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Wednesday, May 21, 2008 

Scum-watch: More wild rumours, thoughts on why some crimes get more coverage than others, and typical Facebook bashing.

Having spent yesterday speculating wildly and potentially tramuatisingly on the fate of Rosimeiri Boxall, the hacks on the Sun having seemingly decided that it won't do to just attempt readers to sympathise with her fate; no, you can't have open and shut, black and white cases when no one really knows what happened. To alleviate such a objectionable situation, the Sun today publishes yet more rumours, except this time on what Boxall had consumed alcohol wise:

VICAR’S daughter Rosi Boxall downed wine and spirits before she plunged to her death from a window, it was claimed yesterday.

Hostel resident Holly Dowse told how 19-year-old Rosi was drunk by lunchtime after boozing with two teenage pals.

Holly, 17, said the girls were sinking Lambrini — advertised as a sweet wine for "girls who just wanna have fun" — and strong almond liqueur Amaretto.

Holly, who lives in the flat below in Blackheath, South East London, said: "I went upstairs at midday to tell the girls to be quiet.

"They were in the flat with two boys. I could see they had bottles of Lambrini and a bottle of Amaretto.

"One was dancing around in a black corset while the other was being loud and giggling with Rosi. They all seemed well on their way to being drunk even then."

Ah, see, it turns out she was a binge-drinking yob all along! The point of reporting this "fact" seems to be to cast doubt on the initial picture entirely, as after all, if you're drunk and messing around you can quite easily fall out of windows. Is it really too much to ask for the police to be left to investigate what happens without the press publishing such contradictory churnalism? Of course it is.

On an almost related point, there's an interesting letter in the Grauniad today from a bereaved father over the lack of coverage of his son's violent death:

I, too, am puzzled by media reporting of killings (Brothers guilty of running down father-of-two, May 15). My 22-year-old stepson, Tom Easton, was stabbed to death in September 2006 in a recording studio, where he was helping disadvantaged young people develop their talents. Like Jonathan Zito, he was killed by someone with schizophrenia, who has now been committed to Broadmoor. Yet the national media coverage of Tom's death was virtually non-existent. This lack of interest can't be explained away by "black-on-black" killings, or by nasty people doing nasty things to each other, as Professor Peter Cole asserts. Tom was white, middle-class, at work and an innocent victim of a savage attack. As a family who have lost someone in these circumstances, we're certainly not interested in column inches. What we do want is more debate about what must be done to prevent these tragedies, and government action. That debate has been muted, which is why Through Unity, a coalition of families like ours, has been formed. Maybe together our voices will be heard above the din of press sensationalism and celebrity journalism.

Peter Sinclair
Chair, Tom Easton Flavasum Trust

It isn't an exact science working out why some cases make all the headlines and some don't, but it's difficult to dismiss the notion that it is (mostly) about class and race when there's some evidence to suggest that in most cases that is exactly why some are reported so volubly and others not. Jimmy Mizen is a case that provides a number of reasons why his death was so widely covered, and others, often involving either black youths or ethnic minority youths who died in different circumstances haven't: he was white; middle class; he was, in the words of his parents, a perfect son, a good Catholic, and already had an apprenticeship lined up; his parents were telegenic and more than prepared to talk to the media; and, which I also don't doubt was a factor, one of his sisters additionally has down syndrome, always likely to inspire further sympathy.

As to why Tom Easton didn't receive similar coverage, I do vaguely remember his case, so it wasn't completely ignored or forgotten. Why he didn't receive the same though, although he was white and middle class and filled all the other usual particulars for which cases usually gain coverage, might well be because of what he was doing. Unfortunately, cynicism is hard-set in for good reasons in most hacks, especially those on the right-wing tabloids, and you can bet that some would have thought, if not voiced, that Easton might have been asking for it for working with such hoodlums, or at least he was putting himself in harms way, unlike Mizen who refused to fight.

In a similar way, it's perhaps why
Sophie Lancaster's mother hasn't received the overwhelming sympathy or coverage that Helen Newlove did; she happened to a youth worker who believed in compassion, letting live and and forgiving, and despite initial and understandable soul-searching about whether she could continue in such a job, she's decided she will. Contrast that to Newlove: the woman out not for justice, but for apparent vengeance, who gives the kind of quotes the tabloids adore, such as saying how she'd give her husband's killers the lethal injection herself, while demanding that new, deeply authoritarian and illiberal laws be brought in to stop such youths killing in the future. When met with individuals who don't want to pursue a vendetta, or even, God forbid, forgive their tormentors, as Anthony Walker's mother famously did, they don't understand it or consider it worthy of further coverage, except to ask how they possibly could do such a thing. The embittered and angry always make for better copy than the reflective ones who want to move on.

It's obviously clear why some of the apparent "black-on-black" knife crime deaths haven't received hardly any coverage beyond the initial reports; no one cares when "scum" appears to have killed "scum", not even the police, who might for other cases have issued press release after press release, as the Metropolitan police did after the murder of Tom ap Rhys Price, while the death of
Balbir Matharu was met with little other than silence, from both press and police themselves, until Ian Blair opened his mouth about it.

We can't place all the blame on journalists, especially when they might well have got the story only for it to be spiked or not used later. Sometimes there generally is no reason why murders receive no coverage, apart from maybe the changing practices of the media, increasingly obsessed with the urban centres while ignoring rural areas. Even if not a particularly heinous murder is committed during a time of slow news or especially the silly season, it's always likely to receive more coverage than it might otherwise do. When cases do receive obviously less coverage because of the race or class of the victim, or as witnessed recently when involving less sympathetic figures such as
Fiona MacKeown and the Matthews clan, we ought to speak louder. It is an issue however that does require a lot more study and research for any clear conclusions to be drawn; until then, Peter Sinclair's suggestions are wise ones which ought to acted on. Unfortunately, in the current media climate, it seems unlikely that anything will change.

Speaking of which, here's how the Sun reports the news that "crooks" are turning to social-networking sites to sell their ill-gotten gains:

Naturally, the fact that a certain social networking site owned by the Sun's proprietor is also doubtless home to such activity is nary mentioned.

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Ms. Lancaster gave an interview to the Daily Mail: you know the bastion of tolerance and understanding . The way in which you starkly contrast the public behaviour (you have no clue about what their private thoughts are) reveals that you are just as guilty of the kind of simplistic, polarised thinking that you castigate the Sun for.

Maybe you should share your experiences: how did YOU react when a relative of yours was murdered. I'm sure that would be most enlightening.

You're right, I don't have any clue what their private thoughts are. If I did, I wouldn't be writing this blog, that's for sure. Perhaps you know something I don't; how else am I supposed to contrast their behaviour than on their public thoughts? Are you insinuating that Ms Newlove in private is actually incredibly cuddly and doesn't really believe the things she says to the press, and vice versa with Lancaster?

I'm sure both have been through immense soul-searching, and as for your last comment, I know that if even someone I knew was murdered, I wouldn't be calling for them to be executed in public or saying that I'd be willing to be the executioner, as Newlove has. That's the need for vengeance, and then there's just base inhumanity.

Firstly, anger in an important stage in the process of grieving. I'm surprised you didn't know this. And, yes, I'm prepared to admit that I cannot imagine how I would react to the trauma of having witnessed my husband (or any other human being) being beaten to death. As a child, I frequently witnessed domestic violence and that was traumatic enough. I wouldn't be surprised if Ms. Newlove is suffering from PTSD. (Like one of the bloggers you link to in your sidebar). The Sun, of course, is hijacking this in order to further their agenda. Pretty evil, if you ask me.

IIRC, the stage that follows 'anger' in the process of grieving is despair. It must be quite tempting to remain angry. Personally, I think she should be working these feelings through in therapy rather than on the pages of the Sun but do you really think she had been offered that? The Sun is a poor substitute but a substitute nonetheless. You must remember that what people say and what they are actually prepared to do are entirely different things. I belong to an abuse survivors' group and the anger expressed in there is sometimes quite unnerving. Still, I'll be sure to pass on your view that they are exhibiting base inhumanity.

Finally, you must know Ms. Lancaster pretty well to know whether or not she is 'cuddly'. Unless, of course, a woman expressing anger in public means that she cannot possibly be 'cuddly'.

Of course I know anger is an important part in the grieving process. I also, when writing previously about Newlove, made clear that I wasn't impugning on her right to pour her heart out on the injustice of it all, especially if it would help with her coming to terms with her loss: http://www.septicisle.info/2008/01/political-tyranny-of-grief.html

As I then mentioned however, I think this has now gone far beyond that: http://www.septicisle.info/2008/03/sun-watch-if-hospitals-cure-then.html

As you say, this is all about the Sun (and other political parties also) hijacking Ms Newlove's anger and harnessing it for their own ends. I would have hoped she had been offered at least counselling; but maybe not.

There's a great difference also between expressing what you'd like to do in an abuse survivors' group and then saying the exact same thing in a national newspaper and making it out to be a political solution, as Newlove has over public executions with her prepared to be the hangman. We can't possibly respond to the inhumanity which took her husband's life with state-sponsored inhumanity. If we can't then criticise that, however unlikely it seems, and contrast the coverage such demands receive with what others who have no desire to strikeout after similar tragedies, we may as well just make Ms Newlove Home Secretary and be done with it.

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