Ilkley blogger broke Mandela funeral fake interpreter story

Wharfedale Observer: Charlie Swinbourne Charlie Swinbourne

A blogger based in Ilkley says he was responsible for breaking an international news story about the ‘fake’ sign language interpreter at the memorial service to Nelson Mandela.

Charlie Swinbourne, 32, a journalist who is partially deaf, runs The Limping Chicken, a deaf blogs website – which invites deaf people across the world to write about their lives – from his home.

He says he noticed the interpreter at the service last Tuesday was signing in a way he’d never seen before. “I’ve known sign language since birth and what stood out was his lack of facial expression,” said Mr Swinbourne.

The interpreter was also signing in unusual sets of three of four signs at once.

At first, he thought that this might be how South Africans sign, but then saw dozens of angry tweets on Twitter from deaf people.

Mr Swinbourne wrote a news story about the controversy that evening, including a range of tweets from South Africans, then watched as the article gained 10,000 views in the space of four hours, helped when his story was retweeted by deaf Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin.

The next morning, the news was everywhere.

“I realised the story was out there when my article was quoted on the Daily Mail website, and the BBC's website,” said Mr Swinbourne.

By then, the website was buckling under the strain of the web traffic, and Mr Swinbourne was forced to enlist the help of deaf internet experts to get the site working again.

He was later contacted by numerous news organisations, and his website has clocked up more than 150,000 views since the story broke. Web traffic is usually in order of about 3,000 views a day.

Mr Swinbourne told of his own anger at the incident.

He said: “What annoys me most is that on a day when deaf people wanted to pay tribute to a hero who fought oppression, a man stood on stage and effectively oppressed another minority-deaf people. I’m just glad I could play my part in helping people to realise what had happened.”

The interpreter has since told critics he has schizophrenia.

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