‘Sorry’ is a big word

First published in Features

I’VE always subscribed to the view that when you know you’ve got it wrong, the best thing to do is hold your hands up and say sorry.

I was, therefore, pleased when the Reverend Peter Mullen, our most outspoken columnist, issued a “full and complete”

apology via the Press Association after he made some disturbing comments about homosexuals on his personal blog.

Peter, Rector of St Michael’s, Cornhill, in the City of London, came in for a lot of understandable criticism last week after extracts from his blog were reproduced in the Evening Standard.

He wrote: “It is time that religious believers began to recommend…discouragements of homosexual practices after the style of warnings on cigarette packets.

“Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with ‘Sodomy can seriously damage your health’ and their chins with ‘Fellatio kills’.”

Peter insists it was a joke and that some of his best friends are homosexuals. I told him I didn’t think it was remotely funny, that I considered it to be poor judgement, and that it had placed me in a difficult position.

Should I go on employing someone as a columnist who had written such comments, albeit on a private blog which has nothing to do with The Northern Echo? I know there will be those who believe that the answer should be a resounding “no”.

The Northern Echo is a broad church, with columnists representing all shades of opinion.

Their views do not necessarily coincide with the views of the paper.

I do not always share Peter Mullen’s views.

But I regard him as a high quality, thought-provoking writer. His decision to remove the offending remarks from his website, and to issue an unreserved apology for causing offence, were essential steps if he were to continue writing for The Northern Echo. His column tomorrow will be an expression of regret.

ON a far lighter note, feature writer Owen Amos’s experiences at a Darlington primary school made me smile last week. Owen had given a talk at Alderman Leach school and the pupils were especially interested to hear about the famous people he’d met, such as Tony Blair and Sir Bobby Robson.

“Have you met George Washington?” asked one little boy, while another wondered if he’d ever encountered Shakespeare. Owen’s far too young, of course. Mind you, his dad probably interviewed them.

PETER Mandelson’s comeback reminded me of the last time we met. I got to know Peter quite well when I was editor of the Hartlepool Mail in the year leading up to his first resignation. In a funny sort of way, I actually quite like him – I think.

A while back, years after I’d left Hartlepool to edit The Northern Echo, he telephoned to give me a right old rollicking over something we’d published about the “Ghost Ships” controversy.

It was one of those classic, cold-as-ice Mandelson put-downs where he blasts you without you letting you get a word in edgeways.

A couple of years later, I bumped into him at the Westminster wedding of Darlington MP Alan Milburn.

“Ah, Peter, how are you?” he asked, apparently pleased to see me.

“Very well, Peter…Do you remember the last time we spoke?”

“No, when was that?”

“You phoned to give me a rocket over the Ghost Ships.”

“Ah yes,” he replied. “And I was absolutely right, wasn’t I.”

Being wrong simply isn’t part of the Mandelson make-up.

■ Read the editor’s blog at thenorthernecho.co.uk

 

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