Times put Peta's life on line, says Independent

Peta: spent night in police custody

Independent foreign editor Leonard Doyle has accused The Times and other UK nationals of putting the life of one of his journalists on the line by publishing an unchecked report from an agency.

Doyle is extremely angry over reports this week that his Zimbabwe correspondent, Basildon Peta, had lied about spending a night in police custody.

Refuting allegations in The Times’s first edition that Peta had fabricated his report, Doyle asked: "What is going on here? Are British reporters so desperate to get a juicy story they can’t wait to check the facts? One wonders why they would do this to a correspondent on a fellow newspaper.

"This is a black reporter in a totalitarian country putting his head above the parapet when his life has already been threatened.

"They are putting this man’s life in some danger. It is frankly outrageous."

But associate foreign editor of The Times, David Watts, was adamant: "I spent time checking all the angles on this story, a great deal of time, and I am quite satisfied that what we published was accurate." One of his correspondents had spoken to Peta, he stated.

Doyle continued: "The first edition of The Times said he had admitted fabricating the story and that led to papers in Zimbabwe accusing Bas-ildon of being a liar. But The Times’s later editions say he had admitted to the newspaper that his story had been exaggerated. By pulling that first front-page story, they have conceded that they got wrong an item of incredible importance," he claimed. "In both cases the quotes they got from Peta in no way back up their assertions."

The Times story came after the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) questioned Peta’s version of the story and said that he was under arrest for only five hours and "did not sleep in police cells".

Doyle said he was arrested at 4pm and kept in the police station until 11pm when he was taken home under police escort to take medication. He was back in the police station at 3am and stayed until he was released between 11am and noon next day. He was 15 hours in custody and 19 hours under illegal arrest.

MISA had later issued a statement in which it corrected its first report on Peta, he went on, admitting it had not initially been able to speak to him.

"So they issued it without even talking to the guy or us," said Doyle.

MISA’s second statement continued: "After finally speaking to Mr Peta today we have now established that he was in custody longer than we had earlier indicated. He has indicated he was in police custody for 15 hours, not the five hours in our statement."

By Jean Morgan

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