Friday, December 19, 2008 

Still weird and still never wrong.

You won't be surprised to learn that despite the quite possibly unprecedented apology made to Colin Stagg by the Metropolitan police yesterday, not a single one of the newspapers which played just as significant a role in ensuring that he became a social pariah could find it within themselves to admit that they might have something to be sorry for also. After all, that sort of thing doesn't sell newspapers and it might make some of their readers question the integrity of both the journalists themselves and the paper they read as a whole. No, the story's moved on; now it's about the police incompetence, the paranoid schizophrenic with Asperger's syndrome who was able to kill again and the fact that he lives a so-called "cushy" existence in the highest security mental hospital in the country.

Stagg's tormentor in chief isn't quite finished with him yet though. The Daily Mail can't break out of a habit of a lifetime, so even as it grudgingly admits that he wasn't a killer, it just has to get in a few digs to the ribs:

£706,000, an apology from the Met and Colin Stagg is still bitter

Yes, how dare someone that's just "won the lottery" be "bitter"? After all, it was only 16 years of being suspected of one of the most notorious crimes in recent history despite being completely innocent; anyone else would be satisfied with their lot in life and glad that it wasn't longer.

He issued a statement of thanks for the ‘grovelling’ apology - and posed with a brand-new £27,000 Toyota Rav4 he bought himself as a ‘present’ with his compensation.

Ah yes, a 'present'. Only in the Daily Mail could something so innocuous be sneered at.

Inside were books on witchcraft, an altar and a black-painted wall decorated with chalk drawings of horned gods. Pictures from pornographic magazines adorned other walls. Books on the occult are still on the shelves, but a 50-inch plasma TV now dominates the living room and a new flameeffect fire adds a homely touch.

You really would think the Mail could lay off the snobbery for just one time, but no, apparently not.

Stockier now than when he was arrested, Stagg added: ‘I never want to talk about the case again as long as I live.’

He is not quite as media-shy as he claims, however. He wrote a book about his experiences, has given interviews for cash - and has just spent months with a BBC film crew. But his girlfriend - for whom he has bought a new patio, and lavished presents on her children - insisted to the Daily Mail yesterday: ‘Colin just wants to get on with his life like a normal Joe Public.’

What a hypocrite - how dare he make some more money when he's already won the lottery? He might not have kept his promise to stop talking to the media - but why shouldn't he when he's finally got what he wanted and when a high profile BBC documentary might also help put the record straight?

And still it goes on:

Miss Marchant confirmed that Stagg retained his interest in the occult, ‘but not in an evil way’ and said he was an extremely intelligent self-taught individual who ‘flies through the Times crossword’, but at heart is just ‘a normal regular guy’.

In other words, he's still weird, and we were completely justified in repeatedly suggesting he might just have been the sort of twisted psychopath that could carry out such a horrific crime. Oh, and he reads a rival newspaper.

The Mail's entire coverage is a catalogue of archetypal sensationalism, reflection completely absent from it, with the contempt for Stagg still apparent. The intro to this particular article is almost pornographic and wholly unnecessary, especially after Nickell's own family called for an end to the pain they suffer when the case is constantly recalled:

He probably watched her for a little while.

Almost certainly, he would have walked towards her at first, just to check her face. Maybe he even smiled.

This was the way Robert Napper stalked his prey before turning back to pounce on them from behind, usually with a knife at their throat.

Sometimes, in the dark, he would spy on them for hours in what they assumed was the privacy of their homes.

But here on Wimbledon Common, he selected his victim in the full glare of a summer day. Rachel Nickell was 23, blonde and beautiful, an ex-model and devoted young mother.

The whole cache of photographs of the young Napper the Mail has seems to have been handed to them by his father, whom the paper interviews. As a result, it's remarkably coy about his father's own apparent role in Napper's descent into mental illness, which the Guardian fills in:

During his first 10 years of life, he witnessed brutal violence meted out by his father, Brian, against his mother, Pauline. Such was the trauma suffered by Napper and his siblings that when the couple divorced, all four children were placed in foster care and underwent psychiatric treatment.

It seems Napper suffered more than his siblings, undergoing treatment for six years at the Maudsley hospital. As he reached puberty, he was psychologically damaged further when a family friend assaulted him on a camping holiday. He was 12 years old.

Another article summarising the police blunders opens thus:

The story of how one of Britain’s biggest murder inquiries descended into a disgraceful shambles which wrecked reputations starts on Wimbledon Common shortly after 10.30am on July 15, 1992, when Rachel Nickell’s body was found by a passer-by.

The Mail of course had no role in this disgraceful shambles which wrecked reputations. They just published what the public wanted, or even when their writers were sympathetic towards Stagg, they still had to write about how unpleasant he was, John Junor going beyond mealy-mouthed in writing that:

it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that he was indeed innocent.

Even in the Mail's main article, despite all the evidence now showing how Stagg was almost certainly completely fitted-up by a desperate police force that was under pressure from the likes of the Mail, it still uses weasel words and quotation marks, all to suggest that perhaps it was justified after all, such as here:

Their misguided ‘obsession’ with Stagg was compounded by what one senior legal figure described yesterday as the ‘mesmerising’ influence of Paul Britton, the controversial forensic psychologist who compiled a profile of Rachel’s likely killer.

Yes, it was misguided, but it obviously wasn't an obsession. If it was, surely the Mail's coverage down the years was as well. Perhaps it's just covering itself. Perhaps the Mail's journalists are just heartless bastards. Who knows? Still, obviously Rachel's parents deserve the same treatment given to Stagg:

Senior officers were forced to make an unprecedented public apology to Stagg, currently enjoying a £706,000 compensation payout.

Astonishingly, there was no such apology to Rachel’s family - even though detectives were compelled to admit that had Napper been apprehended back in 1989, Rachel need not have died.

"Currently enjoying"; says it all, doesn't it? There was in fact such an apology to Rachel's family, delivered at the same time as John Yates said sorry to Stagg, and in any event, at least publicly neither Rachel's parents nor her partner appear to blame the police to any great extent, her father in his statement saying in effect that the benefit of hindsight was a wonderful thing. Likewise, there was no apology from them to Stagg over how down the years they had urged a change in the law so that he could be tried again, although they have undoubtedly suffered just as much at the hands of the media as he has.

The Sun, thankfully, is much fairer in its treatment of Stagg, its article on him without any of the sneering of the Mail's. It even nicely skewers Keith Pedder, who always believed in Stagg's guilt sudden Damascene conversion to his innocence, without an extra word:

“I do feel sorry for him. He has paid a terrible price for a man found not guilty of murder.”

It would be nice to imagine that Pedder is genuinely sorry for what he inflicted on Stagg, but the money made from his books, now if not already heading straight for the pulping plant, probably means that he's in a decent enough position to be able to now feel contrition.

The Sun can't of course keep such fairness going; it simply isn't in its nature. Instead then yet more photographs of Nickell's son Alex are published, whilst the chutzpah of the Sun's story is almost sick inducing:

Reclusive Andre, 46, moved with Alex to a remote Mediterranean town to rebuild their lives — keeping their past a secret from locals.

But obviously not from the hacks which have plagued them both ever since Nickell's murder.

For sheer tastelessness, the Sun's main article on Napper's crimes wins the award. Headlined:

Ripper loved to butcher blonde mothers in front of their children

It attempts and completely fails, except in the exploitative sense, to compare Napper's crimes to Jack the Ripper's. Never mind that Jack's victims were prostitutes and Napper's weren't, and that the only thing that really connects them was the ferocity and savageness of their attacks, it takes the analogy to breaking point and beyond.

The Sun's overriding concern though is attempting to create outrage over Napper's so called "cushy" existence in Broadmoor, underlined by how he's allowed to feed the chickens and rabbits within view of a long lens. That he is criminally insane and such a danger that he will spend the rest of his life in mental hospital is obviously not enough of a punishment for his horrific crimes; after all, Philip Davies MP and Shy Keenan say so.

And the Sun's leader, naturally:

And the question The Sun asks today is this: Can it be right that a man who has so savagely taken the lives of others is allowed to live such a cosy life himself?

The Sun of course doesn't know whether his life is cosy or not; it just knows that he's allowed outside to feed farmyard animals. It doesn't matter that as well as a place for those convicted of crimes, Broadmoor also holds those convicted of none, who through therapy might eventually be released; Broadmoor ought to be the equivalent of Alcatraz, purely because of the nature of the crimes that some of those held there have committed.

Common decency demands that the way our justice system treats him reflects his crimes.

Should we let someone come in and rape him every so often, then? What is to be gained from locking someone so obviously damaged by his upbringing up all day and all night until he finally expires? Should his mental health be allowed to deteriorate even further, making him even more dangerous, as such treatment will almost certainly result in? The Sun doesn't say. Our rights just aren't being served by him seeing the light of day at all.

The Sun knows best, just as the tabloid media as a whole did. It knew then that Stagg was guilty and it knows now that it was the police blunders that doomed Nickell. It can never be wrong; it can never admit that it was just as mistaken, just as complicit as they were. And they accuse others of being totalitarian.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, December 18, 2008 

Callous, mercenary and unfeeling scum.

At long last, Colin Stagg has finally received what he always wanted: an apology from the Metropolitan police for their twisted and cowardly pursuit of him. Convinced that he was the killer of Rachel Nickell, mainly because he fitted the psychological profile drawn up by Paul Britton, they took advantage of a vulnerable, lonely sexually inadequate man and attempted, through what Mr Justice Ognall described as "positive and deceptive conduct of the grossest kind" to get him to incriminate himself. Despite their complete failure to get him to do that, with Stagg in actuality denying repeatedly that he had killed Nickell to "Lizzie James", the Met's undercover officer, he was still charged with murder and held on remand for 13 months.

This is not just a story about a miscarriage of justice, of police incompetence and arrogance, although that is there in abundance, it's also a damning indictment of the vast majority of the press in this country. Through open collusion in some cases with the police, they too decided that Colin Stagg was Rachel Nickell's killer, despite the complete lack of evidence. Instead they focused on the fact Stagg was "weird", that he had a couple of books on the occult, that one of his rooms was painted black, that he had "paper knives". They salivated at how he had been found guilty of indecent exposure, despite the fact it had happened at a known part of Wimbledon Common where nudists sunbathed as the result of a misunderstanding, meaning they had an excuse to call him a "pervert", that catch-all term which instantly damns anyone in the tabloid press to instant penury. Most of all, they believed the police themselves, so certain were they of Stagg's guilt, the back-scratching which at the time went on as one journalist freely admitted, resulting in the sort of witch-hunt more associated these days with when social services fail to save the life of a child.

Right up until Robert Napper was charged with Nickell's murder, with him today pleading guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, they hounded Stagg with a vehemence which ought to shock us, but which doesn't because we're so used to the denizens of the tabloid press demonising and smearing individuals even before they have been convicted of any crime. The Daily Mail was one of the biggest culprits, year after year featuring the familiar hatchet job articles about how Stagg had evaded justice through a technicality, on how he couldn't be tried again if new evidence emerged because of the double jeopardy rules, since changed by New Labour, featuring the demands of Nickell's grieving relatives, and then the serialisation of the open profiteering by Keith Pedder, the officer in charge of the original investigation, who wrote at least two books about how Stagg had got away with murder. The People republished the letters which Stagg exchanged with Lizzie James, sexually explicit as Stagg hoped to appeal to the officer who was the first to suggest pain and humiliation, upping the ante each time. As the BBC special Innocent: The Colin Stagg Story just made clear, James' claims got ever more ridiculous, including that she had been groomed by a Satanic-type group that eventually resulted in group sex and the sacrifice of a woman and child, but Stagg, desperate to lose his virginity, kept going along with it, a woman for the first time showing interest in him. That epitome of tabloid television, the Cook Report, was similarly determined that Stagg was guilty, ignoring a lie detector test that he took that showed he was telling the truth, instead demanding he take a "truth drug" as well. When he refused, it obviously proved that he was the murderer after all.

Let's not pretend though that Stagg was the only victim of the media frenzy which has continued to this day. What had started as the media helping to find the person responsible for a horrifically violent and shocking crime became instead a story that sells newspapers: the continuing tragedy of the beautiful murdered part-time model, further sentimentalised through the son that had clinged to her, even putting a piece of paper on her almost severed head, apparently as a makeshift plaster. Whereas in some cases the victim and the media join forces, in this instance it instead appears that the contact between Nickell's relatives and gutter press was always grudging. In a statement read to the court, Nickell's father Andrew gives some insight into what they went through:

The next loss is your anonymity. Your life is trampled on by the media. You are gawked at in supermarkets. You are avoided by so-called friends who think some bad luck will rub off on them.


You become ever more wary of strangers. You reveal nothing because they might be media or have contacts with the media. Copies of your phone bills are obtained and friends abroad ring up to try to discover where your grandson lives.


Every day Rachel's name is mentioned, her photograph published or her home videos shown, everything comes flooding back.

In a further statement outside the court, although also thanking the media for their continued interest, Andrew Nickell also requested that after today the media stop republishing her photograph or using the wearingly familiar home videos, one that seems unlikely to be granted.

As also alluded to in the court statement, Rachel's partner also became deeply disillusioned with the persistent media attention, taking their son and going to live in France partially as a result. Writing in 1996, he described the media in the following terms:

Callous, mercenary and unfeeling scum ... you've got people on your doorstep every day, people following you around in cars taking pictures of you, people peeping over fences and Rachel's face appearing in the paper every day with any tenuous link ... it's one of those stories that's become part of British culture."

Almost unbelievably, despite knowing full well that Andre Hanscombe left the country to try to get his son away from the consistent media attention, the Sun recently published a photograph of Alex obtained while he was walking his dog. His feelings and those of his relatives have always played second fiddle to the story itself, and the media's own profit from it.

How then has the media itself so far responded to today's events? Has it, like the Metropolitan police, got down on its knees and begged forgiveness from Colin Stagg for helping to ruin his life, making him unemployable, vilified, insulted, attacked, spat on? Of course not; doing that might hint towards their own fallibility, and besides, it might set a precedent. Only when ordered to by the courts or forced to by the Press Complaints Commission do the tabloids say they got it wrong. No, instead they've now got a new story: the Met's incompetence and their failure to catch Napper before he killed again. This is a story they've known about for years, and one which a truly investigative media might have pieced together themselves. Indeed, they almost did. The Daily Mail, chief amongst Stagg's tormentors, even splashed the day after Napper was convicted of the murders of Samantha Bissett and her daughter Jazmine with the headline "DID HE KILL RACHEL TOO?" Yes, as it turns out, but they instead turned their attention back to Stagg and their belief that he was the guilty party. It was left to Paul Foot in Private Eye, who always believed Stagg's innocence, to link more clearly Napper to Nickell. In fairness, both Pedder and Britton dismissed the similarities, Britton writing in his book "The Jigsaw Man" that it "was a completely different scenario", despite the extreme violence in each case and the child being present, even if Nickell's son was not killed as Bissett's daughter was. Britton, like the media, seems completely remorseless about how his profile destroyed Stagg and also resulted in the real killer escaping justice for almost two decades.

Amidst all the screams about the "SEVEN blunders that let Rachel Nickell madman kill and kill again", the real story here is of the media's abject failure both to hold the police to account themselves and also to investigate the other possibilities. By coincidence, two other miscarriages of justice were also resolved today. Suzanne Holdsworth, found guilty at her first trial of the murder of a two-year-old boy in her care, was cleared, partially as a result of an investigation by John Sweeney for Newsnight, the second miscarriage of justice he has been involved in resolving, while Barri White, convicted at his first trial of the murder of his girlfriend Rachel Manning, was also cleared of any involvement in her death. His case was featured on the BBC programme Rough Justice, as well as appearing in the back pages of Private Eye. In both of these cases it was the media so loathed by the gutter press that helped to prove their innocence. The really sad thing is that they might be the last of their kind: Rough Justice has been cancelled while Newsnight's resources are being continually slashed. The so-called popular media, the one which is supposed to give the people what they want, which in Paul Dacre's words will cease to exist if it cannot report on scandal, cannot or refuses to report on the real scandals. Wedded to churnalism and journalism which is cheap, fast and easy to produce, they claim to be the voice of the people while repeatedly failing them. If the tabloids and those who produce them have any conscience, they too tomorrow will apologise to Colin Stagg. Instead they'll already be on to the next nearest scapegoat.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 

The Stagg hunt draws to a close.

It's difficult to think of someone more of a victim of the gutter press in this country than Colin Stagg. One other name does come to mind, but she used them as much as they used her. Here's a prediction: tomorrow the very same newspapers that stalked and hunted him for over a decade will be at the least less than happy with the £706,000 that Stagg through his solicitors has revealed he will receive in compensation for his treatment courtesy of the Metropolitan police. They will raise the amount which Rachel Nickell's son received, a derisory sum which could never even begin to account for how he was found, gripping his mother, covered in blood and begging her to get up. They will point out for a very long time indeed he was the only suspect; because the police themselves wanted him to remain the only suspect. Keith Pedder for one, the detective inspector in charge on the case, has written two self-affirming and congratulatory books on how Stagg had managed to get away with murder. It was only after a further investigation by a separate cold case team that another man, Robert Napper, a paranoid schizophrenic being held at Broadmoor indefinitely for two murders with similarities to the killing of Nickell that the police finally admitted to themselves that their hunt for Stagg had been futile.

Not that they have admitted publicly to that, or said the simplest words to Stagg personally that they got it wrong. Then again, why should they? After all, those other companions in the decade long stalking, baiting and smearing of Stagg, this country's finest tabloid newspapers, have never admitted they were wrong or said sorry either. Although almost of them were involved in pursuing him and ran articles calling either for the abolition of the laws on double jeopardy (which New Labour happily obliged in removing) or that implicated him in the murder if not directly accusing him, undoubtedly the most bile was delivered in the limp Sunday rag The People, which republished the letters which "Lizzie James", the Met's honeytrap exchanged with Stagg during the attempt to link him to the kind of bizarre sexual practices which the psychologist Paul Britton was convinced the perpetrator had. The Mail meanwhile, in the best practices which the newspaper retains for those that are accused of crimes, performed hatchet job after hatchet job, serialising Pedder's impotent book, and also ran an interview with Nickell's former boyfriend, who made a personal appeal for the double jeopardy law to be repealed. Their attitude towards Stagg could not be more summed up than by the words of John Junor, whom in an article purporting to ask the question whether Stagg would always be targeted as the killer who got away, wrote:

It would be terrible, however, to think that he is going to be hounded for the rest of his life for having been found not guilty of murder when it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that he was indeed innocent.

How magnanimous and kind of both Junor and the Mail to admit that it was possible that Stagg was indeed innocent, despite his acquittal. The irony and amazing chutzpah of the Mail asking whether Stagg would remain to be stalked when it was the one leading the stalking, while also attempting to soften its line but failing miserably is something to behold.

Nick Cohen, writing in the Observer a couple of years back, linked the credulity and continuing belief that Stagg was guilty among the tabloid hacks to the influence of the police on them, to the closeness which gives them their stories, their exclusives, and the photographs of the suspects themselves either being brought in or when arrested. This is undoubtedly part of the reason, but I am far more cynical than Cohen. These reporters knew full well that Stagg was innocent, as did their editors. The best that can be said is that they convinced themselves in order to appraise their consciences of any guilt. This had to be done because there was no evidence whatsoever linking Stagg to Nickell except the Met's attempts to entrapment, which he even then rebuffed. No, these stories were not out of any public interest to ensure that the killer was brought to justice, they were because they knew they were what the public wants to read, that they want someone to blame when such horrible crimes are committed, even if the case is apparently unsolvable, and that most of all, they sold. Nickell's former boyfriend, already mentioned, noted this. His bitterness at being chased out of the country, forced to live in France to escape was more than palpable in his description of the hacks:

"Callous, mercenary and unfeeling scum ... you've got people on your doorstep every day, people following you around in cars taking pictures of you, people peeping over fences and Rachel's face appearing in the paper every day with any tenuous link ... it's one of those stories that's become part of British culture."

Quite so. Much is the same with any attractive woman or child that is tragically killed, murdered or abducted. Whether it be Nickell, Princess Diana, Sally Anne Bowman or Madeleine McCann, they stare out from the front pages, forever locked in their youthful beauty, demanding that something be done about their disappearance or deaths. They pretend that it's because they care, when in reality it's because of their own business models, the phoniness of providing a service while sucking the individual they've latched onto dry until they too can be dispensed with, when the trail finally dries up and everyone, except those being exploited, have moved on.

The police's insistence in having found the right person is the justification, not the reason why. We saw it again just a couple of weeks back with Barry George, where again hardly any journalists or anyone outside of the police really believed he was anywhere near capable of killing Jill Dando, let alone in the way in which she was assassinated. Yet they printed the police's self-serving, laughably weak attempts to still pretend that George was the murderer, even while they must surely have known it was not true. In Nickell's case, at least the police have now found a man who might well be her real murderer, while with Dando it seems incredibly unlikely that her killer will ever be brought to justice. The victims in both cases have been treated abominably, whether they be the relatives or those fitted up. And yet our supposed justice seeking media, which never lets up on the law and order agenda, defends and carries the squeals of innocence spoon-fed to them by their sources.

Stagg's award, despite its size, will never get him his life back. It seems doubtful, even now, that he'll find work, after being made unemployable because of his notoriety. There is however most certainly a case for the £706,000 not completely being stumped up by the taxpayer. No, the real damage was done not by the trial and the fit-up, but by the compliant media which demonised and destroyed day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year. It should be Associated Newspapers, the Mirror Group and News International that should be writing the cheques and stumping up at least half if not more of the money. The suffering they have caused and continue to cause to countless people through their complete lack of integrity and not knowing when enough is enough is such that it's time they were hit in the only place where it hurts: the pocket. Their power however protects them, and there is absolutely nothing it seems that we can do about it.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Friday, November 30, 2007 

The Daily Mail has absolutely no shame.

It's a cliche. Guardian readers denounce the Daily Mail. Daily Mail readers denounce the Guardian. The world continues to turn. Thing is, the more you delve into tabloid journalism, the one thing that never ceases to amaze me is just when you think that they can't possibly go any lower, that the abyss can't simply go any further down, they come up with something so underhand that it takes the breath away. Paying a Polish couple to drive their car around London and break the law was a case in point. An article that goes beyond even that has just been published. First though, the continuing attacks on Colin Stagg, which even now are continuing.

To give just a smidgen of balance to proceedings, Stagg really ought to know by now that talking to any tabloid is just giving them material to attempt to justify, even if they don't go into the facts of the case and their involvement, their personal pursuit of him for over 10 years. Perhaps the Mail paid him. Who knows. Either way, this was still a hatchet job. The article opens with:

As a mental patient is charged with killing Rachel Nickell, a disturbing admission from the man whose name will be forever linked with hers...

And just what is this disturbing admission? We don't find out until almost right at the end:

"I don't feel anything about Rachel Nickell. She doesn't mean anything to me," he says, when I first ask about his feelings towards her.

It's a bizarre thing to say, given that their names have been so linked.

Only after being pressed does he express any sorrow for the young mother.

"Of course I'm sorry about what happened to her, but in the same way I'm sorry when I hear about murders on TV.

"That's the thing: someone was murdered and it was all very tragic, but murders happen.

"They don't affect your life. Unless you knew the person, of course."

What did the Mail expect, or indeed want? Did they want him to break down and cry crocodile tears about the woman who if she hadn't been murdered wouldn't have ruined his life? Put yourself for a moment in Stagg's shoes. You've been hounded for a decade because the police and then the media decided that you'd committed a heinous murder that you in fact had nothing to do with. Finally, the review of the forensic evidence finds definitively that you had no involvement in the murder. Despite that, neither the police nor the media even have the decency to offer you a formal apology, although they will pay compensation. They've been living off your despair and misery, inflicting it upon you, in the cases of Keith Pedder selling books calling for you to be tried again, with Nickell's partner also calling for the rule on double jeopardy to be abolished so you can be put before a different courtroom, and they expect you after all that time to still show some empathy towards the woman who was brutally murdered by a man they should have caught first time round? Call me insensitive, be I don't think I'd be particularly sorry either. After 15 years, Stagg has more or less the same attitude that a distinct proportion of the country would have upon hearing the news of anyone's death that they didn't know. This, for the Mail, makes for a "disturbing admission".

It wouldn't be the Mail if it simply ended there. No, Stagg's still the "weirdo" and "oddball", it would seem:

His attitude to women is, however, more than a little unsettling.

In the infamous letters to the undercover policewoman, he admitted to violent sexual fantasies, and at one point confessed he was aroused by the thought of Nickell's murder (though crucially, he never admitted to the killing).

The Mail doesn't think to mention that he admitted to those "violent sexual fantasies" because, as other evidence not presented showed, he desperately wanted the relationship with the female officer who approached and entrapped him to work,
saying anything that he thought might make her stay or think more of him. As the judge described it, it was the "most vivid illustration of shaping the accused's mind." There's still more:

He appears to blame all women for his social failings.

"You women don't realise how much power you have to hurt men," he says.

"Women always go for good-looking blokes, even if they treat them terribly. The geeks like me never get a look-in."

Which is far from being a unique statement, nor is it any proof whatsoever that he blames women for his "social failings". It's just someone embittered by loneliness and years of attacks looking inward. The Mail talks about his relationship with a woman which started in prison ending in her selling her story to the media, and it expects him not to be slightly rueful about the pain he's suffered? It says more about the journalist and the story she's written or been expected to pen than it does about Stagg.

These two paragraphs more than sum up the sheer chutzpah on the part of the Mail:

Even in the aftermath of his acquittal, there were many - certainly among the police, and consequently Rachel's family - who never wavered in their conviction that Stagg got away with murder.

Perhaps now the murder charge brought against Robert Napper will mean that whatever becomes of this new case, the public perception of Stagg will change.

The Mail naturally doesn't mention its own or the media's role in demonising Stagg. Why would it break the habit of a lifetime?

"The only difference is that now, people are also coming up and saying sorry for thinking the worst of me.

"But there's still a lot of people that need to say sorry.

"I have been terribly wronged."

That much is clear.

Around the only decent sentence in the whole article. Will the Daily Mail now say sorry too? The above more than demonstrates what it still really thinks.

Just to prove the Mail hasn't learned a single thing from Stagg's innocence, up pops the most vile Daily Mail article I think I have ever read.

Amanda Knox - accused of killing Meredith Kercher - has been portrayed as a blameless girl led astray when she moved to Italy. But as this investigation reveals, she already had a dangerous appetite for drink, drugs and sex ...

After which commences the most despicable, disgusting, moralistic, prurient, based on hearsay hatchet job on a young woman yet to be charged with any crime and who can't defend herself you're ever likely to read. It's not even worth the slightest perusal of its numerous claims about "Foxy Knoxy" - you know you're in trouble when the tabloids start calling you by your supposed nickname - but this final paragraph gives an example of what you can expect:

And a British family is left to mourn the brutal death of their beautiful daughter, who, it seems, died for no other reason than that she had the terrible misfortune to find herself sharing an apartment with 'Foxy' Knoxy.

The "journalist" responsible for this is Andrew Malone. A click on "more by this author" leads you to other choice pieces, such as Why Portugal is a haven for paedophiles - the disturbing backcloth to the Madeleine case, Inside feral Britain: A blood-chilling journey into the heart of our teenage gang culture and finally Brutality or justice? The truth behind the tarred and feathered drug dealer, which contains this apologia for vigilante attacks:

This show of "community justice" may have happened in Northern Ireland, but the professed reasons behind it may strike a chord with millions of law-abiding people in communities across the UK - where the police and courts are each day failing countless victims of violent crime.

Nothing, surely, can excuse such horrific savagery on our streets - and such casual contempt for the basic principles of justice. Yet, many people in areas across Britain will recognise the sense of impotence felt by the people of Taughmonagh, a rugged, working-class estate with the Union Jack hanging from virtually every house. There is a real sense of community in the area.

Welcome to Daily Mail land. Enjoy your stay.

Update: Please accept my apologies. I quite forgot for a while there that Richard Littlejohn late last year informed us that the deaths of the five prostitutes murdered in Ipswich was "no great loss". Make the "Foxy Knoxy" smear second most vile Mail article.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, November 29, 2007 

Us? Demonise Colin Stagg? We're innocent!

Look, he's got a shitty tattoo! He must be weird!

Not a single word. Not a single fucking word. For ten years they vilified him, haunted him and demanded that the law on double jeopardy be repealed so that he could be tried again. In his own words, he was, as the Sun and Daily Mail happily quote, "a national hate figure. I had to endure every form of vilification. I was insulted, attacked, spat upon. My home was attacked and so was I." They made sure of the fact that despite having the case against him thrown out, with the judge describing the way the police went about entrapping him as "a substantial attempt to incriminate a suspect by positive and deceptive conduct of the grossest kind" that it was instead seen as being as a result of a technicality. There was no other evidence against him of any sort, only that he, through the attempts by the young, attractive police officer to entrap him, had came to fit the profile which the psychologist Paul Britton had drawn up for who he thought the murderer was. The only thing he was guilty of was being a lonely, outsider type figure: flattered, and desperate for his relationship with the undercover police woman to continue, his innocence ought to have been obvious from one of his taped conversations:

"Please explain, as I live a quiet life. If I have disappointed you, please don't dump me. Nothing like this has happened to me before."

Colin Stagg will be used to the treatment still today being meted out to him by the tabloids. Of the three that continued to pursue him over 10 years, not a single one can bring itself to admit its own role in the vilification, abuse and hatred which they helped spread towards an innocent man. In the world of the tabloids, you shouldn't expect a mea culpa unless you resort to the likes of Schillings or manage to get a complaint adjudicated by the supine and toothless Press Complaints Commission. You would hope however that they might feel the odd pang of guilt themselves over how they ruthlessly ruined a man's life and made him into both a pariah and a untouchable, perhaps amounting to a small amount of hand-wringing or a mealy-mouthed half admittance that they got it horribly wrong.

Not a bit of it. If anything, the Daily Mail, Stagg's chief persecutor, is still treating what happened to Stagg as a personal "claim":

Mr Stagg claims the CPS, the Met and a Cracker-style criminal profiler were wrong to target him during the first probe.

A leaked internal CPS report on the collapse of the trial made an astonishing attack on Mr Justice Ognall, the judge who threw out the case against Mr Stagg after criticising the honey-trap operation involving a blonde undercover policewoman known as Lizzie James.

Mr Justice Ognall told the Old Bailey the tactic was 'a substantial attempt to incriminate a suspect by positive and deceptive conduct of the grossest kind'.

But the CPS report said the judge had an unfairly 'disciplinary approach' towards the police and, after hearing how they gathered their evidence, was 'determined to stop the prosecution'.

The judge has of course been proved to be absolutely right in his assessment of the prosecution case against Stagg. While not quite of the same order, other recent cases where those on trial have been somewhat entrapped include the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot that never was, as well as the "red mercury" trial, both of which were orchestrated by Mazher Mahmood for the News of the World, and found wanting in almost every way. Instead of accepting that Stagg's "claims" are not exactly what happened, the Mail quotes the CPS's self-serving refusal to countenance that the Met investigation and general incompetence in fact enabled the real killer to quite possibly murder again.

The Sun's coverage is, if anything, even worse. It similarly quotes Stagg's interview given, but even after all this time it still refuses to describe Stagg as anything other than a "weirdo":

Local oddball Colin Stagg was charged with her murder following a honeypot sting by police using an undercover policewoman who tried to coax details from him.

Ah yes, the local "oddball", so often the easy person to pin an unsolved and difficult case to crack on. It happened with Barry George, and it'll happen again. The difference is that almost no one believed that George did it, apart from the police and Nick Ross, while Stagg endured years of torment because the police were more effective in convincing the media that he was the one who'd got away because of the judge's bias against the prosecution.

The Express is the only newspaper not to go out of its way to either still paint Stagg as weird or go above the board of duty to give the benefit of the doubt to the police's original case. It does though quote a laughable Scotland Yard spokesman:

“The investigation into the murder of Rachel Nickell has always remained open and subject to ongoing reviews."

Someone ought to tell that to Paul Condon, who as head of the Met made clear that they weren't looking for anyone else, despite the case against Stagg being thrown out.

None of the papers managed to find any space to quote in full the interview that Stagg gave to yesterday's ITV News. While he seems to have found it within himself to forgive the police, he showed no such compassion towards the media, who it was clear he holds responsible for his treatment since the case was thrown out at the trial. And who could possibly blame him? When it was announced that he would be receiving compensation, rather than admit they'd got it wrong, both the Mail and the Sun ran articles comparing his likely pay-out to that given to Rachel Nickell's 2-year-old son, with the Sun condemning it in a leader column. Never was it admitted that if they hadn't so demonised the man that the payout might not have been so high.

Such is the nature of our tabloid media. Their bread and butter is the high profile crime stories, the more sensational the better. Yesterday saw the conviction of the killer of Laila Rezk, who was battered to death in her home a year to today. Both the Sun and the Mail described the likely killer as a "deranged, stalking maniac", with the Sun the next day breathlessly reporting that "THE killer of glamorous mum-of-two Laila Rezk is a twisted sex beast." The reality was rather different. Rezk's murderer was an 19-year-old burglar on an electronic tag, who apparently picked Rezk's home at random to rob, found her at home and beat her to death, altering her clothing to leave the impression of a sexual motive. He had shown no previous inclination towards being capable of the horrific violence used on that day, with him today sentenced to life, to serve a minimum of 18 years. It's hardly the first time the tabloids have got it so horribly wrong; something the families of Rochelle Holness
and Janet Hossain can testify to. Apologies, if any are issued, get completely buried, while the hurt and continuing pain at losing a loved one is only exacerbated by such egregious mistakes. At least in those cases the families themselves are not the actual target; Stagg was never able to prove his innocence against such a backdrop of media prejudice.

Some often doubt the power of the media or the idea that half of the stuff printed in the tabloids is ever believed by anyone. Polls showing trust in tabloid journalists lower than in that of estate agents suggest that such views are more than warranted. The hounding of Colin Stagg, as well as that of Maxine Carr, which has led to the vaguest of lookalikes themselves being subjected to hate and being in fear of their lives at the hands of baying mobs, not to mention the notorious Portsmouth anti-paedophile protests in the aftermath of the News of the World's name and shame campaign shows that tabloid editors are more than aware of the way their words can lead to actions that might not have intended, but could more than imagine might well happen as a result. I'm most certainly not suggesting that tabloids should moderate their language; far from it, although I will continue to criticise the ridiculous caricaturing of all those convicted of crimes as "villains". They should however when they get things so horribly and unforgivably wrong apologise about it, own up to it, and make clear that they will not repeat such things in the future, or carry apologism for doing so. They have the power to ruin lives, and they need more than ever to be accountable. At the moment they, like so many others, appear to reject that they have such responsibility as a whole to society.

Related posts:
Rhetorically Speaking - Pride of Fleet Street
Enemies of Reason - The Stagg Hunt is Over

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 

Rachel Nickell, the media and the increasing chance of more miscarriages of justice.

Colin Stagg.

Only 15 years after Rachel Nickell was murdered, the CPS today announced that Robert Napper, long suspected to have been her murderer, has been charged in connection with her death. Napper is being held indefinitely in Broadmoor for the murder of Samantha Bissett and her two-year-old daughter Jazmine in 1993, while he is also suspected of being the "Green Chain rapist", a long series of sexual assaults and attacks on women which took place along the Thames-side path known as the "Green Chain walk", which abruptly stopped in 1994 after Napper's arrest.

Although Keith Pedder, the detective in charge of the investigation has said Napper was at one point considered a suspect, it was at the time that Colin Stagg was awaiting trial for Nickell's murder, and that "there was nothing to tie him to the Rachel Nickell murder." Apart from the similarities in the way both Nickell and Bissett were brutally attacked and mutilated, obviously, even if in Nickell's case her son was not killed as Bisset's daughter was. In reality, Napper was a far more likely suspect that Stagg ever was, but the police had decided that Stagg was guilty and that all they needed was to, err, find the evidence to prove it. In the mean time, Napper, who had been arrested over the "Green Chain rapes" but had been released without charge after the police realised he was significantly taller than 5 foot 5 as they believed the perpetrator was, without bothering to take a DNA sample even though Napper offered one, went on to murder Bissett. It's also not as if the media didn't take an interest in Napper: the Daily Mail, which was instrumental in pursuing Stagg for over a decade, asked on its front page the day after he was convicted of the Bissett murder "DID HE KILL RACHEL TOO?". The late Paul Foot also wrote in Private Eye at the time about the suspicions of Napper's involvement.

Stagg meanwhile, despite the case against him being thrown out by the judge who called the honey trap set-up by the police as the "most vivid illustration of shaping the accused's mind," endured years of baiting by the tabloids and the media. He passed a lie detector test organised by the Cook Report, but that wasn't good enough for the producers, who wanted him to take a "truth drug" as well; he declined. Keith Pedder has written at least two books, now likely to either be pulped or highly revised, both of which make clear his belief that Rachel's son has been denied justice. Stagg has not only not received a formal apology from the police, he's also never experienced even the slightest mea culpa from the numerous journalists and others who wrote that he should be tried again. The Sun still persisted when he was finally cleared of any involvement in Nickell's murder through the new forensic evidence which has led to Napper being charged in referring to him as "an oddball", and that Nickell's son deserved more compensation than he did.

Doubtlessly, few of the papers that were so vociferous in shadowing Stagg will be wringing their hands tonight. The blame will be laid squarely at the feet of the police, while their role in encouraging the belief that Stagg had escaped justice will be subtly airbrushed out of history. This comes at a time however when legal aid is being cut back, the criminal justice system is complaining of being stretched to the limit, and compensation to those wrongly convicted is also being lowered, while surveys show increasing numbers think that access to solicitors ought to be further curtailed. The media, far from scaling back and re-examining their coverage of crime is in fact dedicating ever more space to it while the amount of potentially prejudicial material being published also seems to grow. In the last year alone we've seen the rampant voyeurism over the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, still continuing more than six months after she vanished, the lurid salaciousness and delighting in the gory and sexual details surrounding the death of Meredith Kercher, the leaks to the press before the arrests over the Birmingham "beheading" plot had even taken place, and last December the publishing on the front page of the Sun of a photograph of the man charged with the murder of 5 prostitutes in Ipswich, pretending to strangle his ex-wife. The climate seems right for a new wave of miscarriages of justice, aided and abetted by a news atmosphere driven by the lowest common denominator.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |


  • This is septicisle


Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates