughter.

[ image: Mixed feelings for murdered boy's sister]
Mixed feelings for murdered boy's sister
"I feel heartily sorry for her daughter," said Pat Kennedy.

"I wish her daughter no malice, it's Mary I've got a grievance against - she can't help who her mother is."

Newspapers remain trenchant

The story continues to receive prominent coverage in the national newspapers.

The Daily Mail leads its front page with the news that civil servants knew about the forthcoming book but failed to tell ministers.

As well as reporting the same story, the Mirror has interviewed a fellow inmate of Mary Bell who says she was happy to let Ms Bell cuddle her baby.

The Guardian runs a column in which it argues Ms Bell's daughter is the real loser, having discovered her mother's real identity and been forced into hiding.

Two of the newspapers at the centre of the press coverage remain steadfast in their courses of action.

In its leader column, The Times argues the government is "playing to the mob" by denouncing Ms Bell.

It also says its serialisation had no bearing upon payments made to Ms Bell and it hoped to promote a "serious analysis " of the book, titled Cries Unheard.

"In this instance, the public interest is overwhelming. Sereny's thoughtful and responsible book has much to tell the world about the influences that turn a child into a killer."

In a similar vein, The Sun has no qualms about its actions so far.

"The Sun has broken no rules nad has been cautious in its reporting. The real blame lies with child killer Mary Bell", proclaims its leader column.

"By cashing in on her past, Bell has invited a floodlight to be cast on herself and her family," it says. "She is the author of her own misfortune".


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