The Sydney Morning Herald has suspended one of its star columnists over a story a fortnight ago which claimed a Muslim gangs raped a Sydney nurse 2002.
Editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir announced on Friday afternoon that a review of the Paul Sheehan column, “The horrifying untold story of Louise”, published on Monday, February 22, “found unacceptable breaches of fundamental journalistic practice”.
Goodsir did not name Sheehan in his announcement.
Sheehan’s column, based on testimony from a woman called “Louise”, gave graphic detail of her alleged sexual assault by six men, described as Middle Eastern, and her injuries, alleged there was systematic bashing of prostitutes by Middle Eastern gangs, and alleged that police had failed to deal with the issue.
But within 24 hours the story began to unravel and details emerged of a woman who gave similar accounts at Reclaim Australia rallies.
ABC TV’s Media Watch dissected the Sheehan column and revealed that Reclaim Australia no longer let the woman speak at its rallies, because they did not believe her stories.
On February 25, Sheehan wrote a new column about Louise retracting his first one three days earlier and apologising to the police.
“I had not considered the possibility that her story had been carefully constructed on a foundation of embellishments, false memories and fabrications,” he wrote.
Sheehan has been a columnist and editorial writer for The Sydney Morning Herald for more than two decades.
His column was amended in the wake of the retraction, before being removed from the website a week later.
Sheehan was asked to “stand aside from his duties until further notice”.
Here’s his full statement:
I have concluded a formal review into the column “The horrifying untold story of Louise”, published on Monday, February 22. The article has since been retracted and, on behalf of the Herald, I once again unreservedly apologise for the column and the hurt and distress it understandably caused.
The formal review, which included a comprehensive examination of editorial processes, found unacceptable breaches of fundamental journalistic practice. The columnist, who has also apologised for the report and admitted this serious lapse, will stand aside from his duties until further notice.
The Herald’s reputation is founded on the trust our readers give us to provide fair, balanced and independent journalism, and it is critical that the editorial integrity of the Herald is maintained.
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