BBC will not revise Woolmer ‘murder’ stories

BBC News web bosses have refused to edit recent stories reporting Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer’s death as murder, even though Jamaican police this week admitted the Englishman died of natural causes.

Along with other news media, the BBC reported earlier speculation plus pathology and toxicology reports suggesting Woolmer had been poisoned and strangled at his hotel in Kingston in March, before new reports from Jamaica this week revised that assessment.

Although online media allow reporters to correct live material in a way that is impossible in print, BBC News online editor Steve Hermann said the site would not be editing archive reports on Woolmer.

“The stories all have a datestamp and they give the fullest account, based on what the police were saying, that was available at the time they were written,” Hermann wrote.

“Going back to change them would confuse, not clarify the sequence of events – when did the police view changes, what was known when?”

The poisoning angle was reported most prominently by Panorama, which will now produce a follow-up documentary to account for developments since it heard the original claims.

The reluctance to revise history online – BBC News believes it accurately reported claims made by others at the time – contrasts with the policy operated by it and other online news organisations in cases of court re-trials, when, by and large, they delete archive material reporting the first trial in order to avoid prejudicing the second.

Hermann’s statement followed questions posed by BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas, who asked whether the original Woolmer murder reports should now carry a “health warning”.

But Hermann said: “To try and steer readers through the potential confusion, we ran a timeline relating how the story changed over time, with links to the key developments. This, along with the latest news story, appears alongside all the archived stories, as well as the current ones.

“So we’re not rewriting the archive, but there are hopefully enough signposts in there for anyone searching online to work out what happened when.”

Panorama said the April 30 edition in which it made the claims was never shown on the web due to a bar on online use of sporting clips contained in the programme – but neither does the show’s website include a textual transcript of the broadcast.