Daily Mail apologises over diary story which revealed seriousness of Robert Peston's late wife's illness

The Daily Mail has apologised for publishing a diary piece in 2008 which revealed that Robert Peston's wife Sian Busby had part of her lung removed as part her treatment for cancer.

Delivering a lecture at City University, London, this week Peston spoke about the many “unpleasant features, columns and diary items” the Mail had written about him adding that “it is interesting that since my wife died, the Mail has laid off, presumably because the importance of cutting me down to size was rather lessened by a personal tragedy that might elicit public sympathy for me”.

Peston’s wife Sian Busby died in September 2012 after a long illness with cancer.

Peston said the Mail went too far in an article from January 2008 which said:

A champagne party at the Royal Academy provided a glamorous backdrop for BBC business editor Robert Peston and his writer and film-maker wife Sian Busby to celebrate her receiving the all-clear from lung cancer. After a gruelling year battling the illness, during which she had to have part of a lung removed, mother-of-two Sian (pictured with Peston) was in high spirits."

Peston said “there were a number of things wrong with this”. He said that she had been diagnosed six months earlier and had “not received the so-called ‘all clear’ and tragically never would” adding: “What knocked us over was that we had gone out of our way to keep out of the public domain that Sian was suffering from such a serious cancer, because we wanted our children to have as normal and untroubled a life as possible, and in particular we didn't want our youngest boy – who was still at primary school – to be badgered by kids in the playground about his mum who had cancer.

“So for both of us, the really maddening thing about that piece was that the Mail ran the story without bothering to give us any advance warning or to check whether it was appropriate.

“There was no public interest justification for the disclosure of Sian's serious illness. It had no bearing on whether I was fit and proper to be in a licence-fee funded job. So surely it would have been reasonable to ask if we wanted this very private element of our lives shouted to the world. My instinct was to complain to the Mail and its editors.

Sian asked me not to, because she was frail and did not want the added stress of seeing me go to war with a powerful newspaper. So the Mail got away with it. As it often does."

A spokesman for the Daily Mail said: “We very much regret the distress clearly caused by our 2008 diary piece, but it is important to understand the background. 

“This was a positive and upbeat three-paragraph item published after a reporter was introduced as a Mail diary journalist to Mrs Peston by a well-known freelance celebrity press photographer, who is also the late Mrs Peston’s cousin, at a book launch in January 2008. 

“The reporter had a friendly conversation with Mrs Peston during which she volunteered information about her forthcoming book and her illness, which he quoted in his story.

“She also posed for a picture with her husband, which we published alongside the story. No complaint was made to the Daily Mail at the time or since. We are sorry to learn some six years later that the story was not accurate and offer our sincere apologies.”

The Mail noted in its piece that Peston is “a prominent supporter of Common Purpose, a controversial leadership training charity described as the Left’s answer to the old boys’ network, and a founder trustee of the Media Standards Trust”. 

The Mail also noted: “The Trust spawned Hacked Off – the lobby group present at the late-night summit with senior Labour and Liberal Democrat figures in Ed Miliband’s Commons office which hatched the agreement paving the way for state-sponsored regulation of the press.”

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