Crikey editor Misha Ketchell writes:

You’d be forgiven for thinking the story of two sisters from
country Victoria stabbed to death in their Melbourne home last weekend
would be shocking and horrible enough to need no embellishment – but
not at the Herald Sun.

On Monday the Herald Sun gave over page three to an exclusive
story, by police reporter Shelley Hodgson, about how sisters
Laura and Collen Irwin feared they were being stalked before they were
stabbed to death at home on Saturday.

In what at first seemed to be a handy bit of shoe-leather reporting,
Hodgson, whose story appeared under the tagline “Stalker feared in
stabbing deaths” quoted an “acquaintance of the sisters,” who spoke on
the condition of anonymity and said “I believe Laura was stalked and
she was aware of it.”

It’s a terrifying twist on an already gruesome tale – and it’s also wrong, as police and the grieving father of the
young victims told AAP reporters the next morning (published in The Age
online here). The Herald Sun hasn’t bothered to fess up to the error, even though their incorrect report traumatised the grieving parents:

But the girls’ father Allan Irwin said he and his wife Shirley
were disturbed by reports of a stalker.

“That’s bullshit. We heard that on the radio this morning
ourselves,” Mr Irwin told AAP.

“How would they know?

“If Laura or either of the girls had any idea (of a stalker), we
would have heard about it.

“So I’m 100% sure that’s not correct.

“We haven’t heard anything from the police, so that’s just
made-up sh*t.”

What’s more the stalker angle isn’t even the work of the Herald Sun – it’s lifted from this AAP story, published at 9pm the previous night, although AAP is nowhere credited in the copy.

By Julie Tullberg

MELBOURNE, Jan 29 AAP – Two sisters stabbed to death at their home in
Melbourne’s west on Saturday night are believed to have been stalked by
their killer.

Laura and Colleen Irwin, originally from Toolamba near Shepparton,
suffered fatal stab wounds at their home in Miller Street, Altona
North.

Laura, believed to be about 24, and Colleen, about 21, were discovered
about 9pm (AEDT) on Saturday by a friend who raised the alarm.

Police arrested a 29-year-old man found in a nearby street, but he was released by detectives early today.

An acquaintance of the sisters, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AAP it was believed the young women had been stalked.

The acquaintance said Laura Irwin had stayed at a friend’s place in Kew
last week, well away from her Altona North home, for fear of the
stalker.

“I believe Laura was being stalked and she was aware of it,” the acquaintance said.

AAP is jointly owned by Fairfax and News Limited, but that’s not an excuse
for using their copy unsourced. And although we can’t know for certain the
identity of Julie Tullberg’s unnamed source, journalists following
the case strongly suspect the comments come from a local school principal whose
knowledge of the two sisters was fairly distant and whose speculation about
stalkers was just that.

Crikey’s in no position to get on a high horse about the use of unnamed
sources, but it’s clearly not good enough when something as thin as
anonymous speculation is the sole source of an inaccurate report
that goes uncorrected, and along the way adds to the grief of victims of an unthinkable crime.

Peter Fray

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