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Lord to sue Twitter users who falsely accused him of abuse

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

A former Tory Party treasurer has indicated that his solicitors will pursue anyone on Twitter who wrongly linked his name to false allegations of child abuse.

Lord McAlpine, speaking emotionally on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, said he was utterly devastated by inaccurate claims that were reported on BBC2's Newsnight on 2 November.

Some well-known journalists and others either posted or strongly hinted at McAlpine's name on Twitter after the programme - which didn't reveal the peer's identity - had aired.

The catastrophic actions of Newsnight, whose producers failed to request a right to reply from McAlpine before running their report, have already felled the Beeb's director general George Entwistle, who lasted just 54 days in the job.

Guardian environmental journalist George Monbiot issued an apology on the same day Entwistle resigned from his role, after Monbiot inaccurately hinted on the micro-blogging site that McAlpine was the "senior Tory from the Thatcher years" who had been wrongly accused of child abuse by north Wales care home victim Steve Messham.

Messham has since told the BBC it was a case of mistaken identity. He says he is still trying to track down the actual perpetrator and bring him to justice.

Monbiot said of his Twitter misadventure:

I helped to stoke an atmosphere of febrile innuendo around an innocent man, and I am desperately sorry for the harm I have done him. I have set out, throughout my adult life, to try to do good; instead I have now played a part in inflicting a terrible hurt upon someone who had done none of the harm of which he was wrongly accused. I apologise abjectly and unreservedly to Lord McAlpine.

The peer's solicitor Andrew Reid told Radio 4 this morning that his team was using technology to track down those people who wrongly tweeted any link suggesting that McAlpine was guilty of child abuse. They are seeking settlements from those individuals.

Meanwhile, Ofcom confirmed today that both the BBC's Newsnight programme and ITV1's This Morning show both "warranted investigations" relating to "unfair treatments" of McAlpine and infringement of privacy as well as probing whether Britain's two largest TV networks "maintained appropriate standards" as holders of broadcasting licences.

This Morning got caught up in the sorry affair after its presenter, Philip Schofield - in a bizarre exchange with Prime Minister David Cameron - haplessly waved a piece of paper containing uncorroborated names of rumoured child abusers he got off the interwebs in front of the PM on live television.

Ofcom, in a letter [PDF] addressed to Conservative MP Rob Wilson confirming the investigation, added:

We believe that Ofcom is able to investigate and properly address the issues raised by the broadcast of these programmes and the resulting speculation on social media and do not consider that there is a potential loophole of the manner you describe.

Wilson had questioned whether the regulator could investigate broadcasters' use of the "innuendo" surrounding social media to effectively skirt around fairness requirements in Ofcom's code. ®

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