PEDIGREE CHUMPSOne for Friday lunchtime: How the world’s media were hoaxed by a petfood salesman with an obsession about capital punishment.
THE macabre tale of a Suffolk craftsman who sold handcarved gallows to despotic regimes such as those in Zimbabwe and Libya gripped the world’s media.To be filed under: "You couldn't make it up, but somebody did"...
David Lucas, 45, a businessman, told an undercover reporter that he sold his “mobile execution units” for up to £12,000 each. More than 30 top newspapers, including The Guardian, the Daily Mail, and the Sydney Morning Herald followed the story. Commentators condemned his shocking opportunism and Jeremy Vine debated the issue on Radio 2.
BBC and Sky News sent crews to the village of Mildenhall to film him inside his pet-food shop. Amnesty International accused him of making “a mockery of the UK’s efforts to oppose the death penalty around the world”.
Glowering behind his bushy beard, Mr Lucas posed defiantly next to gallows outside his shop, and explained that he had been selling execution equipment for ten years. “It is for law and order, not for bad people to get hold of. You are safer on the streets of Libya and African countries than you are here,” he told reporters.
But now it is the veracity of Mr Lucas that hangs in the balance. His business partner has come forward to claim that the story is an elaborate hoax.
Brian Rutterford, who owns the land where Mr Lucas has his shop, said yesterday that his partner had been fooling everyone. “It is a hoax that has got completely out of hand. I know David well, work closely with him and I know he has built one set of gallows — the one that remains outside his shop on my land. The rest is rubbish,” he said.
“He has no sale receipts for gallows because he hasn’t sold any. He keeps up the pretence because he likes talking to the media about capital punishment,” he added. “David sells pet food from my property and I speak to him twice a week. If he was building gallows for foreign governments, I think I would know about it.”
And full marks to the Times reporters who managed to get away with sarcastically calling the Daily Mail a "top newspaper". Well done.