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Facing prosecution?

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 16:30 UK time, Monday, 30 July 2007

This weekend the Mail on Sunday published an article under the headline, "BBC may be prosecuted for offering £40,000 to 'child smugglers'".

It followed a report on Thursday's BBC Ten O'Clock News (which the programme's editor blogged about here) exposing a Bulgarian man willing to sell children.

The Mail on Sunday quoted extensively from a press conference given by the chief of police in Varna, Bulgaria, where the investigation was carried out. He said the BBC offered money for the children and that, according to their information, "the BBC's investigation was flawed." He added, "we have found nothing to back up claims of an organised group selling children for €60,000."

The article also included the paragraph, "neighbours who know the man added that they would not be surprised if he had taken money from the BBC's journalists to fabricate the story, but doubted he was involved in baby-trafficking". It also made a point of the fact that the story comes in the wake of BBC staff being suspended after faked phone-in competitions.

However the police chief made a number of demonstrably inaccurate comments in his press conference and clearly has a vested interest in down-playing the significance of the BBC's investigation, as it reveals potential criminal activity in his jurisdiction. For instance, the police chief claimed that the BBC had sacked the journalist responsible for the report and had written a letter of apology - both of which are untrue.

The BBC did not offer money for the children. In fact "Harry" - who boasted to us that he was a people trafficker, and has a criminal conviction for it in Germany - brought a succession of children to us, and set a price of up to €60,000. The evidence is on tape for all to see - you can watch the report here.

The police chief claims we deliberately attempted to delay the arrest of "Harry" by providing false information. Again, this is incorrect. He also claims Varna doesn't have a problem with people trafficking. Both the United Nations and the European Union say it does - with reports warning of many gangs .

The investigation was carried out under strict editorial guidelines, with the BBC's Editorial Policy department consulted at every point - it exposed a trade in children going on within the European Union, something of great public interest. BBC News is proud of the report and the journalists who worked on it - at significant personal risk - and we stand by the report, and how it was made, fully.


  • 1.
  • At 05:33 PM on 30 Jul 2007,
  • Adam wrote:

"it exposed a trade in children going on within the European Union, something of great public interest."

I think you're confusing "public interest" with "what the public finds interesting". I'm sure your report met the latter criterion in spades. But what would be more in the public interest would be that if you have found evidence of illegal activities, they should have been passed quietly on to the police rather than spread all over our TV screens before any trial has taken place.

Would you have been allowed to broadcast this report if it had been about something that happened in the UK, or would that have been considered prejudicial to any future criminal trial?

  • 2.
  • At 06:08 PM on 30 Jul 2007,
  • JG wrote:

The fact is we do not trust you BBC. We have seen how you make things up, and a post lower down this 'blog' even says that it is actually allowed in your editorial guidelines to rearrange clips as long as 'the meaning' is not changed! How can we trust any of your output?

There would have been no child trafficking here if not for the BBC. You approached someone known as a people (not child) trafficker and asked if he could provide a child. Even if money was not mentioned, it was implicit that payment would have to be made at some point, as the trafficker well knew. He said yes and set the price. The BBC agreed and then children were produced. I am not for one moment minimising the appalling fact that he was willing to provide such a service, and it is right he be brought to justice. But I say again, there was no child trafficking here until the BBC asked. This was the main complaint by the police chief.

And your incredible rubbishing of the police chief, he "clearly has a vested interest in down-playing the significance of the BBC's investigation" is amazing. Do we trust a senior police chief of many years standing, or the BBC who have been shown time and time again to present false and misleading stories in an attempt to grab ratings. I know which one I choose.

Regarding the previous comment.

The BBC are a broadcasting company, not a private investigation company. If the BBC were to work undercover for all investigations and air none of them, it is doubtful if you would want to pay your TV licence, because there would be huge gaps where the documentaties are currently placed. I dont know about you, but i think there has been some great documentaries in the past from the BBC, not to mention the aforementioned.

Although publicly funded, the BBC work both to commercial and public interests, if the public were not interested they would refuse to pay licence fees and if programming was not commercially viable (EG; Not what the public wanted to see) then im sure programming would be ammended to suit.

For reference, i think TV licences should be scrapped and the BBC should be on a fair level playing field like other commercial broadcasters, so this issue or comment is not about Licence fees!

  • 4.
  • At 07:51 PM on 30 Jul 2007,
  • the truth wrote:

I don't think employees of any organisation should ever accuse others of having a vested interest, we need only remember the Sun attacking Stephen Byers for not allowing Sky to buy Manchester United.

May i add...

The average working person is not (out on the field) investigating illegal activities of sick individuals, therefore if news and (Factual) documentaries not shown then the average working person would have no idea what sort of activities go on outside their towns, and therefore would not be aware of things they probably should be aware of in the world.

News is everything, whether this is a neighbour speaking to you over the hedge or live news on an attrocity, "undercover" documentaries are news because the average person does not undertake the sort of work that an undercover reporter does, therefore when the average person watches a documentary this is news.

- The "Trafficker" offered kids for sale
- The "Trafficer" was willing to take the money "In exchange for the chosen child"

What is not fact in this case is that no child was ever handed over (Apparently the money never changed hands), so we may never know whether or not this man would have handed over any child or not, meaning he could have just taken the money and ran which would then simply be a case of incitement, also meaning he may never have sold any child, just a promise to in exchange for cash.

If it is a case of this man taking the money and running, this surely means this person is a scammer, and because its unlikely that the "buyer" ever complains to citizens advice/police and the like (What would they say?) this man has probably scammed a large amount of "buyers".

Now, if this individual case was simply that a man was willing to take cash with the promise that a child would be handed over in exchange, would be now assume that child trafficking does not happen in Varna, or indeed Bulgaria?

Though this reported may have been duped by a conman willing to do anything for money (Including this sick )

  • 6.
  • At 10:00 PM on 30 Jul 2007,
  • Kostadin Jonev wrote:

First I'd like to thank you for the investigation as a bulgarian citizen. I would like to show you my moral support.
This is not the first time police and law in bulgaria are used against investigating journalists and are in favor of criminals. A few years ago a Romanian reporter was accused for making a film with hidden camera about corruption on bulgarian border. As far as I know, though I am not a lawyer, there is a law that says that if one offers money to a state employee, he actually suborns the employee to corruption so offering money is a crime. That frees from guilt the one that accepts this money. In my opinion that law does not fight crime, but fights fighting crime.
I am very sorry our police accuses you, in fact they should be thankfull.
In last few months there were some demonstrations on police power against free speech in Bulgaria. A miner, partiscipant in a miners strike for better payment was bitten by police officers, a doctor that guided a strike in Sofia's bigest hospital, pretending better payment and better equipment was accused for helping a drug dealer how to lie about his fisical state and escape judgement. The record of the telephone conversation between the doctor and the underground boss is 4 or more years old and was broadcasted years ago by national televisions. 35 ecologs were arrested for participating in an protest against destruction of national park Strandja. I should say there was no permission for the protest, so the police had rights to arrest those young people. But few weeks later they arrested an internet blogger for having on his blog items about the Standja's eco protests. The arrest was made by the section for fight with organised crime as if there were no more criminals left to fight with. As it seems bulgarian authorities are very scared of any kind of citizen's pressure on any question, crime neighter.
Back on the smugglers topic,
there materials on national television how Harry's neighbours claim he is pure as an angel and how he works all day long and so on. As I could see from your film he makes his business meetings in some expensive hotel that is far from the ideal of hard-working good citizen.

  • 7.
  • At 09:36 AM on 31 Jul 2007,
  • JG wrote:

But the point is that there was NO child trafficking until the BBC asked if one could be provided. Then the (appalling) man set the price. But, as the police chief said, it seems to be the BBC that initiated this whole thing, i.e.incitement. If the police did this, then they would not be able to charge anyone, it's called entrapment.

And who are we to believe, a police chief of many years standing, or the BBC who have been shown to present misleading reports time and time again.

  • 8.
  • At 10:04 AM on 31 Jul 2007,
  • BR wrote:

Why should we believe you ahead of the Police?

At least they provide a public service worth the money.

  • 9.
  • At 11:32 AM on 31 Jul 2007,
  • Hazel Johnson wrote:

I find myself a little surprised to see so many people so keen to attack the BBC for an investigation into child trafficking. Is that of public interest? I think it is - if children are being trafficked for sex or domestic work into the UK, that is dreadful and should be stopped.

  • 10.
  • At 12:03 PM on 31 Jul 2007,
  • Anthony wrote:

I get the vague impression that the other views represented here are coloured by respondents' general and longstanding low opinion of the BBC.

And JG, by 'we' in 'we don't trust you BBC' do you mean hardline licence fee-is-tantamount-to-communism hard right wingnuts?

They're not perfect, but they do alright.

To the commenter who says, horrified, that the BBC's editorial guidelines allow it 'to rearrange clips as long as 'the meaning' is not changed': that's called editing. Most broadcasters do it. And - news flash! - some newspapers even make changes to the stories their journalists write. Ooo, innit awful?

  • 12.
  • At 04:05 PM on 31 Jul 2007,
  • JG wrote:

Re 10
Yes, it is called editing, but when I watch a news report or documentary I want to be sure I am seeing things as they happened. If rearranging the time sequence of clips has no effect on the meaning of the piece, why do it? Further down this blog we were asked if we thought the rearrangement of clips affected a story and a massive (>100) people answered with most of them saying it did, yet the BBC still refuse to accept this. Trust. Its all about trust. If we cannot be sure that what we are shown is a true reflection of events, how can we trust the story/BBC.

Re 9
When I say WE, I mean the British public. Again, look down this blog and you will find
"The Guardian: Reports a poll which indicates that public trust in the BBC has fallen sharply in the wake of recent scandals."
So not just the 'right wing' green pen brigade, but the British public, you know, the ones who are forced to pay, yet seem to have absolutely no influence on the unaccountable BBC.

When the BBC start misrepresenting stories to boost the ratings (or more often, to introduce editorial spin) it can only be damaging to its reputation, as has been proved by this poll. It's not hard, show us the facts as they happened, in the order they happened. I would have thought this would be one of the first things taught to a young journalist.

  • 13.
  • At 04:36 PM on 31 Jul 2007,
  • TJF wrote:

I must say that I think alot of these attacks on the BBC are out of line.

Sure there has been some bad stuff coming out of it recently, which should not go unpunished, but we need to put things in perspective.

I trust the BBC (not 100%) more than I trust anything that comes out of the rest of the media and most government. I am sure that not all of it is 100% factually correct. But compared to the rubbish that comes out of Murdoch's stable (both in the UK and abroad) and most other commercial broadcasters I would take the BBC every single time and the licence fee is the one bill I don't resent paying!

And regarding this story - if investigative journalism doesn't ask questions and push these shady characters further then how are these people to be exposed? As they hardly go about broadcasting that they break the law! They wouldn't be very successful criminals if they did.

  • 14.
  • At 04:39 PM on 31 Jul 2007,
  • sean clarke wrote:

couldnt agree more with other comments,how dare the bbc accuse others of vested interests this is a company that lost its boss and chairman of governers for incompatence and who have been fined for cheating children and the public,absolute hypocrites.

  • 15.
  • At 05:29 PM on 31 Jul 2007,
  • Adam wrote:

Anthony (#9): I can't speak for other people's views, but you are very wrong about mine. For the most part, I have the utmost respect for the BBC and wouldn't dream of taking part in BBC-bashing only for the fun of it.

I just happen to think that in this case they've put the interests of high-rating TV ahead of the interests of justice. And let me be clear: I don't wish to criticise the BBC for investigating this, just for broadcasting the material before any trial has taken place. Investigative journalism is a good thing, but trial by media is not.

  • 16.
  • At 06:55 PM on 31 Jul 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Bungling, stupid, incompetent, BBC is to be condemned for completely mishandling investigative reporting. Rank amateurs. Compare this fiasco with NBC Dateline's exposure of the fake pharmaceuticals where the investigation went so far as to set up companies, buy product, meet various players at the highest level. The government of China was just as outraged as the Bulgarian Police Chief because it's not only bad publicity but they are paid to turn a blind eye to it. For all you know, the Chief of Police himself was in on the ring or was related to the perps. Why didn't BBC offer to pay the full price of 60,000 instead of trying to bargain with them? Why didn't it actually acquire a baby? And why didn't it arranage if possible to have it delivered in Britain where the entire case could have been brought before a British magistrate and forced the British government to take it to the EU? What a bunch of Keystone Kops. Stick to telling us how the Palestinians are being ill treated, it's more your speed.

  • 17.
  • At 01:46 PM on 01 Aug 2007,
  • EH wrote:

I find it slightly odd that most of these comments relate to the police being "obviously" trustworthy.

#7 says "Why should we believe you ahead of the Police?
At least they provide a public service worth the money." do realise that this is the Bulgarian police we're talking about, not the British, and Eastern European governments do have a certain reputation for not exactly being honest, therefore I find it surprising that these people therefore assume the BBC is completely wrong and deceitful.
Maybe they went about it in the wrong way. Maybe.

And as for attacking editing. The BBC have got it wrong in the past. But I doubt you'd enjoy any programming that was presented to you in chronological order. I doubt it would make much sense. Editing is there to improve the flow of the programme and the viewer understanding, if you remove the ability for production companies to do this, you'll end up watching dis-jointed and confusing programmes which I'm sure will give you even more ammunition for complaint.
That's why clips are moved around in different orders without affect the meaning; it's improving the overall understanding!

I get the feeling that the BBC is stuck in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation with these people.

  • 18.
  • At 04:08 PM on 01 Aug 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

I don't blame you for not printing my previous letter pointing out that as investigative reporters you were completely outclassed again recently, this time by NBC's Dateline which actually set up a bogus company to import counterfeit drugs and even took them to the manufacturers of the real drugs for an evaluation as part of their story. In the US, such reporting frequently results in criminal prosecutions. If BBC can't even report the facts in the news without bias, how does it expect to be able to successfully perform these much more complicated tasks. Once more BBC shamed itself with its ineptness. I wonder of the Bulgarian authorities won't find a way to impose fines on BBC or even prosecute it under some arcane EU regulation.

  • 19.
  • At 12:49 AM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Jeremy wrote:

If the BBC undercover team tried to buy a child then it is indeed guilty of incitement to commit a crime. Even if the child were not eventually purchased, the child would still be abducted with tremendous psychological trauma and risk of death. It's not the same as trying to buy drugs from a drug dealer.

The BBC undercover reporters would do a better public service by posing as child traffickers attempting to sell children to whoever in the UK buys them. Expose that, please.

  • 20.
  • At 04:34 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

If you mean "entrapment" that is a term which can only be applied to law enforcement officers and only as it is strictly defined by the law. In the US for example, if law enforcement learns of someone in an illegal business such as selling drugs, arms, or whatever and poses as an undercover buyer, that is not entrapment. In any case it does not apply to a news organization doing investigative reporting. When successful, this kind of reporting does far more good for the general public than harm because it exposes crime and criminals which might not otherwise come to light. We can assume that any baby sold to BBC undercover reporters would have been sold anyway and would be quickly returned to its parents unless it was determined that they were complicit in the crime, in which case it would be better off being adopted legally. If there is concern about risk to BBC undercover reporters being accused of a crime working on such a story, its lawyers can devise means to protect them from later accusations and prosecution such as filing intent documents with the EU authorities or those at a high level in the Bulgarian government's justice department who can be trusted to keep their activities secret and presumably have a vested interest themselves in catching the perpetrators. If it turns out that they cannot be trusted because the corruption goes that high, then they become the story.

  • 21.
  • At 04:44 PM on 02 Aug 2007,
  • Keith wrote:

These attacks on the BBC are nonsense, the work of a vocal minority who whinge about paying for anything even when they're getting demonstrably great value for money, as with the BBC.

This report into child trafficking was needed (have those of you criticising it never heard of Madeleine McCann?), was undertaken thoroughly and professionally. The Mail on Sunday's sniping at it was gutter press journalism at the very worst.

Do you see the Mail on Sunday defending its editorial standards in a public forum? No, because its journalistic ethics are in the gutter.

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