False Promises and False Hope

The governments plans for 42 days detention of innocent people is unpopular and the government knows this. Unsurprisingly the opposition are currying public favour and seem set against the plans, but a few Conservatives remain true to their party’s ideas. Extended detention seems a very “Tory” policy so it is strange that the Labour party are trying to implement it and the Conservatives are against it but, I suppose, that is 21st century politics – no party has a policy any more they just want to get votes by any means…

Anyway, the irritating Ann Widdecombe seems willing to stick by her “Ideal” rather than curry public favour and she is going to vote for the inhumane six week imprisonment (with altered access to legal counsel as well) of innocent people. (Do I sound biased? I hope so).

Still, Widdecombe is not so principled that she can actually be honest with the public and, like most supporters of this madness, she wraps it up in false promises and an empty hope:

Widdecombe said that plans to extend the time terror suspects could be detained from 28 to 42 days would be acceptable if there was a “sunset” clause requiring the legislation to be renewed by MPs each year.

“My reasoning is very simple indeed: it’s that if we have a state of emergency then the government should be able to ask parliament for emergency powers, as we did for example over Northern Ireland … providing that the legislation does not remain on the statute books indefinitely until somebody gets around to repealing it,” she told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One.

This infuriates me. The idea that a “sunset clause” would do anything other than give MPs something to vote on every 12 months is madness. If this shocking law makes it onto the statute books it will remain indefinitely.

If we are, as some mad people claim, in a “state of emergency,” how will we get out of it? Seriously?

Al Qaeda is not an organised terrorist group in the manner of the IRA so there will be no Good Friday Agreement. They are not a nation like Iraq/Iran so there will be no invasion then “end of combat operations” (however spurious a claim). Even if Osama Bin Laden surrenders or calls for peace, how will this affect the countless (or 200 if you believe the PM) other terrorist networks?

Our state of emergency, if one indeed exists, is permanent. The whole meaningless-ness of “War on Terror” means it falls into that never ending list of “wars” we fight since we became a peaceful nation. War on Crime, Drugs, Obesity, none will end. None can end until everyone is dead. Bringing specific “war-time” legislation on the basis of this is genuine, evil, madness.

More worryingly, go back to Widdecombe’s example. The government did, indeed, bring in special emergency powers as a result of the IRA bombing campaigns. Policemen in NI were allowed to carry weapons. Civil liberties were curtailed because of the conflict.

The conflict in NI is now officially over. The IRA / Sinn Fein want peace. The government says there is peace there now and Operation Banner is now over. However all the emergency legislation remains – in lots of cases it has got much, much stronger. The original 1974 reason for bringing in 7 days detention for terrorist suspects was the “difficulty” In prosecuting the IRA. This caused public outrage and was described as an “emergency measure” to offset the massive success the IRA were having – ten times as many died at their hands each year in the 1970s as have been killed by Islamic Terrorists in the UK, ever. It is also implicated in several wrongful prosecutions (eg Guilford Four). It seems the end of the state of emergency which allowed for 7 days detention has simply resulted in it increasing six fold.

The recent ordeal of the student who was detained for only a fraction of this time highlights how this is not something a civilised nation should ever do to its population. If I was detained for 6 weeks without charge I would certainly be close to confessing to things I have never done. Likewise, when I was released I would certainly hold a monumental grudge against the state that instituted such acts.

Another thing which really concerns me about this is: The politicians in support of this law, and the media, seem to carry the basic assumption that the person is guilty. The talk is about detaining the person while they gather enough evidence for a successful prosecution. No mention is made of the fact this person is innocent. No mention is made that an innocent person has been put in jail while the police look for evidence of guilt. We have actually gone to the stage of allowing the police to decide guilt on our behalf. Wonderful.

It is a good job we can trust the state to never make mistakes, never falsify claims and all public servants are so well behaved no one will ever misuse these powers. It is a good job because the state is certainly not answerable to the public in the Wonderful Britain of 1984 2008.

I suppose, if people were allowed to sue the government if they were detained for 42 days then not found guilty (or not charged) it would be a bit more reasonable. But, basically, you will spend six weeks at Her Majesty’s Pleasure what ever the outcome.

That can never be right.

Crime fictions

It’s almost a truism that anyone who makes a tear-stained televised appeal for help to solve a murder will probably be arrested within the week. It seems as if the more extravagant the grief that is willingly expressed on camera, the more likely that the person is guilty.

Even the BBC has noticed. Today it published a feature on the phenomenon .

And, now, I’ve stumbled across true-crime-in-the-media. 2.0:
Barbora Skrlova on MySpace Assuming this is an elaborate joke, albeit in poor taste, I am compelled to look for MySpace profiles of other notorious figures.

For instance, Myra Hindley seems to have half a dozen.

I type in Fred West and get a “Server is too busy” message a few times.
(Quick break to panic at the idea that half the global population has been taken with a lunatic desire to see which really evil people have a MySpace profile.) Then I find there’s an ill-starred 13 pages full of Fred Wests. Lose interest when I consider that most of them might indeed be real humans who just happen to be called Fred West. Then again, a fair number have headlines such as “Get a load of my floorboards”

On firmer ground with Rosemary West. After a good few innocently but unluckily named real US females who just happen to be called Rosemary West, I find a MySpace profile purporting to be from Fred West’s soulmate. In fact, there’s a link to a more convincing Fred West impersonator in her friend space..

What about Josef Fritzl? That one is actually quite scary. I can’t even work out if its meant to reference the Austrian maniac or the name is just a coincidence.

Michel Fourniret? The server times out. Then I get a
“We weren’t able to find a ” Michel Fourniret ” on MySpace”
message, which probably won’t be true for long.

(In case this name isn’t familiar to you, he’s the male half of a French version of a Rosemary-and-Fred-West couple. She lured young women for him to rape and murder, in exchange for his promise to murder her ex-husband. The family that slays together, stays together…….)

I can partly understand why sane people might create web pages for the truly evil. (Apart from an adolescent desire to shock people.) These sorts of crimes make most of us so uneasy about the nature of what it means to be human that humour becomes a necessary defence mechanism. Otherwise, it’s impossible to contemplate the things they have done.

All the same, I have to suspect that at least some of these tributes aren’t ironically post-modern comments on the nature of notoriety. Some of them have been put there by the very same sort of unspeakable beings who do such crimes.

It’s usually baffling how these spectacularly homicidal people find each other to begin these partnerships in crime.. Rosemary and Fred West; Michel and Monique Fourniret, the children who killed James Bulger; Myra Hindley and Ian Brady…… Do their eyes meet across the proverbial crowded room and they see the spark of a potential partner in homicide? Does it “take one to know one?”

Blimey, interactive web 2.0 must do away with so much of the uncertainty for such people. They could start by putting up profiles of their psycho role models …

Cameras and Security

A comment on a recent post, by someone apparently called Video Surveillance, got me thinking about some common misconceptions. In case you are wondering, I the link I munged goes no where of any value – it certainly doesn’t continue the “story” began in the comment.

The odd thing is one of the concepts the commenter (bot?) has brought up. Do video cameras make you safer?

With crime on the rise many people and business are looking for added security.

Well, I agree with this. There is a very strong argument that crime being on the rise is a misleading claim, but the fact is people think crime is on the rise, so they are looking for added security. Sadly, people who are easily misled into thinking crime is on the rise, are also easily misled over how to improve their security.

Video surveillance is one the top ways to improve the security of your belongings and loved ones.

Well, after a good start this amazing claim. Here I strongly disagree. This is the standard “marketing” crap pushed out by people selling woo to the public. Tell them they should be scared, then lie about your product solving their fears.

As with all the best lies, there is an element of truth. As part of a robust security package, video surveillance will improve your overall security, slightly. I am not sure what “top ways” means, but it certainly is not the “best way” or the “most cost effective way.”

Security is a many headed beast, and it will mean different things to different people. The best that can be claimed about video surveillance is that it offers a “deterrent” effect in that people who SEE a CCTV camera may be less inclined to commit a crime because they know the chances of being caught AFTER the event are slightly greater. The same can be said about a robust lock or a big thick door, however. A functioning, real, burglar alarm which is actually responded to is more effective than a CCTV system.

Here we hit a crux of the problem. For CCTV to be anything other an an “after-incident” investigation tool it has to be monitored 24/7 by people capable and willing to respond to an incident within an effective time scale. I could set up the best CCTV system in the world to monitor my house, but if I didn’t lock the door when I went on holiday it would be useless. CCTV is defeated by the simple expedient of wearing a hood – what sort of security system is that. Without monitors and responders it is the most pointless security system (do you really want to watch a video of someone breaking into your house?). With monitors and responders it becomes prohibitively expensive.

All in all, selling CCTV as “security” is tricking fools out of their money. CCTV has value in identifying criminals and will have some deterrent effect but it certainly is not a remotely cost effective method of improving your security.

If you want real, tested, cost effective security advice, my rates are reasonable 🙂

If it doesnt work, keep trying

(From the department of tastelessly picking on the distraught and clueless)

The ever comical Sunday Times has picked up on Kate McCann showing that, despite all the evidence of human history and the immediate evidence of the last year of her life, she still has faith…

In an article titled “‘Pray like mad,’ begs tearful Kate McCann” she apparently broke down in tears at a church and urged the congregation to pray for her daughter’s return. Now, I haven’t lived on another planet this last year, so I am aware that barely has a week gone by without something from the McCann PR Machine alternately proclaiming their innocence while begging everyone pray for the return of Maddie. It is a regular occurrence.

Despite all this, despite the prayers of almost every Christian (and lots of other faiths), despite the intercession of the Pope himself, Maddie McCann is not back.

What does this tell us? For the rational it is obvious. Prayer does not work. I am sure most sane people did not need the McCann tragedy to realise that, the evidence of cripples is a good start. The same is not true of the “faithful.” These seems to be a batch of people who will deliberately fight against the evidence of their senses. For them, a years worth of praying hasn’t worked just means “pray more” and “pray harder.” Is God deaf? Has old age made him hard of hearing? Does he have a Prayer-ometer and he only acts when it gets to a certain level?

On a more general note, maybe the McCanns just have it wrong. Millions of children die or go missing the world over. Why should God listen to their selfish whining for more prayers over the prayers of (insert random other child here)?

Still, it isn’t just their belief in magic that seems weird to the sane. Look at this:

In an interview before the anniversary the couple revealed they had been given
new hope in the search by the “massive” response to their appeal for fresh
information last week.

Their team of private investigators are combing hundreds of recorded calls and
e-mails for further leads.

Gerry said: “The lines have been overwhelmed; we’ve had to call additional
operators in.

What? Despite this massive response and huge amount of expenditure (they are approaching the financial turn over of a reasonable company now), they are no closer to catching the killer than they were a year ago. They spend more money on private eyes (and mediums but that is another story) than a normal police force. Yet they are still no closer.

Kate recently viewed footage from last year and said she could not recognise
herself.

Yeah, interesting. I wonder if coaching has anything to do with it.

The ultimate irony of this latest round of the McCann media train returns once more to poor old Robert Murat. Before you read on, remember the McCanns have a huge legal defence fund and are willing to sue at the slightest hint that they may have been involved…

Brian Kennedy, the home improvements tycoon backing the McCanns, admitted
yesterday that he flew to Portugal last November and spent an evening with
Robert Murat, apart from the McCanns the only other official suspect. A
source close to Kennedy said he was “gathering information”.

Kennedy’s lawyer, Ed Smethurst, approached Murat through a mutual friend and
said that Kennedy wanted to offer him a job.

But the job offer never transpired. Kennedy spent the evening with Murat and
his lawyers at his aunt’s house in Praia da Luz, discussing Madeleine’s
disappearance.

He left with a “flea in his ear” after being confronted over reports that
Metodo 3, the McCanns’ private investigators, had suspicions about Murat.

By Thor’s ear! The Portuguese police suspicions of the McCanns aren’t enough to avoid a court case, but a PI having “suspicions” is enough to get a rich financier to stage a fake interview so he can put a “flea in the ear” of someone who has less evidence against him than the McCanns.

Wrong. This is just plain wrong. Who said money can’t buy you justice.

Make the trains run on time?

It was a scenario that would have seemed like overkill in an Eastern European border post at the height of the Cold War. At least a dozen uniformed British Transport Police with dogs and backup vehicles in the average-sized mainline trainstation of an insignificant UK provincial city, at tea-time on a Sunday evening.

Doing stop and searches, apparently based on the hunches of the afore-mentioned sniffer dogs. Which apparently were experts in the fine old canine arts of sniffing out “drugs” or people who “look a bit Brazilian Muslim.”

I listened to one father challenging a Transport policewoman about the fact that his teenage son’s details – name, address, date of birth, etc – had been collected to go in a database. …. Despite a search of all the lad’s pockets, socks and so on, not having turned up an aspirin, a knife, a gun or a handy pocket-sized stick of semtex.

The father pointed out that any other time the lad is stopped, the information that pops up will record him as the subject of a drugs/weapons/terror search. Thus setting him off on a path that leads to an identification as somehow having warranted this suspicion.

The policewoman said words to the effect that it was just tough. That’s just the way things are. And no, there was nothing he could do about it. The database entry stands. All the details collected from such stops go into the database of information on – well – close to everybody that they can get information from .

Blimey, I didn’t even realise that British Transport Police had rights of random stop and search. Let alone rights to gather information on people’s names addresses and travel plans. Oh, yes, RIPA. D’oh. It’s probably only an oversight that they didn’t demand DNA.

I am so innocent. Who would have thought that a teenager buying a train ticket, with his parents, could probably be an international drug dealer or a suicide bomber? Well, better to be safe than sorry. Silly me.

A huge policeman came to physically back up the policewoman, in case the father might actually raise his voice, cuss or commit some other subversive act.

At this point, I could see a potential for nothing good to come of it for anyone who wasn’t in uniform, so I sidled off in a cowardly manner…….

Blood and spit

What is it with this desire to store the bodily fluids of the entire UK population. Some of us have seen enough sci-fi and Hammer horror films to know when there’s something shady going on. It’s got to be an evil insect overlord or an attempt to create a patchwork new life-form. I am going with the latter. I am almost sure I spotted an Igor outside Scotland Yard.

The “new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers” clearly thinks the parameters of his job are a bit on the narrow side. Having a huge swathe of the adult UK population’s DNA (almost ten per cent) isn’t enough to satisfy this chap’s crazed thirst for human genetic material.

Gather the pitchforks and burning torches, fellow peasant villagers. Now, they’re baying for the blood of innocents.

Last week it emerged that the number of 10 to 18-year-olds placed on the DNA database after being arrested will have reached around 1.5 million this time next year. Since 2004 police have had the power to take DNA samples from anyone over the age of 10 who is arrested, regardless of whether they are later charged, convicted, or found to be innocent.”

Not enough for the Baron, sadly. Under-ten year-olds are escaping. What, how dare they?

Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain’s most senior police forensics expert.

Hmm, profiling? So, kids below the age at which they can actually be held criminally responsible are criminalised. Not being formally accused – they’re junior school kids, remember -they are without access to the normal set of checks and balances that exist to protect adults from unfair accusation – access to a solicitor, and so on.

I agree that there are some truly damaged feral-style kids. Would this do anything to help them or the people they might victimise? No. Would it classify a whole collection of kids as potential criminals? Obviously, yes. And this is a good thing, because?

Obviously Baron Frankenpugh isn’t going to get his wish granted immediately. No, this report is just going to add to a general culture of Stasification. One more insane bit of background noise contributing to what passes for “thought processes” in the mass of fools who say “It’s inevitable” “If you haven’t got anything to hide, you have nothing to fear” and so on.

Journalistic Integrity

I am naive enough to think I remember a time when there was some modicum of journalistic integrity in the media. I am sure I remember a time when the news was reported in an understated, even handed manner. I am not so insane that I think the news has ever been really free of some element of spin and “PR” work, however it strikes me that today it is so endemic no one notices any more.

Two recent examples have highlighted how the use of English can create a massively different news item.

The first came up during a bored spell spend looking over regional news items and regional news papers. The Belfast Telegraph had an article on a man who had survived a horrific attack by the Shankill Butchers and apparently died of a stroke recently. I suspect the lazy journalists at the Belfast Telegraph have over-used Wikipedia as a source, which highlighted my initial concern. Before I go on, I should emphasise I am not disagreeing that they were ruthless, evil sadists and that this person survived after having both wrists slit is amazing.

The Wiki entry on the Shankill Butchers (today at least) reads:

The “Shankill Butchers” were a group of Ulster Volunteer Force members in Belfast, Northern Ireland, who abducted Roman Catholics usually walking home from a night out, tortured and/or savagely beat them, and killed them, usually by cutting their throats.

In the Telegraph it was similar, with the emphasis being on how the sadistic nutters terrorised the Catholic community. Interestingly, they are “credited” with torturing and killing 19 people, of whom 7 were Catholics. Given that, at that time in Northern Ireland, it is unlikely any of the victims would have been described as “atheists” it seems logical to say 12 of the victims were Protestants.

The Shankill Butchers killed 150% more Protestants than Catholics, yet almost all the media reports about them describe them as almost exclusively targeting Catholics.

The point I am trying to make here is not one group suffered more than the other and I am not trying to trivialise the suffering the communities underwent as a result of their insane behaviour. What interests (and worries) me is that by dismissing a whole spectrum of their activities the larger group of victims is marginalised to the point at which they cease to exist. Instead of describing this as a shared community horror, it is sold to the public as a 100% sectarian event, possibly inflaming relatives of the dead.

How can that be good for bringing the two communities together?

The next recent issue is unrelated. Listening to today’s Radio 1 news (yes, sorry) there was a bit in the morning where they talked about domestic abuse. The newsreader read out that the number of reported cases of domestic abuse has tripled over (memory hazy but 3 years seems what they said), however in an alarming manner he also reported “the number of convictions remains the same at 17%.” I cant find the exact numbers used but it was along the lines of 1000 has increased to 3000.

Wow. How terrible. The implication was that more cases were going to court but the “system” had not managed to secure any more convictions, and what a terrible legal system we must have if these people (who are obviously guilty because it has gone to court…) are getting away with it.

However, given ten seconds consideration and you can see the language used by the newsreader was inherently misleading.

The first part of the item gave a number. Hard figures. It might not have been a nicely rounded as 1000 to 3000 but it was something like that. This is something you can hang your hat on. The optimist will see this increase as people feeling able to report more abuse, the pessimist will see it as more abuse happening. (Or vice versa…). That is not the issue.

When the news reader stated the “number” of convictions had remained the same he then went on to give a percentage rather than an actual number. This is a significant issue. If we take round numbers, you can see there is a HUGE difference between 1000 reports and 170 convictions which has increased to 3000 reports with 170 convictions and 1000 reports / 170 convictions becoming 3000 reports and 510 convictions.

In the first example, it would indicate a problem and he would be correct that the “number” of convictions was the same. The second example uses the numbers the newsreader used, but the “number” of convictions has certainly changed.

If you want to spin a news item to make people worry about an ineffective legal system you say “the numbers haven’t changed” (which is, actually, a lie). Was that BBC Radio 1’s intention? One of the reasons this annoyed me, is that on getting into my workplace – filled with supposedly “thoughtful” and “analytical” people, I had several conversations about how the legal system was letting people down and despite more reports, they hadn’t managed to get more convictions…

The world is mad.

Nothing new

“Binge drinking” is the fashionable moral panic topic for the UK media. The drunken excesses of youth in UK city centres are presented as evidence of social decline, the evils of youth culture, the dark side of feminism, even.

Agreed, drinking alcohol has some repellent effects. If legality really bore any relationship to social harm and if banning recreational substances didn’t lead to much worse problems than the substance ever caused, there would be a fair case for banning it completely.

As a predictable result of the current coverage of the evils of strong drink, Alistair Darling, the ironically-surnamed UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, greatly increased the taxes on alcohol today.

But experts said it was still not enough to make a “real difference”..(snipped)…
It comes at a time when more and more pressure is being placed on the government to use the lever of price to tackle binge-drinking Britain. (from the BBC)

Well, the media pressure might be recent but the increase in consumption and increase in collateral damage seem a mite illusory. The raising-price-to-deter issue remains unproven (and anyone can travel to mainland Europe and provision their neighbourhood with cheap booze.)

How new is this “issue” anyway? Think of Hogarth’s Gin Lane. Now that was an era with an alcohol problem.

A fantastic (and temporarily free) resource has lots of 19th century newspapers from the British Library, in a fully searchable online version. (The fact that some pages look as if they’ve been eaten by rats just adds to their charm.)

And, wow. Their news was much more action-packed and interesting than the stuff we get to read now. The political news tells you about things like the House of Commons reaction to Bradlaugh’s atheism. You can see the details of major historical events in a sort of reading-based real time. For instance, you can identify the start of the Irish Potato Famine. Even the shipping listings have whole columns devoted to casual lists of pirate attacks.

I mean, that’s what you call serious news. Which I will promptly ignore, of course, and go for the sensationalist stuff, being a true 21st century media consumer.

The biggest shock – for anyone seduced by a vision of the past as some sort of public order Utopia – is the nature and viciousness of the crimes reported in the local papers. Not to mention the often merciful nature of sentences, at a time when we assume that all “justice” was more than harsh.

Almost randomly mixed in with records of innocent Rose Grower’s Association fetes, you find some really bloodthirsty reports. I won’t retell a selection of 200-year-old crime stories, on the grounds that they would be as interesting as other people’s holiday snaps. Find your own stories by searching the database, if you’re interested.

Scores of knifings, battering, poisonings, drowning babies, muggings and gang robberies – one of which included an 86-year old woman, on the gang side. In one story, a remanded prisoner – whose imprisonment involved living as a guest in a detective’s house, ffs – managed to get a gun and shoot the two accomplices in the murder he was being charged with. (The detective’s wife gave evidence that he was very well behaved in their house and that the shooting was out of character…..)

The theme of alcoholic excess runs through many of these stories. 19th century binge-drinkers could drink today’s urban revellers under the table. For example, the London Examiner (July 7, 1817) reported the story of a soldier who was too drunk to remember having murdered his drinking companion.

The Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland), Saturday, March 22, 1800 described the loss of a 64-gun royal navy ship, the Repulse, which had just recaptured a boat that had been taken by French privateers. Among the crew who died in the course of the shipwreck, there were two sailors who drowned “due to drunkenness” and four sailors who were so drunk that they couldn’t even leave the sinking ship.

Drinking to the point at which you become a serious danger to yourself and others is no new invention. It seems to be a centuries-old British tradition. I hope we don’t have to swear allegiance to that.

Zero sense

Zero tolerance is a pretty stupid policing strategy, closely associated with the American right-wing, so it’s had to understand how it is that the Home Secretary, Jaqui Smith, has decided it’s a good choice for the UK:

Jacqui Smith today announced a “zero-tolerance” crackdown on anti-social behaviour, burglary and drug and alcohol misuse. The home secretary’s tough message to delegates on the final day of the Labour party conference in Bournemouth was designed to outflank the Tories’ renewed push on law and order.

This is quite a confusing collection of activities to lump together under a “zero tolerance” banner. It mixes together a range of things from serious crimes to legal personal choices. A helpless drunk might be annoying, even frightening, but locking him/her up is not going to stop you getting your home burgled.

The Home Secretary is obviously being advised by people with a limited knowledge of criminology but a good ear for a soundbite. And a sharp eye for the opinions of the Daily Mail readership.

The introduction of local crime data is designed to address the fact that, despite a 35% fall in the national crime figures since Labour came to power, most people believe that crime has gone up. Ministers hope the provision of local crime data will make clear the real situation and reduce fear of crime.

Correct me if I am misunderstanding here, but doesn’t this suggest that current laws and policies are associated with a reduction in crime? However, the media – what other source could people have for their beliefs about the prevalence of crime, given its comparative rarity? – are giving people a false perception that crime is increasing.

Hence, government policies have to change to match the false perception rather than the reality and must provide whatever the media are demanding.

Does this mean that a grateful media will then report crime as falling, even if it rises?

Clearly not. That voracious part of the media that thrives upon keeping the British public in a state of constant fear will not be sated so easily. It will continue to oppose any (especially a Labour) government on its crime record, because that’s just what a large part of the media does.

Sadly, in the course of Jaqui’s finding out this simple fact -which should be obvious to anyone with the slimmest grounding in GSCE social science or media studies, let alone with an Oxford degree – ever more people will find themselves labelled as criminal and ever greater numbers of poor communities will be alienated by heavy-handed policing.

And just in case you thought our society had more than enough electronic surveillance and biometric data on record, the police are now to be issued with hand-held computers and portable weapons-detecting and fingerprint-taking devices……

Blind Faith

The tragedy of missing Madeleine McCann seems no closer to ending than it did three months ago. During this time the media personification of the parents has alternated between saint and sinner – sometimes seemingly at random. For the most of it, in Portugal, the McCann parents have been looked at as (at best) negligent parents while (again, for most of the time) in the UK the middle class, white, professional, religious status of the parents has ensured they have been seen as saints who are undergoing a terrible ordeal. This changed recently, when for a short period the tabloids smelt more blood and in the wonderful manner of the press changed allegiances, barely stopping short of calling for their execution (mentioned previously). Given the natural order of the universe, the “truth” probably lies somewhere between the two extremes and I certainly have my own personal opinion. I should stress at this stage that my opinion is based on nothing other than gut feeling and the information made available by the press, so I have no intention of going into detail about it.

Before I go on, I would also like to point out that one of the main search terms which is driving traffic here recently is a variation on the words “Kate McCann Guilty Violent Murderer.” Given that this is generating a LOT of traffic, I can only guess at public opinion on the matter.

I digress. Risking eternal disfavour by the Great Antero Vipunen, I actually read the Sun newspaper today. I know. I am sorry. I will try not to do it again. In it, good old Archbishop John Sentamu writes a piece titled: We Must Have Faith For Maddie

Despite the overt religious tones in which the the piece is written, this is a largely secular humanist bit of writing with the basic theme being that the presumption of innocence is the bedrock of the legal system. For example, he relates this parable:

In 359AD a trial took place where a local governor, Numerius of Narbonne, was accused of raiding his own coffers. There was little proof but that didn’t stop the whispers and accusations. Still, the prosecutor was convinced the governor was guilty and said as much to the judge, the Roman Emperor Julian. At his trial, the governor denied the charges and the case was due to be dismissed.

The prosecutor was furious: “Oh, illustrious Caesar,” he raged, “If it is sufficient to deny, what hereafter will become of the guilty?” Emperor Julian’s response has been repeated in countless trials for the past 1600 years: “If it suffices to accuse, what then will become of the innocent?”

And, for once, I find my self in total agreement with the Archbishop of York. Scary.

Sadly, despite the valid comments the Archbish makes and the fact the Sun newspaper of all papers prints it, there are a few things which still make me uncomfortable about it. I agree whole heartedly that as a society we should reinforce the automatic presumption of innocence.

Now, with this in mind, have a flick through the Sun news paper (or any media output over the last, say, day) and see how many examples there are where a person accused of a crime is assumed to be guilty. It is a regular occurrence. Take poor Robert Murat for example – due to his past he was largely assumed to be guilty of anything people wanted to accuse him of. He had no support from the various churches, he had no support from rich idiots. He had to defend himself against the court of public opinion.

Not so for the McCann parents. The cynic in me is screaming this is entirely down to their perceived image as “successful” white professionals – anything which implies this part of our society can harbour evil seems to damage the national psyche. In the same edition of the Sun which calls for the return of innocent until proven guilty, OJ Simpson is pretty much called a murderer several times. Is this hypocrisy?

Anyway, enough ranting about this obvious state of the world. Dr Sentamu concludes his article with something that produced mixed emotions:

Our focus must again be upon the love of the parents for their lost daughter, for their hope that they may one day be reunited with her and for their faith that she is still alive.

These must be our watchwords — faith, hope and love. For as St Paul once wrote, in the end it is these three which remain: Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Wonderful words, and I too hope she is alive and unharmed. The adult in me is aware that this hope is pretty much doomed to be dashed against the rocks of reality, but I would like it to be so.

Sadly, and again this is cynic in me now, the plight of poor Maddie has shown that despite all the prayer in the world (and the wishes of his representative on Earth, the Pope), the Christian deity will not intervene to save even one life, nor will s/he take action to return a lost child to an apparently grieving family. From this I can only draw one of three conclusions:

  1. God exists but is evil or totally uninterested in the human race, with no intention to get involved in any of our affairs.
  2. God hates Christians.
  3. There is no God.

It is up to you which option you go for, but I know which one I think is true…

[tags]McCann, Madeleine, Kate, Kate McCann, Maddie McCann, Sentamu, Archbishop of York, Society, Law, Rights, Liberties, Philosophy, Robert Murat, Gerry McCann, The Sun, Tabloids, Media, UK, Culture, Civil Rights, Trial, Crime, Murder, Dr John Sentamu, Church of England, Catholics, CofE, Roman Catholic, Pope, Portugal, Police, Atheism, Humanism, Faith, Hope[/tags]

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in Our Safe Nation

Well, it seems the UK tabloid press is continuing its efforts to make “middle England” terrified of shadows without any real basis. Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday has ensured that its readership have “evidence” that Britain is descending into anarchy and the police crime statistics (as well as the victim reported data in the British Crime Survey) is just nonsense.

In a nutshell, the article is about Ms Sarah Schaefer (senior adviser to Foreign Secretary David Miliband) who was “carjacked” in a posh London street last Tuesday. She was driving along the street, when a “thug” jumped out in front of her, forced her to stop and jumped in the passenger seat. Ms Schaefer fled the car and threw the keys away (obviously the car was more important to her than any mere prevention of harm). The unnamed “thug” found the keys, got in the car and fled with it (later crashing).

Now all in all, this is a reasonably traumatic experience and it is sad that Ms Schaefer underwent it. However as far as the Daily Mail is concerned this is proof that the UK is in a grip of unprecedented levels of crime – despite any claims to the contrary by the police or government. Very early in the (erm) article, the breathless “journalists” write:

The ordeal of Sarah Schaefer is a major setback to Labour’s rubbishing of Conservative claims that the rise in violent crime has led to “anarchy in the UK”.

I know I can be slow on the uptake but I don’t get this. How does ONE crime support the Conservative’s claims? Is there some mystic aura about Ms Schaefer which means she can only become the victim of crime when 75% of the population has been? She is one person. Nothing in the article gives any indication as to the true rates of this type of crime (check BCS if you are that bored) but it has this bit or terror inducement:

The attack on Ms Schaefer is a stark reminder that crimes such as carjacking, once associated only with ghettos in the US and South Africa, are now commonplace here – and can occur in neighbourhoods popular with the middle classes.

This is mind boggling. Carjacking is not commonplace on the mainland UK. For those unfortunate enough to live in Northern Ireland, however, carjacking is more common and has been for 2o years. The sad part is the Daily Mail (and its readership) would never want to let facts or statistics get in the way of a good bit of fear.

Just in case the (insane?) middle England readership of the Mail missed the point they were trying to be given, the article finishes with:

Ms Schaefer is just the latest highprofile person to fall victim to rising crime.

Muggers stole a mobile phone from Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan’s daughter Chloe, 19, while she was making a call in Notting Hill’s fashionable Portobello Road in March.

Chelsea and England footballer Frank Lampard’s £8million West London home was burgled in May 2005 as the star and his girlfriend Elen Rives slept upstairs.

And high-profile divorcee Beverley Charman, 54 – awarded a £48million payout – was tied up at her Kent home and robbed of jewellery worth £300,000 in March.

This is more of the odd way the media seem to blow the lives of the rich and famous out of all proportions. The claim that this is the result of “rising crime” is more than misleading, it has no basis in fact and it certainly is not supported by anything in the newspaper. There are thousands of “rich and famous” people who live in the UK. If you include “high profile” then we could have in the region of 100,000 people to consider. This newspaper article identifies FOUR who have been the victim of crime and seems to cover the period of May 2005 – Sep 2007.

This makes the rate of crime around 1.3 per 100,000 people per year – if this is “rising” how low was it in the past? If this is really representative of the nation (as the article seems to imply) then we have a crime rate of 871 crimes throughout the UK per year. Blimey. What a safe nation.

The only way I can see that this article tries to show “rising” crime is that there seems to have only been 1 high profile crime between May 2005 and March 2007, but since March this year there have been three. Even then it is farcical.

Sometimes I really do wonder what goes on in the minds of people who read this sort of drivel and believe it (check the comments out if you want a laugh). Most of the Mail readers I have met in real life actually hold to the ideas the paper puts forwards (much to my frustration), most are from fairly affluent backgrounds and most have never been the victim of any crime in their life. Despite this all talk about how “bad” things are, how children are unruly, how crime is out of control and how someone they know, knows some one who has been burgled. It almost makes me want to cry.

[tags]Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Rant, Society, Law, idiots, Idiocy, Bad Journalism, Crime, Rich People, Famous People, Crime Rates, British Crime Survey, Statistics, Bad Statistics, Carjacking, Sarah Schaefer, Anarchy, Britain, UK, Criminals[/tags]

The Law According to the Tabloids

Now my enforced hiatus is over, it is time for me to rant a bit about some of the borderline insane things the UK media has been getting up to during the traditionally quiet months at the end of summer. (What summer?)

Unusually, I think I am going to try and be a bit tactful about this and I really don’t want people to get the wrong impression here. Before I go on, I can not imagine the trauma and heartache that the McCann family are going through right now but I am going to use them as an example of the amazing double standards that the tabloid press can hold themselves to. This is in no way meant to imply that I think the McCanns are guilty of any crime.

Over the summer, the tabloid press (especially the Daily Express and the Sun newspapers) have been clamouring about how our (UK) society is going down the pan and coming up with such “common sense” solutions as harsher sentences, more police powers etc. Generally speaking anyone even suspected of a crime which makes it to the press is assumed to be guilty, and if a court finds differently there is outrage about how we need stronger laws etc. (For an example, see the nonsense that a terminally bad singer has been spewing out in the Sun (and alun’s excellent comment))

Almost daily we hear from a distraught relative about how the accused is actually guilty and anything which seems to say otherwise is just flawed. Opinion pages and talking heads on the TV go on about how our “human rights act” means the suspects are treated too lightly and this is preventing the police getting convictions. The trial by media is almost total and almost totally ignores the actual progress of the case or the final verdict. It goes as far as the farcical comment that if they are doing things which aren’t crimes it just means we don’t have strong enough laws… It is, in short, madness.

Stepping into this world of chaos, vitriol and bile we have the poor oppressed McCann family. After months of tabloid coverage showing the distraught family on their world tour to raise awareness of their lost daughter, and months of UK tabloid coverage saying how bad the Portuguese police are (largely because they don’t tell the press every single thing they do, but that is a rant for another day), recently there has been a slight change of events. Slowly the Portuguese press started to consider that the parents may have been involved in the death of the child.

Under normal circumstances this would have been the first line of investigation and, sadly, most child killers are family members (feel free to Google the UK Home Office statistics if you don’t believe me). In most serious crime cases, police officers being police officers, family members are the first to be suspected — especially in cases where there is no obvious signs of forced entry or violent struggle.

Now, slight sideline, there have been lots and lots of murders and abductions in the time since Madeleine McCann went missing. Can any one name any of them? If you search through the news footnotes (mostly local news items), the family are invariably picked as suspects and hammered by the investigators. Although not 100% relevant this is a snapshot from recent news here, here, here and here – all examples of relatives being found guilty of the torture and death of a child. If anything, it is pretty amazing to me that the McCann’s were not brought in by the police and interrogated for hour after hour to find out what happened. Part of me feels that the media circus which sprung up around the case almost from the onset caused this…

Anyway, eventually the Portuguese police have followed on from the media claims and begun to investigate the possibility that one or both of Madeleine’s parents may have been involved. It strikes me that if this was any other case this would be normal and perfectly acceptable. However this is not any old case, it is the McCann case… This means that the papers which print speculation that the McCann’s may be guilty get taken to court for libel (this must be making more than a few UK paper editors worry) and the UK news is now filled with tearful footage about how cruel the police are to even begin to suspect either parent. Even the BBC (which is now pretty much a tabloid as far as “news” goes) seems to be falling in step with the common idea that the McCann’s are saints who would never hurt a fly. Call me cynical but comments like this don’t make me feel the person must be innocent :

“They made a series of ridiculous allegations. Kate is a loving and caring mother who sincerely believes her daughter is still alive. She was absolutely horrified. Kate is a lovely mother to her children, she’d never hurt them. Anyone who knows Kate would say that to make an allegation of this kind about her is absolutely ridiculous.” (Family spokesperson Justine McGuiness)

Leaving aside the “Family Spokesperson” aspect, what criminal (this does not imply I think Kate McCann is a criminal) wouldn’t have a statement like this? Can you imagine the prelims to a murder trial where the defence spokesperson says “my client is a murderous scumbag who hates everyone and loves to kill people”? Does the family spokesperson really think this will sway the police? Obviously, yes is the answer to that – or there is a sinister undercurrent and the spokesperson is actually getting ready for a criminal trial but that is a route I wont go down for now, I will hold to good faith and assume Kate McCann is innocent.

The important part is the media reaction to all this. The local news and radio stations (sadly, I cant find any links at the moment) have been hammering on today about how cruel it is to interview Kate McCann, how ELEVEN hours in questioning is a monstrously long time and so on. On breakfast TV, I watched a reporter go on about what an ordeal Mrs McCann had undergone and the comparisons with the much fairer, reasonable English justice system.

This is mind boggling. Compare the compassion and feeling being poured out towards Mrs McCann with the vitriol and hatred thrown against people like the early suspect (Robert Murat) who was pretty much found guilty during the Trial by Media. Compare this with the demands for harsher laws, tougher police powers to question suspects and the like – all being touted by the same tabloids who are now saying how 11 hours is a long time to be questioned. Imagine how “tired and distraught” a terrorist suspect must feel after 28 days of police questioning. Ironically newspapers cry out how cruel it is to suspect Kate McCann, ignoring the speed with which they demanded the conviction of Mr Murat — not to mention the furore around any other suspect unfortunate enough to make the news pages. As always, the Sun Newspaper (in the loosest sense of the word) is truly blind to the irony and has the following “sun says” editorial comment:

PLODDING Portuguese police have not covered themselves in glory over their probe into the disappearance of four-year-old Madeleine McCann.

For over four months her devoted parents Kate and Gerry have done everything in their power to help detectives find the missing girl.

But while cops have refused to give any public details about their investigation, the Portuguese media is now awash with rumours and innuendo leaked by police sources.

Yesterday, bungling police called Maddie’s tragic mum, Kate, in for yet another agonising grilling.

If this is just another fishing expedition, they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Hasn’t she suffered enough?

It is almost enough to make you want to vomit.

[tags]Madeleine McCann, Kate McCann, McCann, Police, Portugal, Portuguese, Media, Tabloids, Society, Culture, Philosophy, Rant, Law, Justice, Murder, Crime[/tags]

Experiment in fear

This sounds brilliant. A tv show based on exposing the mental influence of the tabloids Not just tabloids in general, with their z-list celebs and soap opera stars, but the most mind-sapping terror-inducing tabloid – the Daily Mail.

The film Supersize Me showed you are what you eat, but is it true that you are what you read?
New documentary The Daily Mail Diet aims to find out as it follows film maker Nick Angel giving up all TV, radio, print and online news sources for 28 days – except for the Daily Mail.

Mr Angel said: “It’s important to know what the Mail thinks, because it’s a lightning rod (or so it claims) to ‘Middle England’ – that ill-defined and slightly scary mass of people whose various incarnations include the ‘Moral Majority’ and ‘All Right Thinking People’.
“And in a sense, there’s a little bit of Daily Mail in all of us – who hasn’t felt their cheeks flush and blood boil when snapped by a speed camera or confronted with some maddening example of NHS bureaucracy?
“That’s what makes the Mail such a potent force – because while it’s loathsome, it’s also weirdly attuned to the dark heart of the British psyche.”

If you can get to see this programme, it sounds really worth watching.

By coincidence, it’s particularly relevant today. Following on from yesterday’s post here and Xanderg’s (of badnewsbible’s) excellent comments, the Daily Mail seems intent on lowering the bar below its even its own usual ant-limboing level.

The Tory leader is calling for the repeal of the Human Rights Act and the government is doing its best to pull the despotism rug from under the Tories by itself challenging the operation of the courts. Scenting success for its worldview, the Daily Mail has redoubled its attack, over the Chindamo case.

Here are three headlines from pages linking to today’s main Stephen Lawrence storyMail’s pages which carries the title ‘He’s no risk’: why jail boss backed Lawrence killer (I’m selflessly ploughing through this rubbish so you don’t have to. You can get the flavour of it from the headlines. But if you want to try an experimental diet of the Daily Mail, the link will take you to enough pages to undermine your will to live):
The quangocrats who let Chindamo stay (They are referring to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal, not previously known as liberal trailblazers.)
Chindamo’s Mafia gangster father awaiting trial for murder in Spain (Guilt by association, even though it seems the boy has barely seen his father since he was three.)
COMMENTARY: Has the law deprived Frances Lawrence of justice?

The Commentary refers to an editorial piece which tugs at the reader’s sympathy and emotions but signally fails to make any logical connection between sympathy for Frances Lawrence and their case for overriding EC law to deport Chindamo.

Why does justice for Frances Lawrence require that her husband’s killer doesn’t live in Britain? I know that Great Britain is a small island (compared to the land mass of Canada, say) but there are still about 65 million of us living here. The chance of accidentally bumping into him in Tesco’s is statistically pretty slim.

Just in case you think we are all certifiably mad in the UK, there’s a reasoned piece by Katie Ghose in the Guardian. This human rights hysteria threatens every one of us.

Once again we are in the grip of human rights hysteria. Variously blamed for allowing prisoners access to porn and preventing police forces from publishing photographs of suspects, the latest attack on the Human Rights Act relates to the decision not to deport Learco Chindamo, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of head-teacher Philip Lawrence in 1995.
Human rights have never been a passport to porn – nor were they an obstacle to the conviction or sentence of Chindamo, who is serving a minimum of 12 years for his brutal attack. But the truth takes a back seat when there are juicy headlines to be made out of human rights “lunacy”.

A criminal deportation

The UK media is mightily concerned about a court ruling that the murderer of teacher Stephen Lawrence shouldn’t be deported after he’s served his sentence.

The dead man’s wife is reportedly angry about the ruling that he should stay in the UK. She blames the Human Rights Act for the fear in which she claims she will live. The tabloid press are doing their best to stir up all the crime hysteria they manage out of this story. Surprise, surprise, when the tabloids are such devoted supporters of the Human Rights Act… (not.)

The widow of murdered teacher Philip Lawrence has said she was “utterly devastated” by the decision not to deport her husband’s killer.
Frances Lawrence said she had been told Learco Chindamo would be deported to Italy, where his father was from.
The government said it would challenge “robustly” the decision to allow Chindamo, who stabbed Mr Lawrence in 1995 when he was 15, to stay in the UK. (From the BBC)

It’s a really sad story. However,it just reinforces the point in TW’s posts that victims and their families are not always the best judges of how an offender should be treated. That’s supposed to be the job of the law, although the combined efforts of the media and the government are doing their best to present the courts as pampering murderers.

A few facts about this case suggest the issue is rather more complex than the calls to deport him would allow.

The killer is indeed marginally more “Italian” than the average Italian-American but that’s about the extent of his supposed Italianess. His father was Italian. He lived in Italy until he was 3, came to the UK at the age of 6 and committed the crime when he was 15. It is a fair bet that he doesn’t speak Italian.

He didn’t deliberately come to the UK to commit murder. He was brought here by his mother and was raised in the UK, as an English person. Like a lot of English teenagers, he did badly at school, joined a gang and carried a weapon.

The crime appears to have been one of those senseless spur-of-the-moment adolescent-in-a-gang crimes that would be seen as a child’s cry for attention, if their outcome wasn’t so devastating.

He didn’t stalk Lawrence and deliberately choose him as a victim. There is absolutely no reason to believe that he represents any ongoing threat to Stephen Lawrence’s widow or their child.

Although you can usually take prisoners’ remorse with a kilogram packet of salt, he expresses remorse and tries to talk other youths out of throwing their lives away according to his lawyer.

You can certainly understand why Stephen Lawrence’s widow doesn’t want to think of him being free and alive. She has had a horrific experience that will always be with her. I’m sure that she wants to tear the killer limb from limb, as anyone in her position would. All the same, her views on what should now happen to the killer are no more relevant than anyone else’s.

The whole topic becomes murkier when you think about why it has become a bandwagon that the government chooses to jump on.

Extradition to another EC country is almost unheard of. Surely, under EC free movement laws, once dumped in Italy, Chindamo could just jump on a train and come straight back to the UK?

Extradition of someone, who committed a crime as a child, to a country in which he would be a complete stranger is just absurd.

There is pretty strong evidence of racism at work here. The killer looks “foreign” – half Phillipino, half-Italian. Ergo, the assumption is that he can get deported at the drop of a hat. Are we going to start shipping off all released murderers who can’t claim four British-born grandparents? Is there still room in Australia?

There is a clear bias in what crimes become causes celebres. Stephen Lawrence was a headmaster so people paid much more attention, thanks to the media. Murdered manual workers don’t make high profile cases, otherwise the government would be shipping off released murders every week.

All the same, the murderer was sentenced for his crime by a court of law. It wasn’t a particularly light sentence. A judge weighed up the circumstances and applied the appropriate penalty. If anyone felt that the sentence was wrong, that was the time to appeal. The court saw no reason to call for his deportation when he was sentenced. What has changed?

(Even the lawyers opposing his staying in this country argued that media attention was the “threat” that could result from his staying in the UK. No one has suggested that he is likely to kill another person, although rehabilitation seems to be the last of anyone’s concerns.)

There is constant media and political pressure – fitting so well into an increasingly authoritarian general climate – to present any human rights legislation as tying the hands of the police and giving free rein to criminals and terrorists.

The more we treat any constitutional guarantees of fair treatment by the law as an unnecessary luxury, the more we throw aside liberal democracy’s claim to the moral high ground.

This case has become a test of the British government’s capacity to do silly things in defiance of European Human Rights law. Oh, these burdensome 20th century international standards.

Wasn’t the lack of non-oppressive systems of justice and law why the EC started to get sniffy about some Eastern European countries joining? Or keeps foiling Turkey’s attempts to join the EC?

Sentimentality and murder

There’s a really chilling story on the BBC site about a couple who killed the man’s 17-month old son. What really strikes home with this one is the stomach-turning mixture of sentimentality and complete disregard for life.

(Plus the Myra Hindleyesque mentality of the woman, who seems to have been more or less totally unconcerned by what they had done to the toddler, She even comes across as the prime mover from the reports – allegedly – but I’ll skip her as being so willfuly evil that there is nothing to say.)

I have nothing to say on this one. It’s not religion. It’s not politics. It’s just people. I have no idea what to do about it. No idealistic formula or social organisation suggestion or anything. Just add it to the game of Top Trumps where you score one for every mindnumbingly bad event.

This headline gives the strange flavour of this story

‘Caring father’ tortured son to death

Ok, is this one of the creepiest things you could read as an example of ‘caring’?
(And , yes, a lot more like the serial killers in US cop shows who keep ‘mementos’ than like what normally passes for caring on planet earth.)

He still kept as mementos the tissue papers he used to wipe the boy’s tears after his circumcision and the plaster casts that “slipped off” his son’s leg the month before his death.

I’ll step away from the normal human reaction to this (which is incoherent rage)and try to rant about it in the abstract.

It’s the sentimentality that gets to me. Sentimentality is the ****’s substitute for sentiment. People who don’t really feel empathy seem to be those who set the most store by the overt expression of their senstivities

There’s no simple dividing line but there are plenty of people who make so much of their feelings that you start to suspect these vaunted feelings are just displayed to manipulate.

Obviously, when the sentimentality is accompanied by torture or murder, the authenticity of the sentiment is easy enough to spot……….