Friday, March 18, 2011

John Follain Foreign Correspondent UK Sunday Times Chats Online About Case And Italian Politics

Posted by Peter Quennell

Transcript of a live online Sunday Times discussion with foreign correspondent John Follain on Monday 7 March 2011.

Sunday Times Foreign Editor:

Welcome to John Follain, foreign correspondent for The Sunday Times who has covered Italy since 1998. He has written a book about the murder of Meredith Kercher which is out in August. So let’s begin, John is waiting for your questions

John Follain:

Hello, all set and looking forward to your questions - about the Kercher case, Berlusconi or anything you see fit to throw at me

[Comment From James Ellington]

Hi John, How do you think Amanda Knox managed to gain celebrity status given the gruesome nature of the crime she has been convicted of?

John Follain:

Hi James,

Should we blame the media or the readers? Seriously, I think one big reason why this case has interested people is that they identify themselves with the parents of Meredith Kercher, or of Amanda Knox.

As for Amanda Knox being a celebrity, I’d say the twists and turns of the investigation and the trial have a lot to do with it - as well as her looks and the fact that it has to be a rarity to have an American exchange student with such a background being convicted (the appeal trial is now on, of coruse) of such a crime.

[Comment From Freddy: ]

What do you make of the film? It doesn’t seem to have gone down too well with anyone involved

John Follain:

Hi Freddy,

Having covered so many of the events, it was very moving to see some of them on screen - the actors do look very much like the real protagonists. But I did find it peppered with inaccuracies and callous in its depiction of events just before Meredith’s death - including a completely unbelievable scene showing Rudy Guede embracing Meredith.

[Comment From Rebecca Ward]

So let’s cut to the chase, do you think Amanda Knox to be guilty or has she been wrongly convicted? And what do you base your opinion on?

John Follain:

Hi Rebecca,

Ah, thought that one would come up. Under Italian law, Knox’s conviction doesn’t become definitive until she has exhausted her chances of appeal - meaning the current appeal trial and a possible Supreme Court trial.

Having said that, I do think she played a role in the murder, along with her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and Rudy Guede. That’s an opinion based on the evidence against her including the staged burglary, the DNA samples involving all three, and her behaviour at the police station

[Comment From Suzanna, Gloucs]

I have read that Guede was able to elect to go down the “˜fast track’ route for trial. What is that? Sounds like a McDonalds version of the law?

John Follain:

Hi Suzanna,

Not McDonalds but the Italian equivalent of plea-bargaining in a way. The fast track route involves a defendant agreeing to a faster trial, with fewer witnesses and no jury among other conditions, in exchange for a lower sentence if convicted.

But there’s no doubt many in Perugia and elsewhere have been shocked by his final prison sentence of 16 years, which will be greatly reduced for good behaviour among other factors.

[Comment From JJ ]

Can Knox be thought of as credible when saying she had been assaulted and asked questions under duress when being interviewed in light of the Facebook comments and images of swords and rituals?

John Follain:

Hi JJ,

I think it’s hard to accept that she accused an innocent man - Patrick Lumumba, the owner of the bar where she worked - simply because the police supposedly “pressured” her into doing so.

When she appeared in court and was questioned at length by the prosecutor over this, she didn’t come up with a convincing explanation. Plus there’s the fact that the day after the police interrogation, she repeated the scenario of Lumumba killing Meredith at the cottage.

[Comment From Charles and Jane]

I’ve seen interviews with Knox’s parents ““ difficult not to make assumptions here ““ but they seem rather unhinged (especially the mother). I realise it is not the everyday situation you find yourself in re your children but I think they do AK rather more harm than good?

John Follain:

Hi Charles and Jane,

To be honest, no, I don’t think they’re unhinged. I spent more than three hours interviewing them and AK’s sister Deanna in Seattle, and they came across as determined to bring Ak back from Perugia.

As for them doing AK more harm than good, the massive PR campaign they launched didn’t go down well with at least one of her Perugia lawyers, and it has backfired with the courts in the sense that judges in Perugia think the attacks - especially against prosecutor Giuliano Mignini are unjustified.

[Comment From james forrest]

What was the greatest challenge you faced in writing your book and did you meet any of the people connected with the case during the course of your research? Would you be interested to interview Knox if you had the chance? What question would you most like to ask her if you had the chance?

John Follain:

Hi James,

I set out to re-construct events from the moment Meredith and AK arrived in Perugia, through the murder and the subsequent investigation, right up to the current appeal trial - as much as possible describing not only what the main characters did but also what they thought at the time.

So the challenge was obtaining numerous, repeat interviews - one was six hours long - with as many of the characters including the prosecutors, detectives, lawyers, experts, relatives and friends among many others.

Yes of course, which journalist who has followed the case wouldn’t like to interview AK? But she is banned from giving interviews as long as her conviction, or acquittal, hasn’t become definitive. I don’t have a top question for her, what I would like is to ask her to go through events in as detailed a way as possible.

[Comment From Peter Polites]

What do you expect to be the outcome of the Amanda Knox appeal which has been delayed so forensics can carry out a review of the evidence used to convict her? When do you think we will hear the result? And do you think there is the possibility that the forensic evidence was contaminated?

John Follain:

Hi Peter,

Given that more than 20 judges have so far ruled that AK is guilty, I think the appeal court will head the same way - although it could reducer both the sentences for both her and Sollecito.

But no thinks the outcome is certain - the key hearing will be in late May when the court-appointed experts report back on their review of the DNA evidence found on the kitchen knife believed to be the murder weapon, and on Meredith’s bra clasp in her bedroom.

Yes contamination is in theory always possible but I see nothing to indicate that happened here.

[Comment From Ivor Gibson]

There have been heaps of books published about the case of Amanda Knox ““ what does yours do that the others don’t?

John Follain:

Hi Ivor,

I hope that my book offers the fullest-possible account of the case - I hope the reader will feel he or she are with Meredith and her friends in her last weeks in Perugia, behind the shoulder of the prosecutor or the detective as they make their discoveries, with AK and her mother as they talk in prison, and present in the courtroom at the key moments of the trial.

[Comment From Sammy]

what is the reaction of the average Italian to the bunga bunga scandal? disgust or secret envy?

John Follain:

Hi Sammy,

If you believe Berlusconi, 51% are for him, and 49% are against him. The truth is the average Italian does think the scandal is pretty awful but that doesn’t stop a big minority - a majority if you include his coalition partners - thinking Berlusconi is the best man for the job right now.

Basically the Left has yet to persuade anyone apart from diehard followers that it does have a programme for government and can rule the country efficiently.

[Comment From Elise Crothers]

I read that Berlusconi thinks he can prove in court that Karima El Mahroug was not underage when he allegedly paid her for sex ““ what do you think will be the outcome of his trial in Milan next month?

John Follain:

Hi Elise,

The prosecutors are confident that Berlusconi’s claim that she wasn’t underage will be thrown out by the court - her date of birth is on her Moroccan passport and as her father points out, they wouldn’t have spent such a long time trying to get her into community centres for minors if she was an adult.

The outcome is a very tough one to predict, but one near-certainty is that Berlusconi won’t try to stop the trial going ahead. He wants to fight his corner in court by attending all the hearings.

If he is convicted, he would most likely get a suspended sentence because he is over 70 and because he has a clean record.

And if he is convicted, he has said he will stay on as prime minister.

[Comment From jude]

what does Bunga Bunga mean? I think I know but do I?

John Follain:

Hi Jude,

I think I know too, but only on the basis of what Ruby told prosecutors before the whole scandal became public.

And that’s second-hand, in that she said that Berlusconi told her that it was something copied from Gadaffi’s harem - ie. an orgy.

But then again, Berlusconi’s people have claimed it’s no such thing but just a joke about two ministers on an island who come to an obscene end with natives (don’t ask).

And the newcaster Emilio Fede, who is accused of aiding and abetting prostitution for bringing showgirls to Berlusconi’s home, said it was the name of the sofa

[Comment From Mary]

How can you stay on as Prime Minister if you are convicted?

John Follain:

Hi Mary,

A prison sentence of three years or more would automatically include Berlusconi being barred from holding public office for a year or more. But that wouldn’t become definitive until the case was ruled on by the Supreme Court, which could be in a couple of years or more.

[Comment From Simon Kennedy, Edinburgh]

Last year Berlusconi fawned over Gadaffi, treating him like royalty on his visit to Italy and has also described him as “my great friend”. Now they seem to have changed direction due to the threat to their energy supplies. Should Italy take a stand against Gadaffi and what would this mean for the Italian economy?

John Follain:

Hi Simon,

Despite Berlusconi’s previous “friendship”, and embarrassing scenes including Gadaffi being allowed to lecture young women - all from a PR agency - bussed in to attend his lecture on “Islam”, Italy says it will stick to whatever the EU and the UN decide on sanctions.

But it’s been noticeable that Libya’s interests in Italy - there’s even a stake in the Juventus soccer club - have gone untouched officially because they’re not held by Gadaffi himself or his clan.

The trouble for Italy is that taking too strong a stand against Gadaffi could threaten vital energy supplies.

And the Italians are quick to point out that they were not alone in giving Gadaffi red-carpet treatment.

[Comment From Gemima9]

how will Italy cope with the thousands of North African migrants arriving in the country after the unrest in the middle east?

John Follain:

Hi Gemima,

The government hopes it won’t be alone in coping and that other EU countries will step in, because it simply doesn’t have the facilites to cope with the possible arrivals - some estimates are around 250,000 to Italy alone.

The emergency plans drawn up by the government including using converted barracks to house them but this would all be temporary. And the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has regularly criticised the way Italy has been dealing with previous cases, saying it doesn’t give them a proper chance to claim and obtain refugee status.

Sunday Times Foreign Editor

Well, that’s all we have time for folks. Thank you for all the questions. Thanks to John for giving us his time. Do tune in next week at the same time for another heavy-weight topic. Have a good week. Bye.

John Follain:

Thanks to you all for your interest, and hope we get another chance to talk soon.

According to a BBC report Bunga Bunga is the nickname of Greman actress Sabina Began who organizes Mr Berlusconi’s controversial parties. Therefore “bunga bunga parties”.

Not everybody is buying that explanation it seems. Other versions keep surfacing.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 03/18/11 at 04:31 PM in News media & moviesGreat reportingMedia news


From the contents of this chat it looks like we are going to have another pretty good book on the case. The more, the better. I’m not sure I will be buying it as I have already read Darkness Descending and of course I have read the many posts here.

There is, of course, a top question for AK but had he met her he would only have had one answer - for now.

He has obviously read Massei (three cheers - someone has) but he will not have had access to the Court of Cassation Report on Guede unless someone at the Sunday Times, or an italian friend, has done a translation for him.

Posted by James Raper on 03/18/11 at 06:16 PM | #

By Storm Roberts (Innai)

I disagree, I don’t think we need more books.  As this one is on it’s way I hope it is “quality” - as James says it looks like Mr. Follain has read the Massei Report and actually understands the evidence, so fingers crossed.

I hope Mr. Kercher is able to publish his book on Meredith - that one will be worth reading.  I don’t like the sub-heading of this book - sounds very sensational.

Posted by Nolongeramember on 03/18/11 at 06:44 PM | #

While I have not met John Follain I do know that his colleagues in Rome are in awe of his reporting and especially his meticulous, deep and very fair books.

He always seeks to write the “book of record” which explains why this one was not out of the starter gate but my guess is if one wants to read only one that gets it just right this will be the one to get.

I do know that he speaks excellent Italian (and French) and my guess is he has read the final report on Guede in Italian. We should be posting an English translation soon.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 03/18/11 at 06:49 PM | #

Another examination and discussion ad finitum of the now famous crime scene, another exert outlining the first murder of the Facebook generation , as it has been somewhere. Dear Meredith Kercher, evil Amanda and her nasty stooges. It calls for a pop song (No one will take offence , I hope) :

Posted by aethelred23 on 03/18/11 at 09:31 PM | #

Follain is an honest journalist.  He highlights two facts that nobody (including the courts, where it counts) can explain by innocent means:  (1) the staged burglary and (2) the accusation of murder against an innocent man.

Those two points really are the elephants in the room.  There’s no getting around them.  And that’s why Knox will have a long time in prison to think about what she did the night of 01 NOV 2007.

Posted by Stilicho on 03/18/11 at 09:37 PM | #

Very interesting interview. I have found Follain’s reporting to be meticulous and objective. There have been too many books written about this case, yes, but mostly they have been bad and/or agenda-driven. It is time for a thorough, objective and full accounting.

Posted by Skeptical Bystander on 03/18/11 at 09:38 PM | #

Fantastic interview! One thing, when he said with regards to the Lifetime Movie and what he didn’t like “including a completely unbelievable scene showing Rudy Guede embracing Meredith”. I have read several other references to this particular scene by posters on this site. I saw the movie, and wasn’t the scene in question depicted in reference to Rudy’s “story” about what happened and was not intended to be believed as fact by the viewers since the court, based on his conviction, obviously didn’t buy this version of the facts anyway? I know this movie topic is getting to be almost old news, but since it was mentioned here I thought I would bring this up.

Posted by Kazwell on 03/19/11 at 01:59 AM | #

Amazing interview with a journalist who knows about the facts and what he is writing about! Can’t wait to read his book!!!

Posted by tempusfugit on 03/19/11 at 04:54 AM | #

Off topic, but what has happened to the PMF forum?  I hope I’m wrong, but it looks like it’s been taken down - any news?

Posted by Daoud on 03/19/11 at 07:06 AM | #


On the top of the page it says that the page needs to be rebuilt and will be down for a few days. The page is down to technical problems, it says.

I have to add though that this is the weirdest software upgrade I have ever seen.

Posted by Nell on 03/19/11 at 11:28 AM | #

Thanks Nell - initially I got a completely blank page when trying to login in, or visit the PMF site; then for a brief while I got the PMF site home page with a message saying that the site was unavailable.

Now I get what looks like an advert for, asking if is ‘your domain name’, and suggesting that it is for sale - that doesn’t sound much like an upgrade to me.

But I shall persevere, and hope that you’re right!

Posted by Daoud on 03/19/11 at 11:37 AM | #

Hi Daoud and Nell. PMF will for sure be back any day at its usual address with its usual look and all files intact.

Like us they all have day-jobs and the site rebuild (which it is - not just a software upgrade) of that forum with its legacy of several softwares and several host servers is not simple.

It would be nice if there was a text message there instead of the GoDaddy thing.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 03/19/11 at 02:17 PM | #

Here is one book on the case that sounds like it is credible. I will read it.

Posted by friar fudd on 03/19/11 at 04:16 PM | #

Quote from John Follain:

“That’s an opinion based on the evidence against her including the staged burglary, the DNA samples involving all three, and her behaviour at the police station”

I like quotes like this,they are plain and simple.
It cuts out all the bizarre excuses and explanations that come from the delusional? families of Knox and Mellas, their losing PR campaign and their misguided and equally delusional supporters.

“and her behaviour at the police station”

This to me, is the most telling.

I do not care what anybody says to the contrary; as necking, laughing, giggling, pulling cross eyed faces with ones tongue stuck out quite simply is EXTREMELY bizarre behaviour from someone who shared a house and was “friends” with the victim who had JUST been found dead in the most gruesome circumstances one can imagine in the room next door to theirs in the house they shared.

As well as beating ones own head and shaking violently when taken off for a routine fingerprinting procedure (something All the housemates had to do AND associated friends of Meredith too) we then have the cartwheels Knox was performing in the police station.

Her family, friends and supporters would have people believe that this is quite normal behaviour, BUT IT QUITE SIMPLY ISN’T.
At best it is callous in its disregard.
I do not for the life of me know how some people can give credence to this behaviour and deem it normal. It isn’t.

Thankfully, the people who do matter in this case can quite simply see it isn’t and also see it for what it is.

We don’t know everything that was included in the 10,000 page report but we do know everything in the Massei motivational report thanks to the hard work of the contributors of PMF.
Other small things we know, but we know not everything the seasoned murder investigators detected after they had Knox and Sollecito close up and in front of them.
They were so close they could smell Knox’s foul body odour for instance - which is at odds with her story of showering that morning.
Then we have the investigators saying Knox and Sollecito were obstructive and uncooperative during initial and routine questioning.

The list is endless - I just wish this was all over and the long suffering Kercher family could find a kind of peace and closure from the suffering the Knox and Mellas families are relentlessly putting them through.
It is disgraceful behaviour on their part and far transcends any semblence of innocence they blindly believe their daughter to be.

R.I.P. Meredith Kercher.

Posted by Black Dog on 03/19/11 at 05:30 PM | #

“they could smell Knox’s foul body odour” I’m surprised that her parents didn’t defend this by saying it was normal for her to have foul body odor. “That’s just our Amanda”.

Posted by Kazwell on 03/20/11 at 01:07 AM | #

I agree with the other voices here: John Follain’s responses were very sharp and promise a sensible book based on intelligent review of the evidence.

Re Kazwell’s comment: “One thing, when he said with regards to the Lifetime Movie and what he didn’t like ‘including a completely unbelievable scene showing Rudy Guede embracing Meredith’.... wasn’t the scene in question depicted in reference to Rudy’s “story” about what happened and was not intended to be believed as fact by the viewers since the court, based on his conviction, obviously didn’t buy this version of the facts anyway?”

It’s true that the scene wasn’t presented as fact but as Rudy’s version of what happened that night.  However, it comes in the context of Amanda Knox’s lawyer telling Edda Mellas that Rudy has changed his story and now says that Amanda and Raffaele were there at the cottage.  So in the dramatic unfolding of the film, it’s a step removed from Rudy himself. 

In addition, that scene is part of a summary of Rudy’s fuller statement, which ends with a view of Knox and Sollecito running away up the staircase—in line with the report by the Italian woman who heard a loud scream and looked out her window.  Many people watching the whole scene wouldn’t know what is true and what isn’t.

Ultimately, the Lifetime film makers chose to depict that tasteless scene rather than have the lawyer report it as simply a claim made by Rudy.  By showing Rudy Guede and Meredith necking on the bed, the scene takes on a life of its own.  Very offensive.

Posted by Tullia on 03/20/11 at 03:29 AM | #

Thank you for your input regarding my question of the “Rudy scene” controversy, I am looking at it now with a more clear perspective. Yes, I agree it was shown for shock value and if I recall, part of this scene was shown in the advertisement which of course to someone not familiar with the case and never actually watched the movie will walk away with the impression this was considered “factual”. Not to mention those who saw the movie and weren’t paying close enough attention to it’s context. Thanks again for clearing this point up.

Posted by Kazwell on 03/20/11 at 04:35 AM | #

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