Complaint after BBC ‘fact check’ describes IRA bomber as ‘political prisoner’

Martina Anderson addressing the European Parliament on Tuesday
Martina Anderson addressing the European Parliament on Tuesday

A complaint has been made to the BBC after the broadcaster’s ‘fact check’ team uncritically described Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson as a former “political prisoner”.

In an article on the BBC website, the fact check team examined the accuracy of Ukip leader Nigel Farage’s jibe towards fellow MEPs that “I know that virtually none of you have ever done a proper job in your lives”.

The BBC article explored the employment history of the 14 MEPs who spoke during Tuesday’s Brexit debate in the European Parliament, concluding that “13 have spent part of their careers outside politics”, and seemingly including Ms Anderson in that category.

Referring specifically to the Sinn Fein MEP – who was jailed for her part in an IRA bombing – the article said: “Martina Anderson spent 13 years in prison in England and Ireland when she says she was a political prisoner before her release as part of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

“She then worked for the Sinn Féin party until 2007 when she was elected to the Northern Irish parliament. She became an MEP in May 2012.”

The TUV leader, Jim Allister, has submitted a complaint to the BBC about the article.

He said: “I am appalled that the BBC would seek to gloss over the serious crimes of which Anderson was convicted after due process.

“Surely there was a duty on the BBC to ‘fact check’ what Sinn Fein/IRA would claim about Anderson’s background as well as checking what Nigel Farage said?

“In truth Anderson was convicted of conspiring to cause explosions in Great Britain after being arrested along with Patrick Magee, the Brighton hotel bomber. Anderson was only released from prison because of the Belfast Agreement which shamefully ensured she didn’t have to serve her full sentence.

“It is totally unacceptable that the BBC should have ignored these facts and I have today lodged an official complaint calling upon them to immediately amend the article and issue apologies to the victims of IRA terrorism who they have offended by parroting the Sinn Fein/IRA claim that Provo terrorism isn’t criminal but political.”

About an hour after Mr Allister’s complaint, the BBC changed the article – though it did not say that the article had been changed – to remove the words “political prisoner”.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “It was clear from our article we did not describe Martina Anderson as a ‘political prisoner’ but attributed the term to her.

“This article was not intended to be an in-depth assessment of the background of any MEP and so we have changed the wording to avoid it detracting from the main focus of the piece.”