The Sydney Morning Herald has issued an apology a week after printing a column by Paul Sheehan about an alleged gang rape in Sydney which he later acknowledged had not been justified.
On Thursday Sheehan penned a column admitting his original claims had been flawed
In the original column, which was corrected on Wednesday, Sheehan quoted alleged victim “Louise” as using the term “MERC – Middle Eastern raping c—s”, included explicit details of the humiliating ordeal the woman was alleged to have experienced, as well as allegations NSW Police failed to act on the claims.
Today’s apology from the Fairfax paper acknowledges “aspersions” cast against the Middle Eastern Community and police, and ends with the line: “The Herald sincerely regrets the hurt and distress this report caused to these groups, and unreservedly apologises.”
Mumbrella understands there has also been at least one complaint about the column lodged with the Australian Press Council.
While the complaint does not indicate an investigation will take place, Mumbrella understands if one does occur that Sheehan’s follow-up column will be taken into consideration.
In a subsequent column on Thursday, Sheehan admitted he should not have penned the original article due to a lack of evidence, admitting it has since emerged that the woman made similar claims of rape at rallies organised by the radical anti-Islam group Reclaim Australia.
He wrote: “I had not considered the possibility that her story had been carefully constructed on a foundation of embellishments, false memories and fabrications.”
While he admitted he owed certain groups, including the police, an apology the column stopped short of issuing one.
Jenna Price, a columnist for Fairfax Media’s The Canberra Times and Daily Life, has called on Sheehan to apologise to sexual assault survivors, the Muslim community and Fairfax Media readers.
She wrote: “To me, however, he mostly owes readers an apology. Not just for this story but for all the others where he has demeaned and degraded members of the Muslim community. I did a quick check of Sheehan’s work over the last year. More than 30 mentions of Islam or Muslims in 30 different stories and there is nearly always a faint air of menace.”
Fairfax has not yet responded to Mumbrella’s questions over how the column came to be published.
The SMH apology in full:
In last Monday’s paper, the Herald reported the details of an alleged sexual assault under the headline “The horrifying untold story of Louise“.
A subsequent column printed in last Thursday’s edition, “The story of Louise: why the police have no case to answer, but I do“, acknowledged key elements of the original story were unable to be substantiated.
The original story, which has been corrected, included aspersions against the Middle Eastern community and raised untested allegations of inaction against the NSW Police.
The Herald sincerely regrets the hurt and distress this report caused to these groups, and unreservedly apologises.
Miranda Ward and Alex Hayes