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Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
'Tell us what you saw...'
Some viewers have expressed concern that the BBC relied so heavily on eyewitness accounts in the immediate aftermath of the shooting of a man on the London Underground on 22 July.

They were worried that, in the absence of any official police information, audiences might be getting wrong information.

The number of shots heard by witnesses varied and one man told 5 Live the dead man had been wearing a bomb belt with wires coming out, which was clearly not the case.

"To start with an eyewitness story of an Asian man having 'five bullets unloaded into him' is inflammatory and misleading once you get to the bottom of the story," wrote Fiona Bayne.

"I would expect the BBC to be extra vigilant in presenting the most accurate information and not inflammatory 'eyewitnesses'".

Measured

Jonathan Pangu urged: "For goodness sake please take a more measured, responsible approach to your reporting.

"It doesn't matter whether these are eyewitness quotes; these are normal people not used to extraordinary situations."

Raymond Morrisroe told NewsWatch the BBC could have exercised more caution.

Raymond Morrisroe
Raymond Morrisroe: More caution needed
"The eyewitness information was forthcoming before the police had spoken and it seemed that there'd be some kind of internal inquiry and they were using witnesses before they actually knew what had happened," he said.

"There were conflicting stories so you don't know if what you're hearing is true because what you hear one minute is different 10 minutes later. There needs to be some verification before it goes out to the public."

Living in Bradford, he was particularly concerned about the effect uncorroborated claims could have on the Muslim community.

"(One witness) said the man that was shot was Asian and he presumed he was Pakistani. In a city like Bradford that is a very inflammatory comment and until they know about these things they shouldn't be coming out and saying that," said Mr Morrisroe.

Jon Williams, the BBC's home news editor, responded to viewers' comments.

One of the main eyewitnesses we used was a man called Mark Whitby. Our transport correspondent Tom Symonds was very quickly on the scene and had interviewed Mark Whitby on tape.

And his story was so compelling and so extraordinary Tom picked up the phone and put him through to News 24 so we had rehearsed the story that Mark was going to tell, we knew what he was going to say.

Jon Williams
Jon Williams: It's like piecing together a jigsaw
In that sense I don't think we were irresponsible. And I don't think we ever present eyewitnesses as telling the whole story.

Clearly whatever one person sees is only one part of the story but I hope that by putting a number of people on air we might actually be able to allow the audience to piece together the jigsaw to see exactly what might have happened.

The reality is that this incident was extraordinary. But for example we had one person saying that five bullets had been fired, one person talked about six bullets, another said four. We know from the inquest that there were eight bullets fired and so, far from exaggerating, I think we really were quite measured.

Transparent

I think it's very important that we do actually tell the audience what we don't know as well as what we do know. And I think we have to be absolutely transparent in that. We're absolutely clear that our primary role is to report accurate information.

The other important thing is that we're very clear about where the information comes from. And I don't think on that day we did anything other than present the information that came from eyewitnesses as exactly that. They're not fact, they are simply eyewitness statements.

I know many studies have questioned the reliability of eyewitnesses, but it's interesting that the Metropolitan Police have been to talk to us to try to trace many of the people that we put on air both on 22 July and also on 7 July. Clearly they believe that eyewitnesses have a story to tell. I think they're right.




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