TAC 49 Index
Anyone who read the letters section of the March edition of TGO will have come across a textbook example of how the more react-ionary sections of the press demonise hillgoers by way of woefully - and wilfully - inaccurate reporting. In his TGO letter, Jason Holden of Clitheroe reacted to a Daily Express report of a Hog-manay rescue on Skiddaw. This had angered him so much that he felt compelled to convey his 'utter disgust at the two individuals who put lives at risk' and who 'were obviously so embarrassed and ashamed with their idiotic actions that they felt it better to cut and run'. After much frothing and spluttering, including some high-handedness about what a responsible member of the hill commun-ity he himself happened to be (now there's a surprise), Holden ended by calling on those rescued to make 'a simple apology for your ignorance and selfishness'.
The original report, written by Mark Blacklock and headlined 'The selfless and the selfish - Heroic rescue team snubbed by foolish climbers', appeared in the Express on 2 January 2001. Blacklock told how 'two rock climbers' were rescued from Skiddaw in 'the worst conditions in living memory' but 'promptly walked off without even saying thanks'. The half-page story went on to state that the 'stranded fools' didn't give the team their names, before ending with an extraordinary appeal to the paper's readers: 'Do you know the identity of Britain's most selfish climbers? Contact the Daily Express newsdesk on 0207 928 8000.'
Trouble was, this was all an express piece of nonsense. Yes, there was a Skiddaw rescue on Hogmanay, and yes, conditions were terrible (although probably not the worst for 100 years, as implied). But that's as far as the genuine reporting went. Surely the designation 'rock climbers' was a clue, given the hill in question?
Keswick MRT moved swiftly to refute the story. Their website, http://www.keswickmrt.org.uk/, carries a disclaimer which states: 'We wish it to be made known that we do not in any way associate ourselves with the comments printed in the Daily Express on 2nd January relating to the incident on Skiddaw on New Year's Eve. The two men did make every effort to show their appreciation [...] and their identity was collected from them, as a matter of routine. There was no suggestion of any kind of reprimand. The realisation of the situation they had got themselves and their rescuers into was more than enough.'
As to the extent to which the team was 'stunned' by the men's attitude, as the Express had claimed, the disclaimer continues: 'Maybe they should have heeded the weather forecast, but we do not even take them to task over that. In fact, we told them they had done the right thing and that if they had done anything else, the outcome might have been far more serious [...] We are disappointed that the Daily Express has chosen to sensationalise in this case, without due regard for the feelings of the two casualties or the views of the rescuers.' (A Keswick let-ter sent to TGO didn't appear in the April issue: maybe May.)
This is, ultimately, a cautionary tale for Jason Holden and others who fire off letters which castigate hillgoers. The moral? Don't believe all you read in the papers - especially not the tabloids - and hope and pray that, in the unhappy event of your ever having to be rescued, the anti-hillgoing press will not once again hang their report on a predetermined agenda. Yes, some of those involved in this story were 'irresponsible' - but not the humble hill folk who gave thanks for their rescue and who didn't merit being cast as villains in a dark corner of the media.
TAC 49 Index