Mother of knife attack victims condemns press intrusion

The mother of Abigail Witchalls, who was left paralysed after being stabbed in front of her son, said the media intrusion following the attack was in some ways more traumatic than tending to her daughter.

Baroness Hollins told the Leveson Inquiry that much of the reporting was “honest and compassionate” but the scale of it was “incredibly intrusive”.

She said: “We couldn’t trust anybody, and it began to form divisions among members of the family about how to deal with it.

“And in some ways it was more traumatic, if you can believe it, than the experience of actually attending to the real tragic event that had taken place.”

Mrs Witchalls was left paralysed after being stabbed in the neck as she pushed her toddler son in his buggy near her home in Little Bookham, Surrey, on 20 April 2005, in an attack which shocked the nation.

Her mother described the massive interest that newspapers and broadcasters showed in the horrifying attack.

“The press coverage of my daughter’s injury was just everywhere, every day. Her story was on the News at 10, for example, every night for a month,” she said.

“It was just huge, the amount of coverage. And it was incredibly intrusive.”

Mrs Witchalls’s family received offers of as much as £300,000 for her exclusive story, but they turned them down and employed a media handler to manage inquiries from journalists.

Baroness Hollins, an eminent psychiatrist who was made a life peer in 2010, criticised insensitive and inaccurate reporting, including:

  • A journalist visited her terminally-ill mother and refused to leave until she provided a picture of Mrs Witchalls;
  • The News of the World revealed four days after the attack that Mrs Witchalls was five weeks pregnant when she was stabbed – something she did not know herself;
  • A July 2006 story in The Sun featured photographs taken with a telephoto lens of Mrs Witchalls and her children on a pilgrimage to the French shrine of Lourdes;
  • The Daily Mail published an article in November 2005 linking Mrs Witchalls’s attack to an assault suffered by her vulnerable brother some years earlier;
  • The Sun reported in April 2009 that Mrs Witchalls had just regained the power of speech, when in fact she began talking again in hospital in 2005.

Baroness Hollins told the hearing: “The intrusion seemed really not to have any sensitivity to the fact that we were not in any way seeking publicity. My daughter was not a celebrity.

“We were dealing with something that was very difficult for everybody to cope with, and here we had this intrusion into our lives and it felt like that intrusion was insensitive.”

Prosecutors and police announced in November 2005 that 23-year-old Richard Cazaly, who died eight days after the attack from a suspected overdose, would have faced criminal charges over Mrs Witchalls’s stabbing if he was still alive.

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