Anger over Huntley is dead' radio spoof

PUBLISHED: 13:09 22 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:50 04 May 2010

Ian Huntley

Ian Huntley

POLICE had to contact the families of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman to explain that a radio item announcing Ian Huntley had died in his cell was a spoof. BBC Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine was forced to apologise on air after his show ran a spoof news it

POLICE had to contact the families of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman to explain that a radio item announcing Ian Huntley had died in his cell was a spoof.

BBC Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine was forced to apologise on air after his show ran a spoof news item saying the Soham murderer had been killed.

The item went on to say that those responsible would be "placed on the Queen's Honours List".

Vine, who presents The Jeremy Vine Show between noon and 2pm, said he was sorry if listeners had been misled by the item.

The spoof news item was read out by a newsreader during a discussion on what Britain would be like if it was run by tabloid newspaper editors.

Rumours spread around newsrooms that Huntley had died and led to journalists putting in check calls with the Home Office and the police.

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire Police, which investigated the Soham murders four years ago, criticised the BBC for being -"irresponsible".

He said: "This item may have been heard only partially by any number of listeners, giving the wholly false impression that the item was real.

"We have been put in the position of having to contact the families of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman to let them know that the item was intended to illustrate a debate on tabloid journalism and was not true.

"We will be making our concerns known to the executive producer of the programme that this item was at least misguided."

Vine introduced the spoof bulletin by saying a news bulletin from "Radio two and a quarter" followed.

A newsreader's voice then read out the "spoof" news at 1.08pm.

Other "spoof" news items included a headline about health and safety laws being scrapped, a headline about Britain no longer listening to the European Union, and one saying that prisoners given life sentences would never be let out of jail.

"We were discussing what Britain would be like if it was run by tabloid news editors," Vine told listeners after it emerged that some listeners had thought that the item about Huntley was true.

"We ran, labelled completely clearly, a bulletin of spoof news items which might happen if the country were to be run by tabloid news editors."

Editor of the Prisons Handbook, Mark Leech, condemned Vine's actions.

"I think such spoofs are a disgrace," said Mr Leech.

"Can you imagine the distress caused to a family member or friend of Ian Huntley who may have tuned in to the Vine programme and heard their friend or loved one was dead?

"It is the sickest of sick jokes."

Radio 2 said it was made clear to listeners beforehand that the item was a spoof. A spokeswoman said: "The item was clearly labelled as a fictional news bulletin.

"Jeremy apologised on air for any confusion that this has caused."

Friends of the two families said neither Holly's parents nor Jessica's parents had heard the bulletin.

A police source said: "The BBC may think this is funny but I can assure you that there are a lot of police officers who investigated the murders of Holly and Jessica who have had a serious sense of humour bypass today."

Sources said Mr and Mrs Wells and Mr and Mrs Chapman had been contacted by officers to ensure that they had not been distressed by the item.

The spokesman said: "It is general and normal police policy to ensure that news of this kind would be broken to the relatives of the people involved well before it was released to the media to ensure that people were prepared and had the support they needed.

"In a case like this we weren't able to do this."

Officers said the spoof item had led to the force being called by a number of journalists trying to establish whether the rumour that spread following the bulletin about Huntley's death was true.

Ian Huntley was given two life sentences for the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman after a trial at the Old Bailey in December 2003.

The disappearance of the two 10-year-olds, in August 2002, touched the hearts of the nation and resulted in a media frenzy.

The girls' bodies were discovered in a ditch at Lakenheath two weeks later and Huntley was arrested and later charged with murder.

His then girlfriend Maxine Carr was found guilty of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

She has since been released from prison.

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