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Why STV News named Alesha MacPhail’s killer

Head of news Steven Ladurantaye explains why STV named the child killer.

Aaron Campbell: Murdered six-year-old Alesha.
Aaron Campbell: Murdered six-year-old Alesha.

Alesha MacPhail's family wanted the world to know who raped and murdered the six-year-old child.

For weeks they sat in court and watched as 16-year-old Aaron Campbell sat smugly, with news stories referring to him only as AC because of a law that makes it illegal to identify those under the age of 18 who commit a crime (regardless of their severity).

Last week we had the opportunity to challenge the court's rules. STV News, along with several other broadcasters and newspapers, asked for his name to be revealed upon conviction. The grounds were simple - the seriousness of the crime, the fact that his name would become public in 15 months anyway, and also he's likely to be jailed for life.

He also named and implicated someone else in his heinous crimes in a callous and cowardly act of deflection - a 19-year-old woman whose name became public immediately (she only found out he'd try to blame her when the trial started).

Our application was granted by the judge, which is why his photos and videos are suddenly appearing in news stories all over the world.

The decision to join the application and to run information about the killer in our stories wasn't made for sensational reasons. Justice shouldn't happen in the shadows and our open courts help us understand the circumstances that lead to horrific crimes and bring accountability to those who commit those crimes.

Criminologist David Wilson also told STV News' Russell Findlay that naming the killer makes it easier for jail staff to work with him while he serves his sentence - rehabilitation remains a key pillar of incarceration in Western countries whether we think an offender ever deserves to see daylight again or not.

"Showing his face was important because it removed his cowardly shield of anonymity and forces us to consider the banal nature of homegrown evil."
Steven Ladurantaye, STV Head of news and current affairs.

"I think we know enough about how to approach young people who've committed this kind of crime to be able to say there is hope that there can eventually be some treatment for somebody like Aaron Campbell," Wilson said, adding removing the cloak of anonymity often makes it easier for an offender to take responsibility for his crimes.

The rise in social media has allowed viewers and readers to express their thoughts directly and openly to the media outlets who once operated with very little oversight or interaction from those who consumed their reporting. It's a welcome development and it's important that it's a two-way conversation, so let's address the questions head-on.

One of the main criticisms of STV News when the killer was named was that we named him at all, as if having his name and face made public would somehow satisfy some sick desire of publicity on the killer's part. I don't think that's the case - he went out of his way to lie and implicate others for his crimes and will spend decades in prison.

The other criticism centred around one of the graphics we used, which showed his face in the foreground with Alesha's photo offset behind him. It was used at the opening of our story, and its purpose was to connect the now-named killer with his crime.

"How dare you let that killer be anywhere near that dear girl," one viewer asked via Facebook Messenger.

I think this is a fair point and we won't run that graphic again.

His photo would have sufficed - the premise of the coverage on Friday was his identity. Showing his face was important because it removed his cowardly shield of anonymity and forces us to consider the banal nature of homegrown evil (before he was arrested, many people openly wondered whether Syrian refugees were to blame for the crime, before the white middle-class teenager was brought into custody).

But none of those reasons are as compelling as the family's wishes. They wanted the world to know who killed their little girl, they didn't want him to enjoy the anonymity afforded to him by the court.

The world now knows. Now, as quickly as his name became public it will fade into irrelevance as we rightly go back to thinking about the victims rather than the offender.

That's justice.

Steven Ladurantaye,

Head of news and current affairs

STV News

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