The BBC has come under pressure to apologise for a “sensationalist” news report which suggested a link between the Brexit vote and the killing of a Polish man in south east England.
Arkadiusz Jóźwik died following an attack in Harlow, Essex last August.
Shortly after Mr Jozwik’s death, BBC1’s 6pm television news bulletin included an item from BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford in which he stated the possibility that Mr Jóźwik was the victim of a “frenzied racist attack” attributable to the EU referendum.
In his pre-recorded report, broadcast on August 31, Sandford said:
“The fear is that this was a frenzied racist attack triggered by the Brexit referendum. But while detectives aren’t ruling that out, it may be that Arkadiusz Jóźwik wasn’t targeted because of his race, but simply because he was there when a group of youths was looking for trouble. People in The Stow shopping precinct said that teenagers had been causing havoc here all summer, and not just harassing Polish people.”
Six teenagers were arrested and released on bail without charge after the attack.
In December, a 15-year-old boy was charged with Mr Jóźwik’s manslaughter. The Crown Prosecution Service has stated that the boy has not been charged with a hate crime. He is due to appear at Chelmsford youth court today (Friday).
As a result of Sandford’s report, a formal complaint was made to the BBC’s complaints unit by David Keighley, a former BBC journalist, in which he raised concerns that the BBC had linked the incident to the Brexit vote when there was no evidence for this.
Keighley now runs the News-watch website, which monitors public service broadcast programming to examine whether – as required by law – it is impartial and politically balanced. The site is funded by a variety of pro-Brexit backers.
Keighley’s initial complaint to the BBC was rejected so he made a further written complaint. It, too, was dismissed, so he has now appealed to the BBC Trust’s editorial complaints unit to examine the matter, sending them a 16-page dossier outlining his case.
A BBC spokesman told Heat Street: “BBC News did not report that the murder of Arkadiusz Jóźwik was a racially motivated attack as a consequence of the Brexit vote. Our coverage simply reflected that this was one possible reason. We reported what was being said by the police, that this was one line of inquiry, and statements made by both the Polish Ambassador and the local MP. We did, however, also report on the belief among some people in Harlow that the murder could have had more to do with anti-social behaviour than racism. Daniel Sanford (sic), in his report, said that the Mr Jóźwik could have been killed “simply because he was there”. There has been a rise in reported hate crime and incidents of racism since the EU Referendum. With this is mind, and given that the police are investigating this as a possible cause of this murder (sic), we believe we were right to explore whether this could have been the motivation behind the attack.”
In his complaint, Keighley writes:
“In the edition of BBC1 News at Six on August 31, the relevant report, by Daniel Sandford, was edited to put disproportionate, irresponsible and sensationalist weight on the claim (by Mr Sandford) at the heart of the item that ‘the fear’ was that the killing of Arkadiusz Jóźwik, a Polish man living in Harlow, was the result of a ‘frenzied racist attack’ triggered by the Brexit referendum. Although Mr Sandford apparently sought to qualify his assertion about the nature of the crime by the use of the phrase ‘the fear’ it did no such thing. It put on record in a major BBC bulletin watched by millions that this was a racist attack triggered by the Brexit vote that led to what was cast most prominently as a murder.”
He adds: “Further, this was overblown, unattributed speculation when proceedings were ‘active’, in that arrests had been made.”