Linda Melvern

Linda Melvern was a news reporter on the Evening Standard newspaper at a time when five editions a day were produced from a cramped and dingy office in Shoe Lane just off Fleet Street in London. She worked under the editorships of Charles Wintour and Simon Jenkins. She was recruited to the Sunday Times by Sir Harold Evans following her exclusive coverage of the anti-Apartheid movement and her frontpage story confirming that Steve Biko, the South African Black Consciousness leader, had been brutally murdered in police custody in September 1977.

For several years Melvern worked in the Sunday Times newsroom and reported the IRA hunger strikes in the Maze prison, Belfast, Northern Ireland including the funeral of Frankie Hughes. She produced a series of articles on the eavesdropping capabilities of the UK government communications headquarters (GCHQ), and the agreement made in 1946, the UKUSA agreement, with the US National Security Agency (NSA) that operates a large base in Menwith Hill, Harrogate. West Yorkshire.

One of these stories was published in the New Statesman in 1980 with Duncan Campbell.

In 1982, Melvern covered the arrest and conviction of the GCHQ spy Geoffrey Arthur Prime and his betrayal of the extraordinary capabilities of the satellite surveillance system known as Byeman to the Soviet Union. Prime had avoided detection due to repeated failures of the GCHQ internal security system.

Her first book after leaving the newspaper was Techno-Bandits (Co-authored, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1983), an account of the illicit Soviet efforts to acquire American technology. It was translated into Japanese, Norwegian, and Swedish.

In 1986, Melvern published The End of the Street (Methuen), the exclusive story of the Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the owner of four British newspapers, and his conspiracy to destroy the Fleet Street print unions and establish new technology in print production. After a series of bitter negotiations with trade union leaders, the Chapel Fathers, Murdoch provoked his workforce to strike and then fired them. Overnight his 5,500 employees lost their jobs and he transferred production of his four newspapers to a new plant he had secretly prepared and to where he now proceeded to produce all his titles. The move from Fleet Street to Wapping in the east end of London caused the loss of one edition of one of his titles — The Times. In a matter of hours, Murdoch destroyed the craft, tradition and ritual that had been in place for centuries. A state-of-the-art computer system in Wapping had been smuggled into the plant in a cloak and dagger operation and aspects of the planning of Wapping were revealed to the author by one of Murdoch’s closet lieutenants. She obtained copies of the minutes of meetings to plot the Wapping revolution and how best to keep the whole operation a secret.

Linda Melvern began research into the circumstances of the genocide of the Tutsi in April 1994 in New York while completing her third book — a history of the United Nations commissioned for the organisation’s forthcoming fiftieth commemoration. The book was the basis of a Channel Four television series UN Blues, broadcast in three episodes in January 1995 and produced by Claudia Milne (Twenty-Twenty) with Dorothy Byrne, Jenny Crowther, and Howard Bradburn. The third programme in the series told the story of UN peacekeeping and its use and abuse by the great powers in three great tragedies that shaped the post-Cold War world – in former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Rwanda.

As those terrible months unfolded in April-July 1994, in a series of interviews with key Security Council ambassadors and UN officials, Melvern saw at first hand the indifference there was and the refusal to take the slightest action over Rwanda. Melvern published the first detailed account of the abandonment of the people of Rwanda by the UN Security Council in a feature length article over two pages in The Scotsman, (“Death by Diplomacy”), January 1995 including how elements of the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) and their Force Commander, Lt. Gen Romeo Dallaire defied the Council and refused the order of the Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to withdraw. It told of the first crucial hours of the genocide, its planned nature, the murder of ten UN peacekeepers from Belgium and the systematic elimination of Rwanda’s political opposition. The enormity of the failure was yet to be realised.

On November 26, 1995, Night and Day magazine extracted the first chapter of The Ultimate Crime, an account of the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi and the refusal of the big powers to intervene.

A People Betrayed. The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide, (Zed Books) was published in 2000 and The Observer newspaper published the book’s main findings. It was chosen book of the year in 2001 by British lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, QC. Melvern was the runner-up in the 2001 Martha Gellhorn journalism award. The book was revised and updated in 2009.

A new edition of A People Betrayed was published in 2019 for the 25th commemoration of the genocide. In a new introduction Melvern wrote:

 “That the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi of Rwanda proceeded unhindered, accompanied by near universal indifference, will remains one of the greatest scandals of the twentieth century”.

In April 2004 Linda Melvern published her second book on the genocide, Conspiracy to Murder. The Rwandan Genocide (Verso), giving a detailed account of genocide planning, named those who were responsible, and described how the genocide was perpetrated. The idea behind a second book was because of access gained to files and records in Kigali that had been abandoned when the génocidaires fled the capital; the letters, memoranda, reports and other documents from military intelligence and the security services gave a unique insight into the minds of the conspirators and the racist ideology of Hutu Power underpinning the killing.

Other books include United Nations, a book for children (Franklin Watts World Organisations Series, 2001).

Rwanda 2004 Vestiges of a Genocide. Pieter Hugo, Linda Melvern. Odee Press. Limited Edition 500 copies.

Linda Melvern published Intent to Deceive (Verso) in February 2020 and she continues researching and writing about the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi and the campaign to deny it.