The Grey Cardigan 03.08.06

IT APPEARS that I have committed a heinous crime. In last week's column, I accused the News of the World of running a picture of wild child songstress Lily Allen exposing a breast.

I further suggested that the picture was taken when Ms Allen was only 14 years old, and then went on to imply various levels of hypocrisy on the part of a newspaper that vigorously campaigns against paedophilia.

I now accept that this picture did not run in the News of the World, but in its sister paper, The Sun. I therefore apologise unreservedly to the editor, staff and picture desk of the News of the World. Any suggestion that it might lower journalistic standards to such a point was clearly without foundation. I readily acknowledge that it is a paragon of virtue, a veritable Methodist chapel of ethical behaviour, a shining beacon of all that is good about our national media. I trust that will be the end of the matter. Let's hear no more about it.

SO, LET'S get our rubber gloves and green wellies on and have a paddle through the disgusting cesspit that was last week's News of the World. (Yes, Andy, I know you're in California.)

We'll gloss over the early two-page spread on the sexual habits of the childlike Love Island contestant Bianca Gascoigne (looks 14, but is actually 19). We'll ignore the monotonous succession of ever more fatuous, tawdry and depressing kiss-and-tells (I counted six) which eventually climaxed (although that's entirely the wrong word) with a flaccid, if actual, KISS and tell, described in suitably impenetrable prose.

No, let's have a look at the really important stuff, the shop window of any newspaper, the place where reputations are made and maintained — the Page One splash. "Terror Raid Brother In Child Porn Shock" reads my edition. It appears that Mohammed Abdul Kahar, the suspected terrorist who was allegedly shot by police during a raid on his Forest Gate home "faces arrest over hardcore child porn found on his family's computer".

Right, where do we begin? I know that the latest version of PACE has changed the rules and regulations regarding the arrest and detention of suspects, but surely there's something in there which says that you have to actually arrest or even charge someone before leaking the story to the press for a brown envelope of fivers? And what's all this about the "family's computer"? Forgive my cynicism, but that phrase appears to be the case for the defence, done and dusted.

I have no idea from whence this fanciful tale appeared, although Mr Plod would appear to have an interest in its publication, but the truth of the matter is that it's an utter flyer — untraceable, unquestionable and unlikely to come back and bite you in the arse.

Now we've all done it. The deadline approaches, the editor is frothing at the mouth and you've got this tale in your book that isn't quite there yet. In fact, it's probably utter bollocks, but hey, needs must when the devil drives. The news editor looks you hard in the eye. The chief sub barely disguises his contempt. But in it goes and you hold your breath. All you need is for someone, anyone, to follow it up the next morning and you're in the clear. Cumulative guilt often disguises individual inventiveness. So how many of our national newspapers followed up this great story? Surely anything on the front page of the nation's biggest-selling Sunday must have sparked a feeding frenzy among the duty hacks looking to fill their Monday pages?

I tried, dear reader, I tried. Yet I could not find any mention of this wonderful tale anywhere in Monday's nationals — not even in The Sun, publisher of pictures of topless 14-year-olds. It's a complete mystery. Perhaps someone from the oh-so-sensitive NoW might care to explain?

MY FIRST editor, a vicious Scottish bastard who probably ate babies in his spare time, once told me a golden rule of journalistic life: "Never complain, never explain". I trust that others have now learned that lesson.

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