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Thursday, August 14, 2008 

No sense of shame.

I predicted yesterday that the same newspapers that stalked and smeared Colin Stagg for 14 years would not be at all happy with his £706,000 compensation award. Even I though didn't expect that both the Scum and the Mail would splash on it, each doing their very best to whip up faux-outrage in the way they have become so accustomed to doing. Not only did we get the £98,000 that was awarded to Nickell's son rolled out for comparison, but anyone and everyone who's received less of late has been brought up, or their families contacted for comment. Hence we have the Scum contacting the family of a woman murdered in the 7/7 attacks, who received only £11,000 in compensation, who declare that this makes the system a joke. The Sun being the Sun, "Our Boys" have to be brought into the equation, with the injured in action often receiving less than the maximum £285,000, although they also get a £20,000 annual pension. According to Phil Cooper, whose son received £57,000 after he lost the use of a leg and received severe injuries to his stomach, it's "a kick in the teeth." Danny Biddle, another 7/7 victim who lost both his legs, an eye and his spleen calls the system "disgraceful". The Mail even got the Tory MP Patrick Mercer to open his trap, commenting on both the "total imbalance" between the payout to Stagg and to Nickell's son, and then also onto our servicemen who are receiving nowhere near the same amount.

There is one comparison which neither of the tabloids make that other bloggers have however. Ben Collett, a promising Manchester United player, only a few days ago received a payout totalling £4.5 million in lost earnings after a high tackle broke his leg in two places and brought an end to his career. The one abiding message coming out of all of this is that the various compensation systems aren't fair or equal - hardly a newsflash. None of this is Stagg's fault. Indeed, that is the very reason why Stagg's payout deserved to be so high, if not higher. While everyone can sympathise with the victims of 7/7 who similarly were in the wrong place at the wrong time, it's a little different to the case of soldiers, who know full well the risks when they join up. This by no means justifies either their lower payouts or their relatively low wages, but it's not comparing like with like. Stagg was picked out for his treatment by both the police and the media for no other reason than he was supposedly weird: meaning he was a loner, had a couple of books on the occult, some paper knives and an unusual decoration scheme. This was enough for the police to decide that he was a murderer. It was enough for the media to believe, or convince themselves enough to believe, that he was the murderer.

What directly lies behind today's phony apoplexy is that the newspapers themselves know that they're just as responsible for the payout as the Metropolitan police are. It's impossible to think that Lord Brennan wasn't in part influenced when deciding the amount by the media's continued obsession with either directly or indirectly accusing Stagg of being involved in Nickell's death. Their cover is to pretend that they themselves are wholly innocent of any wrong-doing, and so again claim to be on the people's side and for those others that have been compensated less well. Even now the Mail is continuing in just the same way as it has for the last 14 years: wilfully misquoting Stagg in the headline of its current article to give the impression that he is unfeeling towards fellow miscarriage of justice victim Barry George, when in he fact says he feels sorry for the time he spent in prison but less sympathy because of his past conviction for attempted rape and tendency to follow women. As Dave Osler also notes, it also gives the most perfunctory of explanations to what happened to Stagg: he was simply cleared of Nickell's murders, not wrongly accused or fitted up by the police, perish the thought.

The Sun kindly however provides a reminder of how it and the other tabloids covered Stagg's acquittal, putting up a scan of their front page the day after. NO GIRL IS SAFE, it shrieks, alongside a photograph of Stagg, with Rachel murderer will strike again underneath. The inference is all too clear: this man has got away with it, and he will kill again.

Perhaps realising that they can't go too over the top, the Scum's leader admits, probably for the first time in such language, how Stagg's life was ruined:

THERE is no doubt Colin Stagg’s life was ruined by Scotland Yard’s cynical fit-up.

He spent a year in jail on remand before the charges over Rachel Nickell’s murder were dropped.

He has since spent 15 years as a social pariah, unemployable, and with the stink of suspicion hanging over him despite his total innocence.

Could the stink of suspicion hanging over him in any way be attributable to the Sun? Obviously not, as even now neither it nor any of the other tabloids have offered apologies to Stagg for their low-level campaigns against him. Here comes the but that you were waiting for:

Even so, £706,000 is an enormous compensation payout.

Especially compared with the £90,000 given to Rachel’s son Alex, who saw his mum murdered and will spend a lifetime without her.

Or compared with the payouts to victims of terrorist atrocities.

How much does the Sun think an adequate award for spending 15 years as a social pariah is then? Considering the tidy sums which newspaper editors and their proprietors are paid and pay themselves, isn't £706,000 an about right sum for their own role in his misery?

Many will be asking today whether the enormous sums given out in miscarriage-of-justice cases should dwarf so spectacularly those for people left enduring a lifetime of physical and mental agony.

Does the Sun think that spending inordinate lengths of time in prison for a crime that they didn't commit doesn't often leave miscarriage of justice victims with a lifetime of mental, and in some cases physical agony, considering the treatment they receive inside? One judge notably described the process some have been subject to as "like a prolonged kidnapping". If anything, the majority of payments to the victims of miscarriages of justice are derisory and add to insult to injury when "room and board" payments are deducted from them, like in the case of the Hickeys.

The system is patently unfair.

As indeed is life, and the press in this country. The one bright spot is that so many in the comments on both the Mail and the Sun sites have defended the payout, often saying it isn't enough. The only thing that hasn't been stressed enough is the media's own role. To that, we should leave the last words to Emine Saner:

The compensation is only a part of making amends. Stagg deserves some very public apologies: from the police and others who were convinced Stagg was guilty. From defaming authors who have made money from him and from every person who has ever spat at him in the street or hurled abuse. And definitely from certain newspapers (it would be tempting to think the press had learned its lesson but the recent experience of Robert Murat shows that nothing has changed). Then, perhaps, at last Colin Stagg really can get on with his life.

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Putrid little gas-cannisters; even the commenters are perturbed.

Ultimately, that the compensation will probably constitute his lifetime earnings. Very few employers will be willing to take the risk.

Maybe tomorrow The Sun can point out how gosh-darned unfair it is that someone who cleans up shit all day gets paid the minimum wage, yet someone who runs around a football pitch for 90 minutes every week and lives a wonderful lifestyle gets paid tens of thousands of pounds a week.

Socialism is what they're after, isn't it? Oh.

They key difference is that the 7/7 victims did not have their injuries caused by the state, whereas Stagg was harmed directly by agents of the state.

It's perfectly right of course that victims of serious crime are paid some kind of allowance to help them out, but in the case of Stagg the state is legally liable to compensate for every penny of loss.

Though of course the newspapers could be held liable for part of that amount, if that's what they'd prefer.

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