Full transcript of interview with Lord McAlpine on The World at One. November 15th 2012
Please credit The World at One, BBC Radio 4 if you use part of this transcript.
Becky Milligan: Do you think that the BBC should have called you before they put the report out on Newsnight?
Lord McAlpine: Of course they should have called me and I would have told them exactly what they learnt later on.
BM: And what was that?
Lord McA: That it was complete rubbish and that I'd only ever been to Wrexham once in my life. They could have saved themselves a lot of agonising and money, actually, if they'd just made that telephone call.
BM: And you would have answered the question?
Lord McA: Course I would have done. I don't have any problem saying that I'm not involved in it.
BM: Did you think of ringing the BBC yourself?
Lord McA: I was in a state of total shock, really. I couldn't understand...you see I was in southern Italy, I don't have television, I don't get newspapers, we don't have the internet. To suddenly find I was mixed up in all this and I didn't know what Newsnight were going to say. It really was a horrendous shock.
BM: Did you have any idea what was being said on Twitter, or on the internet, or the rumours circling around?
Lord McA: No, I really didn't. I mean, I had all this before with Scallywag, that sort of thing, but you know that was 20 odd years ago. But you know what really shattered me was when all of a sudden this has spread all over the world. It's a bit frightening when you suddenly find the depth of knowledge about this, er, this libel.
BM: When you say you were shocked at first, did you also feel anger, and what did you think you could do?
Lord McA: Well I felt very angry but the whole point about anger it gets in your bones, it rots, it rots your life and so I try to put anger on one side. And I really don't have a great deal of anger. I've looked for compensation from the BBC but I'm conscious that this is the licence payer who's going to pay this - not the people who made the programme, not the people who authorised the programme, not the people who told the lie in the first place.
BM: And what about your family? Because you have children...
Lord McA: grandchildren I've got
BM: ...And your wife, grandchildren, friends.
Lord McA: Yeah. My family are..I was very lucky I've got a fine wife who was very erm good about this whole thing and very helpful in dealing with it.
BM: But she must have been upset.
Lord McA: Of course she was upset, she was furious. But you know I have a big family most of whom are engaged in business or charitable undertakings or whole range of things. They're well known. This was as damaging to them as it was to me.
BM: What was the point at which you decided that you were going to come public in a way, that you were actually going to issue a statement, because up til then, you hadn't spoken about it. This was still innuendo and rumour.
Lord McA: Yes, events sort of pre-empted the thing and er, I had hoped not to need to issue a statement, but it became quite obvious by the scale of the accusations, the sheer number of accusations, something had to be done. Then newspapers began to think more sensibly about this - and came up with the fact that this was total mistaken identity.
BM: Yes, because the Guardian newspaper then reported it.
Lord McA: Yes
BM: ...that morning
Lord McA: That was very influential in in changing the tone. Boris' article was extraordinary.
BM: And then of course, the man, the victim, who was in the film on Newsnight, Steve, Steven Messham, he released his statement saying this was actually mistaken identity and the man who he thought was you was not in fact you. What did you think then? Did you hear that?
Lord McA: This was beyond my comprehension. I was very grateful that he said this. I actually have deep sympathy with him. He's obviously a man who has suffered a lot in his life. I've been blessed in my life. I've been very lucky. But he's had a terrible time. But it wasn't me.
BM: It is extraordinary - do you have any idea how that could have happened? I mean it seems an extraordinary story.
Lord McA: It is an extraordinary story and probably more of it will slowly trickle out, over the years, I've no doubt. We'll find things out. People will say things.
BM: But you don't have any idea at this point of time?
Lord McA: Well I have my own ideas, but I'm not about to sort of air them because I strongly feel people ought to be damn sure about something before they air it.
BM: And let me talk about your reputation,
Lord McA: Yes
BM: because how much damage do you think there's done and can this ever be repaired?
Lord McA: No it can't be repaired. It can be repaired to a point. But there is a British proverb which is insidious and awful where people say "there's no smoke without a fire", you know, "he appears to be innocent, but..."
BM: I have to say, someone said that to me about this story.
Lord McA: Yeah
BM: And they weren't connected with the media or anything -
Lord McA: No
BM: and they just said, well "there's no smoke without a fire" and I said, "well, actually there is." But it's very difficult isn't it?
Lord McA: It's very difficult and so this is the legacy that sadly the BBC have left me with.
BM: And you don't think you'll ever be able to recover completely?
Lord McA: Well look, I'm 70 years old, I've got a very dicky heart. And, so I don't want to die. Not for another 20 years at least, but I don't see it going away completely. I think in the light of the arrangements that I can make, my lawyer will make, anyone who does bring it up is going to be very, very foolish.
BM: And if we return briefly back to Steven Messham. He's made a comment that he would, he sincerely apologises and that he would like to meet you and that he would hope...
Lord McA: I don't want to meet him, thank you. I see what he feels like but I just don't want to go there again. I want to get this over. I want to get it cleared up. And, I just don't want to go there.
BM: And if we look at it now, and if you get these settlements, how will you feel? Will it make you feel better? A sense of relief?
Lord McA: Look I've...I will feel better not from settlements, but from my wife, my family, my friends. The people I don't even know who've written to me. That's what makes you feel better. The settlement will just be a warning - don't go there.
BM: There were these allegations in a magazine called Scallywag, a while back. Do you wish you'd dealt with them then? Or why didn't you?
Lord McA: Well they were dealt with - Scallywag went bankrupt, they stopped. Then in the investigation in to these homes in Wales, the Judge took out an injunction to stop people naming people whose names were raised in the course of evidence, er at that time, some of the press reporting said there were, there was dark figures, there were rumours, counter-rumours. Nobody knows where these rumours came from. You know, they've called for, that there was a cover up. But you can't have a cover up where there was no crime. And so, there was rumour and counter-rumour but it wasn't anyone you could get your hands on. You couldn't really do very much for it. And it wasn't by any manner or means persistent. It was spasmodic. It would pop out of the woodwork, but it never had the same impact as suddenly finding it on the BBC. Because strangely enough, all over the world, people believe the BBC to be one, or possibly the only, honest voice.
BM: In your statement you said that you'd be willing to meet all the people who were involved in the inquiries that have been set up by the government.
Lord McA: Yes
BM: Have you met them, or are you planning to meet them and the police?
Lord McA: Well, we've made some offers, but nobody seems very interested in meeting me at the moment.
Lord McA: In terms of official functions, and er functionaries. I think the truth is they're awfully busy with this inquiry.
BM: So, they didn't want you to come along and help.
Lord McA: Not at the moment, no, but I reiterate that, I'd be happy to talk to any official body that wants to talk to me. But I think in the light of the victim having said that he'd got the wrong the man, the BBC having said they've got the wrong man, the Guardian saying they've got the wrong man, I think that's a good spectrum of support. I doubt if anyone wants to waste time chatting with me.
BM: In an article in the Telegraph, Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, Conservative, said to call someone a paedophile is to "consign them to the lowest circle of hell - and while they're still alive". Is that where you've been?
Lord McA: Absolutely. I think it describes pretty much what happened to me in the first few days of this event...it gets in to your bones. It gets into, it makes you angry. And that's extremely bad for you to be angry. And it gets into your soul. You just think there's something wrong with the world.
BM: Did it feel like you were in a different, something, that you're not really yourself? I mean that this was happening to someone else?
Lord McA: Yes, that's one of impressions I had at that time. This is happening to somebody else. This...I'm just hearing this stuff. It's not really me. I didn't recognise myself at any of this.
BM: And, are you beginning to see what has happened. Is the reality of it sinking in?
Lord McA: Oh yes, it's beginning to sink in. But even now, when we go away and I go to bed for the night and I go to sleep. I wake up in the morning and I'll still wonder about this thing. It'll still be on my mind. It becomes part of your conversation, it becomes part of your life. I don't want to be too dramatic about the thing, but Boris got it right. There is nothing as bad as this that you can do to people.
BM: I think it's being accused of being a paedophile.
Lord McA: Yeah, yeah. Because they are quite rightly figures of public hatred. And suddenly to find yourself a figure of public hatred, unjustifiably, is terrifying.