England cricket chiefs rallied round star all-rounder Ben Stokes after he criticised a British newspaper report about a family tragedy more than 30 years ago. Tom Harrison, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), said he was “disgusted and appalled” by the front-page story in The Sun tabloid on September 17.
Stokes, who helped England win the World Cup this year and played a starring role in the just-completed drawn Ashes series against Australia, has called the report “utterly disgusting” and said it touched on “deeply personal and traumatic events” involving the deaths of members of his New Zealand-based family more than 30 years ago.
Stokes, 28, was born in New Zealand but moved to England as a boy. In an ECB statement, Harrison said: “We, like the wider sporting world, are disgusted and appalled at the actions taken in revealing the tragic events from Ben’s past.
“We are saddened that an intrusion of this magnitude was deemed necessary in order to sell newspapers or secure clicks. Ben’s exploits at Lord’s and Headingley cemented his place in cricket history this summer — we are sure the whole sport, and the country, stands behind him in support.”
In his own statement, Stokes said: “It is hard to find words that adequately describe such low and despicable behaviour, disguised as journalism. I cannot conceive of anything more immoral, heartless or contemptuous to the feelings and circumstances of my family.
“For more than three decades, my family has worked hard to deal with the private trauma inevitably associated with these events and has taken great care to keep private what were deeply personal and traumatic events.”
The Sun defended its approach, saying the story had received extensive media coverage in New Zealand at the time.
A spokeswoman for the newspaper said: “The Sun has the utmost sympathy for Ben Stokes and his mother but it is only right to point out the story was told with the co-operation of a family member who supplied details, provided photographs and posed for pictures.
“The tragedy is also a matter of public record and was the subject of extensive front-page publicity in New Zealand at the time.
“The Sun has huge admiration for Ben Stokes and we were delighted to celebrate his sporting heroics this summer. He was contacted prior to publication and at no stage did he or his representatives ask us not to publish the story.”
The story has also revived a debate about the ethics of the British press. Press regulation campaign group Hacked Off condemned the story. Hacked off board member Steve Barnett told BBC radio the story was “graphic evidence” of a newspaper “driving a coach and horses through their own code of conduct”.
“He’s done absolutely nothing wrong and his own family history is dragged through the mud. I can’t see any justification for this other than the fact it will sell papers. It was a brutally commercial decision which took no account of their own code of conduct, which says everyone deserves respect for their private and family life,” Barnett said.
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