Before I get to the headline, I apologise for allowing a week to turn into several and thank you very much for the kind messages of concern, patience and jovial resentment, as well as your generous and quite lovely birthday greetings. How you’ve missed me. Sincerely, I’m touched by that.
Today I wanted to blog about a very small story I noticed in one of the Sunday (tabloid) newspapers. It was one of those that’s compressed into a single column and pushed to the paper’s edge, space usually reserved for witty non-stories about people breaking pointless world records for the number of clothes pegs they can attach to their face or some such nonsense. Or maybe not in this case, considering that tabloids tend to reserve their double page spreads mainly for celebrity gossip, after all. Anyway, either way, the story’s headline was the same as this post’s: Cop’s son held in riot is cleared. You can read the story here (it should take you all of twenty seconds), but you don’t need to: the gist of it is that a young man alleged to have ransacked a Vodafone store in Woolwich during the much-talked-about riots in England in August, is the son of the former chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the body responsible for supervising Greater London’s police force. Who has an OBE and is now a Labour member of the London Assembly. This may be entirely coincidental, but the young man has now been completely exonerated of the charge of burglary and, it is claimed, may have been the “victim of a false, malicious allegation” all along.
I love that: victim of a false, malicious allegation.
Maybe he was stitched up, of course. I don’t know. People often suffer because of their associations, including having friends in high places. We all know this.
I’ll admit that my first reaction to the abridged version of the story was ‘How bloody typical.’
The London Evening Standard had given the story more space on Friday, I was glad to note upon my shuffled return to my now unfamiliar desk yesterday morning. The accompanying photograph of the once assumed rascal, presumably lifted off Facebook, shows him looking a bit rough and miserable, it has to be said (could he be on drugs, perhaps?), with closely cropped hair and standard hoodie. I’m not quite sure what can be seen behind him in this photograph, but it looks a bit saucy. The Daily Mail, helpful as ever, added that he lives in a council flat with a bull mastiff, which would, of course, make him fit that neat profile: member of the feral underclass which we all ought to live in fear of.
Having gleaned this insight, put forth to convince the reader of the man’s capacity for criminal engagement, I should think, with the added bonus of shaming his father who just so happens to position himself at the opposite end of the political spectrum, I found myself feeling sympathetic and decided to reserve judgement.
All this must have been hugely embarrassing for his father, and for his father’s distinguished connections, no doubt. Days before his son’s arrest he had called on the public to turn in the rampaging yobs for the good of the nation.
“Mark always denied taking part in looting,” wrote the Daily Mail, “and said he returned home after a phone call from his father urging him to get off the streets.”
Hmm. Tip off, you think? Maybe we’d all do anything to protect our children and at the first sign of trouble would think only to warn them to keep out of harm’s way, rather than advise them urgently to dodge the somewhat inevitable strong arm of the law if, as expected, they happened to be where it is most likely required.
The London Evening Standard, along with pretty much everybody else, yesterday reported that, of the capital’s rioters, 40 per cent were unemployed; 28 per cent were students; 55 per cent were black; nearly one in five belonged to a gang and a staggering 93 per cent of suspects had ‘previous’. Two-thirds of the youth involved had special educational needs. As their headline put it: Half of arrested looters were unable to read or write by the age of 11. I don’t know which of these categories, if any, Mark falls in to, but I suppose it doesn’t matter now that he’s in the clear and free to get on with his life, no doubt a relieved man.
For me, all that remains is a slight sense of shame at how judgemental we are. How little we know, yet how keen we are to pass moral sentences. The events have absolutely nothing to do with me and should be no concern of mine, yet so familiar are we to seeing the culpable getting away with assorted breaches thanks to their wealth, celebrity or influential friends, we’ve come to expect nothing but.
I wonder about your initial reaction to this headline, as well as the other major controversy missed in my absence: the acquittal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of Meredith Kercher. We all make up our minds one way or another each time there’s dispute and align ourselves accordingly with those who share our suspicions and prejudices based purely on the evidence deemed relevant to, and presented typically by, the media. We don’t have to be right, we don’t have to show remorse when we’re wrong. We just wait for the next suspect to come along and try to improve our score. It’s not like we even have to wait very long.
May we never find ourselves to be victims of a false, malicious allegation.
The chatroom is open tomorrow from 2pm (UK), especially to those wishing to discuss the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor.