The story of the Philpott children, killed by their parents in a deliberate house fire, is appalling. Kids who were born to a chaotic household, whose father and mother reportedly showed no remorse after burning them to death.
It’s right, therefore, that we should look for ways in which this might have been prevented. While the Mail’s assertion that Mick Philpott was made into the monster he is by the welfare state goes too far, Guido is right to point out the uncomfortable truth that the benefits system coddled him, funded his abusive lifestyle and ultimately played a motivating part in his sickening decision to start the fire.
But to focus on the distortions and failings of the welfare system is to miss other, crucial points. How does this case reflect on our social care and criminal justice systems?
By all accounts, Mick Philpott had a decades-long history of predating upon, taking advantage of and violently abusing vulnerable young women. It is hard to imagine his repeated abusive relationships with teenage girls over the course of the last 30 years had gone unnoticed – and impossible to believe the relevant authorities still didn’t pick it up when he became a minor celebrity in the papers and on the Jeremy Kyle Show. With catastrophic results, they were aware and they decided it was not important enough to address.
Even worse, this case reveals an obvious and disastrous failure in our criminal justice system. In 1978, Philpott’s fiancée dumped him. In response, he broke into her house at night and stabbed her 27 times, slitting open her stomach and telling her: “If I can’t have you, no one will”. He then turned the knife on her mother and left the two of them for dead.
He was caught and convicted – and sentenced to seven years in jail. It is hard to think of a more comprehensive demonstration of wickedness and willingness to act upon it than what he did in 1978, and yet he was released a few years later, giving him decades to build up to the atrocity daubed over today’s newspapers.
This is a simple fact in a complex mess: if Mick Philpott had been sentenced to life (real life) in prison, he would not have committed his later crimes. Our criminal justice system could and should have stopped him – it did not.
The Daily Mail has a
horrifying quite remarkable interview with Edwina Currie today, written by Jan Moir on the back of the paper’s serialisation of her diaries. It’s simultaneously vomitous, unintentionally hilarious and fascinating in the same way as those videos uploaded to Youtube where a teenage skater breaks his arm trying some ill-advised stunt.
I’ll put a health warning on this – only those possessed of a particularly strong stomach or a particularly weak imagination should read the whole piece. In the interests of public safety, I’ve read it for you, and picked out some of the most, err, memorable sections:
Got to say it: the 65-year-old former junior health minister is looking good. Her sausagey, brunette curls are as bouncy as ever, her skin is excellent, she oozes the same indestructible confidence of yesteryear, even if she is worried about her weight.
“Sausagey”? I’m not sure that comes across quite as the compliment it was seemingly intended to be, Jan. So now we are greeted by an image of Edwina Currie whose head is adorned with long bags of ground-up meat, like some kind of butchershop Valkyrie.
‘Was I sex-obsessed? Well I certainly wasn’t cupcake-obsessed, let’s put it that way.’
Good to know – but having ruled-out cupcake obsession, does that inherently rule in sex obsession? Or just leave open the door to obsessions with sheds, magpies or petrol tankers?
Elsewhere in the book, she is constantly measuring others up to herself and finding them wanting. No one is quite good enough. Ex-husband Ray is dim and boring. Norman Lamont is sly and self-indulgent. Libby Purves is fat and tatty. Paddy Ashdown is not very bright, Michael Portillo is unpleasant, Michael Howard is oily and Ann Widdecombe is aggressive.
But other than that, the 90s were great.
‘I am quite a fan of David Cameron. He understands duty. He’s got charm, he’s emollient, he’s got a face like a nicely creamed baby’s bottom.’
Like a what? I’m sure Downing Street will be if not delighted, then at least utterly bewildered and slightly troubled by that.
On her first date with former murder squad copper JJ — after he had appeared as a guest on her Radio 5 Live show — she found herself well and truly locked up in the jail of love.
Alan Partridge has found a gateway into the real world, and he is writing under the pseudonym “Jan Moir”.
‘I don’t regret the affair with [John Major]. I don’t do regrets,’ she says. And even after all this time, a glazed and faraway look creeps into her eyes when she thinks of him, rather like a panther eyeing a crippled vole that’s just appeared on the horizon.
Trust me, even the panthers and the crippled voles are cringeing at that one. What does it even mean? It’s hard to imagine what kind of “faraway look” a panther adopts when it spots a crippled vole appearing on the horizon. Perhaps it’s a look that says “wow – check out that vole, it’s totally knackered”, or a lingering regret that without any opposable thumbs it can’t film this for LOLs with other panthers at a later date. Or, more probably, simply a look that says “Roar, miaow, roar”.
‘John Major was a sexy beast. I think his history shows that. He was 19 when he was living with a woman who was 33. Believe me, I did not have to teach that man anything.’
And there it goes – my lunch, vengefully returned from its rightful place, all over the keyboard. I’ll be sending the Mail an invoice.
ResPublica’s Phillip Blond – Red Tory philosopher king and the think tank world’s most notable wearer of the Emperor’s new clothes – has had a difficult twelve months. Much of it, admittedly, due to this blog’s interest in the real value, or lack thereof, in his ideas.
First I revealed that ResPublica was facing money problems, leading to the ditching of the majority of their staff. Then the Sunday Times followed up my post with revelations that staff had been locked out of the office due to non-payment of rent, and Blond had loaned himself £38,000 from company funds. The media interest continued, with the Mail reporting bizarre behaviour like the purchase – with ResPublica money – of “a garish Regency-style chair decorated with pictures of women in bikinis and high heels sitting astride motorbikes”.
Then this Spring I exclusively published leaked documents in which a ResPublica donor – NESTA, which is taxpayer-funded – tore apart the “research” which Blond’s outfit had produced for them, including such damning comments such as “too vague to be useful”, “lacking originality”, and “none of the reports are of a sufficient quality to be published”.
It’s understandable, given that Westminster has started to see through his act, that Blond decided to branch out abroad, presumably in the hope that people who’d never heard of him would be more supportive.
Last week the Red Tory messiah headed off to Australia, to attend a “leadership retreat” on a tropical island with Australian politicians, and then meeting Tony Abbott, the leader of the Opposition.
Fortunately, it seems the Aussies lived up to their notorious disdain for people who spout pretentious nonsense – no sooner had Blond’s grand tour begun, but prominent figures right across the political divide started calling him out.
Links through to this blog’s revelations about the Red Tory’s behaviour in practice abounded, with Tweeters including the President of one of Australia’s largest Trade Unions, one of Australia’s most influential political consultants and one of the nation’s flagship broadcasters. Overnight, thousands of Australians came to read the truth about Phillip Blond, and Australia leapt up the rankings to become CrashBangWallace’s main source of traffic.
In the age of the internet, it’s far harder to keep pulling off the same stunt over and over again – as Phillip is experiencing, things do tend to follow you around.
Hopefully, for their sake, Australia has seen through Red Toryism before it infects their politics with meaningless, paternalist gobbledegook. Or, as Blond himself might put it, “Let us seek manifold aspirations that the Antipodean demos has become immunised prior to the pestilential tainting c-change of its domestic dialectic with antediluvian flim-flammery.”
As well as proving extremely popular with the public at large, the Thick of It was a smash hit in Westminster because of its worryingly accurate portrayal of the hurly burly and barely-managed chaos of British politics.
Today there is further proof from the Daily Mail of how deeply entrenched the series has become in Westminster culture:
With Britain’s Libyan policy descending into what one source called an ‘omnishambles’, David Cameron was kept informed as the Government’s Cobra crisis committee met through yesterday.
“Omnishambles” was of course coined as a term by Malcolm Tucker. Has he just outed himself as the Mail’s unnamed source?
Chris Jefferies may have committed the murder of Joanna Yeates – but as one of the fundamental principles of our legal system reminds us, he is innocent until proven guilty. It’s become a tradition in these cases for the media to indulge in heavy handed, nudge-nudge wink-wink implication when reporting the arrest of someone even before any charges have been brought.
Recall the case of the Ipswich Ripper, who murdered five women in 2006. The case is still notorious, but most of us have forgotten about Tom Stephens, the innocent but extremely odd man arrested wrongly for the crime spree. As soon as his name was revealed, numerous outlets started heaping increasingly peculiar implications on him – normally using anonymous comments from neighbours an acquaintances.
The most bizarre of these, which I remember made me laugh out loud at the time, was that he had been “digging in his garden with a small trowel“.
The smear was that if he was digging, he must have been burying something (or someone). In reality, of course, if digging ones garden with a small trowel was a crime then millions would be detained every Sunday afternoon and the panellists of Gardeners’ Question Time are veritable Moriartys.
The same is happening to Chris Jefferies. I am not attempting to go on some crusade to clear his name – for all I know, he may well be guilty. The police may know more that persuades them of this. What is certain is that the media do not, but are engaging in trial-by-tittle-tattle all the same.
Here are a choice selection of some of the reports about Jefferies so far, including some recognisable classics of the genre and some really weird ones:
“Oddball” – Almost all newspapers
“The way he pronounced words and said his sentences was also weird”…”The things he taught us were really odd, he loved old English poetry.” – Small World News Service [NB it's not that odd to like old poetry...when you're an English teacher]
“Campaigned for gun range and prayer books” – Daily Mail
“A loner” – Almost all newspapers
“very posh, a solitary figure and very cultured” – The Sun
“An only child who has never married” – Daily Mail
If you spot any other corkers, put them in the comments and we can build up a full innuendo collection.