It's probably too late now to kill the "married twins" story. Short of Lord Alton himself stepping forward and admitting he made the whole thing up - and perhaps even then - it will remain for all time one of those weird-but-terrible "real life" stories, recycled endlessly, trotted out as evidence of the strange workings of chance, or as proof of the existence of "genetic sexual attraction".
I blame the BBC. Whether or not the Beeb had the story first (it might have been the Evening Standard) they ran it on all their main bulletins, gave it prominence on their website, and consulted various legal and psychological experts without once pausing to question the strength of the evidence or the trustworthiness of the source. Their version is by far the most frequently-cited and most "authoritative" record of the supposed case.
The BBC always stresses the excellence and renown of its news-gathering operation in any defence of its protected and pre-eminent position, funded by a compulsory and increasingly anachronistic licence fee. It revels in its supposed status as the world's most trusted purveyor of reliable information. Its press office boasts:
BBC News and Current Affairs is at the heart of the BBC's output.
It is the largest broadcast news operation in the world, producing about 120 hours of output daily (44,000 hours a year), with more than 2,000 journalists.
These days, however, much of its journalism appears to consist of little more than recycling press-releases and dressing up the words of spin-doctors as political reporting. Proper investigations do still exist in the BBC, but seem rarely to make it into the main news slots. Certainly none of those fabled 2,000 journalists seems to have done anything to check out this particular fairy-tale.
David Icke, a man whose skewed outlook on the world occasionally gives him a perspective of detached lucidity, has coined the term "repeaters" for practitioners of this type of lazy journalism. "They are just repeaters, repeating what they are told to believe".
One of the remarkable aspects of this story was the way in which so little information was stretched so far. The original speech by Lord Alton, made in December in the House of Lords, contained literally nothing in the way of verifiable fact, and almost nothing in terms of detail. Just to recap, all he actually said was that the case
involved the normal birth of twins who were separated at birth and adopted by separate parents. They were never told that they were twins. They met later in life and felt an inevitable attraction, and the judge had to deal with the consequences of the marriage that they entered into and all the issues of their separation.
Compare this with how the Mirror reported the story on Saturday:
The couple, who did not have children, met as adults and went on to have a happy marriage until DNA tests revealed they are related.
Their marriage was annulled at a special hearing in London behind closed doors. A High Court judge ruled the marriage had never validly existed.
Apart from "met as adults" and "the marriage was annulled", every word in this account appears to have been invented, presumably by the reporter trying to sex things up. DNA tests? No children? Happy marriage? Of course, no-one's going to contradict them. If the Mirror really believed the story they might have been more circumspect.
Worse still was the Daily Star:
The twins were adopted by separate families in different parts of Britain when they were just days old.
In an amazing twist of fate, the pair met as adults and fell in love. They were said to have felt an instant attraction after meeting in a nightclub.
They held a traditional white wedding.
But not long after their honeymoon, the bombshell news was revealed.
All made-up nonsense, as is the following juicy tidbit:
They were told they could not live as man and wife and were in an illegal and incestuous relationship....
They have agreed never to live together or have sex with each other again.
The whole account is a work of fiction, if a remarkably unimaginative one (met in a nightclub? who'd have thought it!) . But then the Star can say anything it likes. After all, as the report went on to affirm,
The judges who ruled that their marriage was invalid ordered that complete secrecy should surround the case.
One wonders how any these details could have been brought to the Star's attention, given the "complete secrecy" ordered by the courts.
The ultimate irony, however, must be that the only news organisation which bothered to research the facts with any degree of rigour was (drumroll) the News of the World.
Yes indeed. The Screws has it.
On Saturday, they took the (one would have thought) obvious step of contacting the President of the Family Division of the High Court Sir Mark Potter.
"This is the first I have heard of it," he said.
"I know of neither any judge who presided over such a case nor of the case itself."
Which, of course, kills the story stone dead. At least it ought to.
Lord Alton's Tall Story