In 2010, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie sued the News of the World. That now-defunct newspaper printed allegations that the pair were planning to split up and had visited divorce lawyers. Pitt and Jolie won the case and were awarded undisclosed damages.
This may seem a little ironic, given that Brad and Angelina announced the other day that they were getting divorced. However, the law is strict in these matters: if you accuse someone of something, you’d better have evidence, not just vague suspicions or or an Everybody-Knows line of argument.
Last night the BBC’s Spotlight featured an anonymous state agent who accused Gerry Adams of having sanctioned the killing of Denis Donaldson, who had been exposed as a long-time informer within Sinn Féin. Solicitors for Gerry Adams have denied the claims.
Are there any parallels/differences between these two cases? Obviously. One involved a marital split between a famous couple, the other the killing of a man. In other words, one charge was much less serious than the other. There’s also the fact that Pitt and Jolie knew who their accuser was: it was the News of the World. Adams doesn’t have that luxury – the identity and even voice of the accuser was kept strictly hidden. Presumably when Pitt and Jolie received damages from the News of the World, that was because the NOW couldn’t furnish proof that their accusation was true. The informer who has declared Gerry Adams to blame for the death of Donaldson doesn’t appear to have any evidence either, other than his assertion.
I think we could safely bet the house that the PSNI also don’t have evidence that Gerry Adams sanctioned the killing ; if they had, it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have acted. Yet an anonymous source without evidence to support his claim is given prime time on the BBC to deliver his charge.
You may insist, if you are a political opponent of Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams, that Everybody-Knows that Gerry Adams sanctioned Donaldson’s death. But that attitude wasn’t good enough for the court that heard the Pitt-Jolie case: Everybody-Knows is another way of saying “I have no evidence”.
Why then did the BBC give a much-publicized platform to an anonymous figure making serious allegations against Adams with no supporting evidence?
If you have to ask that last question, you clearly haven’t been paying attention over the past five to ten years.