Town's anger as newspaper gaffe sees religious ceremony ridiculed

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FIVE days after a traditional ceremony in which Satan’s effigy was reduced to ashes in the flames of a bonfire on Curly Hill, the townsfolk of Innerleithen were taken aback when they read an account of the event in their local newspaper.

The Southern Reporter - named the best weekly newspaper in Scotland 2002 and 2003 - carried a full-page of reports and pictures of the annual St Ronan’s Games Week and Cleikum Ceremonies, the highlight of the town’s calendar.

An internal investigation is under way at the Selkirk-based newspaper after horrified readers, among them staunch common riding supporters, spotted captions which appeared to ridicule the very essence of Borders history and tradition.

It is understood the paper’s switchboard received dozens of calls from irate readers, seeking an explanation for what one insider labelled "a truly incredible mistake".

One of the picture captions ran: "Caption, caption about these pious little bleeders and the lady busser doing that interminably boring thing so cherished by Border festivals. What on earth is going on in this picture - these people have got to get out more often for their peace of mind and sanity."

Within an hour of the 22 July edition hitting the streets of the town a mixture of outrage and disbelief spread.

Norman Scott, the treasurer of the games committee, said: "We had a great week of celebrations and now the Southern Reporter has destroyed everything.

"We have a committee meeting next month, but it will be my intention to seek legal advice with a view to suing for substantial compensation."

Mr Scott described the rogue captions as an insult to every common riding in the Borders.

"Whoever wrote those words must be at least in league with the devil," said Mr Scott.

"It’s a right slap in the face for all of the kids who took part and all the volunteers who put endless hours into organising the ceremonies."

Games officials said they had been contacted by Willie Mack, the editor of the Southern Reporter, which is a member of the Tweeddale Press Group of newspapers and part of the Johnston Press Group.

They said Mr Mack had tendered his apologies, offered the committee "a generous donation", and indicated that he would be willing to attend the next committee meeting in order to give an explanation.

But one committee man commented: "Turning up at our meeting wouldn’t be a good idea. He’d probably get lynched."

Ross McGinn, the chairman of Innerleithen, Traquair and Glen Community Council, also condemned the newspaper gaffe.

He said: "The writer simply doesn’t comprehend Borders traditions and it’s yet another attack on this area’s way of life.

"There appears to be a campaign which seeks to undermine things that are important to us, and if this continues the Borders as we know it may not survive for much longer."

Danny Cammiade, the director of operations at Johnston Press, said last night: "This was an isolated incident for which the editor has apologised to the organisers."

He added: "A full internal investigation is being carried out."