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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

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Years of torment for family of one of Whithaven gunman Derrick Bird's victims

BETTY Scoones is still grieving over the brutal death of her son. Darren Rewcastle was one of the 12 people killed by Derrick Bird before he turned his gun on himself.

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HARASSED: Betty Scoones and husband Ted with Darren’s dog Sam at their Bigrigg home. Inset, gunman Derrick Bird

More than two years on, her pain is still raw, but the grief is made bitter by the treatment she and her family have had to withstand at the hands of the national press.

The news that Darren had been shot dead was broken to her on the afternoon of June 2, 2010 – not by police, ambulance staff or doctors, but by a newspaper reporter.

She and husband Ted had heard the news about Bird’s rampage on the streets of Whitehaven and feared 43-year-old Darren was one of his victims.

“I was sat here, waiting for the police to tell us it was our son.

“There was a knock on the door and this woman said ‘Is this where the late Darren Rewcastle lived?’

“I screamed and nearly collapsed. Ted very nearly hit her.

“She apologised and said she was 110 per cent sure he had been killed, but how did she know before me?

“I was told by the police at 7pm that night that Darren had been killed, yet it had been on TV all afternoon.”

Sadly, this was just the start of her torment by national news reporters over the coming days.

“The phone rang and a man said that if I gave him my bank details, he could make me a wealthy woman,” she says.

“I said all the money in the world is not going to bring my son back to me.”

A stream of reporters came to her door and bombarded her with phone calls.

“I said I wanted to be left alone, but they would hide. I went outside one day and they were hiding at the bottom of the field.’’

The family even put a sign up asking reporters to stay away and respect their privacy.

Graham Wilson is a family friend and was a close friend of Darren’s, a fellow taxi-driver.

He says there were many stories of reporters offering money to young people to dive under the police cordon and take a close-up photograph of Darren’s body as it lay in the street.

Since Bird’s appalling rampage, Betty, 71, and Ted, 74, who live in Bigrigg, near Whitehaven, have had to change their phone number three times because of pestering and menacing calls.

The couple, who adopted Darren when he was just 10 days old, have always turned down requests from national newspapers for interviews, despite being offered huge amounts of money.

They did speak to the Daily Mirror and were paid £2,500 – but that was to cover the costs of Darren’s funeral.

All they have ever wanted was to grieve in peace. But Betty says she has never been allowed to: “I don’t want anyone to forget our Darren. He was a good lad , but at the same time, I need to be left alone because I can’t grieve properly.”

Betty adds: “We went ex-directory and still the press got our number. How did they get that number?

“I was tormented. It was terrible.

“I would not like anyone to have to go through what we have been through – I was having to keep the blinds down and not go out the door.’’

Ted is certain that there needs to be new regulations to govern the behaviour of the press, but is equally adamant that the government should not be involved.

Betty agrees, saying: “I think they should have more respect for people and people who have been bereaved.

“The local press and broadcasters have been marvellous. They have been very respectful and we have no problems with them. We would rather talk to the local press than those scavengers.’’

Lord Justice Leveson will report next Thursday on the recommendations of his eight-month long inquiry into press standards.

His much-debated report is expected to make sea-changing proposals for future regulation of the British press – either by government or by a tough, media industry body of self regulation, carrying stiff penalties for wrong-doing.

None could express more eloquently than Betty Scoones the stark differences between local and national press practices. Hounded and harassed by national newspaper reporters, news of her son’s death was delivered to her door, not sensitively by police or family, but crassly and brutally by a national journalist looking for a scoop.

Lord Leveson himself is keenly aware of those polar differences. During his inquiry he told The Cumberland News associate editor Anne Pickles, who was giving evidence on behalf of Cumbrian Newspapers, parent company of the Evening Mail: “I’ve heard before that local newspapers develop relationships with the communities which they serve, and with the people within those communities. Then there’s a big story, and along come the national press, and they trample over everybody’s garden, literally and metaphorically.

“They grab what they can, then the next day they’ve gone and leave you to replant the flowers.’’

Lord Leveson’s recommendations will be taken to the Commons for debate in December. Government will decide whether it should be the regulator and controller of Britain’s press – a temptation for any administration and a threat to all we now understand as a free press in a democracy.

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