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.
It would be in my interests for Brian Leveson to support statutory regulation of the press tomorrow.
As Guido Fawkes writes in the Wall Street Journal today, putting a legislative leash around the neck of the mainstream media will only have one effect – to drive a truth-hungry public to online outlets and blogs for real news and honest insight.
This has always happened. When the Warsaw Pact countries and the Soviet Union censored what could be published, people shipped in or built their own presses and produced samizdat – illicit, underground news-sheets and books that circulated in secret. It is notable that the Russian word “samizdat” literally means “self-published”.
Samizdats were never expected to be subject to balance, they were explicitly written from a particular perspective and, most of all, they gloried in saying whatever they wanted – not saying what others demanded they say.
If, 50 years ago, people’s hunger for a free speaking press was sufficient that they were willing to transport and conceal large pieces of industrial machinery, the internet will have a far easier job of it.
Information is a commodity in its own right. It can be bought and sold, it can be given away or stolen, its price can be increased or devalued. And just the same as any other commodity, the one thing that cannot be done to it is successful prohibition.
The problem – and those who dislike our free press do view it as a problem – is the twin, trickster forces of supply and demand. The more people are interested in something, the higher its price rises and the harder it is to keep secret. The harder you try to keep it secret, the larger the incentive becomes to leak it – be it for cash or cachet.
This is what happened with MPs’ expenses. Yes, Heather Brooke fought a brilliant legal battle for the public’s right to know, but the scandal really broke when the censorship practiced by Commons authorities created such a high-paying Black Market that an insider was willing to sell the data to the Daily Telegraph.
These forces are inevitable, irresistible and they won’t be changed by legislating to make our press unfree. If the Daily Telegraph hadn’t been in a position to buy and publish MPs’ expenses, then someone else would have done so – on the internet, offshore and out of reach of the fat, black marker pens of Westminster’s quiet censors.
For goodness’ sake, the net filtering out forbidden commodities isn’t even tight enough to catch guns, grenades and tonnes of drugs – can anyone really believe it could be made tight enough to catch something as small and as fleet of foot as knowledge?
So I, and Guido, and a thousand other blogs yet to be born would be in a pretty good position should Brian Leveson persuade the Government to end three hundred years of British press freedom. Advertising would increase, traffic would boom, and everyone would be able to feel every shade of smug about their latest Google Analytics numbers.
But you won’t find me cheering for it. What would be the attraction of being a more widely read, or even a richer, libertarian in a country that has become less free? No, I’d rather miss out on the opportunity, thank you very much, Brian.
One of the Party Conference season’s favourite sports is blagging – by hook or by crook getting into private parties and receptions to which only the great and the good are invited. Each conference has its legends of truly heroic blags, but possibly the most impressive in conference history occurred earlier this week in Manchester.
Guido Fawkes’ mini-Guido and News Editor Harry Cole decided to try to walk brazenly into the Telegraph’s star-studded bash in the Midland Hotel despite not being on the guestlist. He was promptly flagged down by the security on the door, leading to the following exchange:
Security: ‘Scuse me, what’s your name?
Cole: Harry Cole
Security (consulting guestlist): Lord Coe?
Cole: Err, yes…
And in he strolled – no longer Harry Cole, twenty-something blogger and gossip-monger of note, but newly ennobled as 55-year-old Sebastian Coe, Knight of the British Empire, Baron Coe of Ranmore, Olympic Gold medallist and Chairman of the London Organising Committee of the 2012 Olympic Games.
An impressive blag which will be hard for anyone to top. If you still doubt it, compare the two gentlemen in question:
Harry Cole Seb Coe
Total Politics have started to publish the results of their annual Blog Awards, based on votes from the blog-reading public. I’m delighted to say that this blog has been voted Number 5 in the rankings for Right Wing Blogs, up there with the big beasts and full-timers of the political blogosphere. Thank you to each and every one of you who voted for CrashBangWallace, I’m really chuffed and will do my best to live up to the ranking over the next 12 months.
Here’s the Top Ten (with last year’s ranking in brackets):
1 (1) Order Order
2 (3) Conservative Home
3 (4) Spectator Coffee House
4 (26) Archbishop Cranmer
5 (81) Crash Bang Wallace
6 (5) Daniel Hannan
7 (-) The Commentator
8 (18) Talk Carswell
9 (17) EU Referendum
10 (10) James Delingpole
Ken Clarke could probably have got better publicity today by touring the TV and radio studios with a sack full of kittens and strangling them to death, one by one, whilst singing the soundtrack of Cats. A lot of attention has been focused on his sickening and frankly incomprehensible comments about the supposed difference between date rape and “serious, proper rape”.
Those comments are important and serious, but verbal idiocy should not divert attention away from the true problem here – these woeful proposals themselves. To my knowledge, no-one has done an opinion poll on whether sentences for rapists should be increased, but that’s because the answer the public would overwhelmingly give is “Yes”. Opinion testing on the subject would be a waste of money because the outcome is obvious.
Instead of realising that he was speeding, (allegedly) Chris Huhne-like, to disaster Ken Clarke seems to have just focused on process and ignore the outcomes. A Minister who is about to go public with a proposal to let convicted rapists out after 15 months should surely realise that however logical the process might be, the place it has led them to is utterly wrong.
Clarke’s rationale for considering these massive cuts in prison time is that offering a sentencing incentive to rapists will encourage them to plead guilty and thus reduce the trauma for victims. There’s a debate to be had about whether that will work, but in a situation where the standard tarriff for rape is a measly five years (English translation: 2.5 years) there simply isn’t any room to further reduce the sentence.
Until that is fixed, this should be off the table entirely – no tinkering around the edges could or should be done until the central problem of weak sentencing is fixed.
If Ken Clarke really wants to introduce a system where rapists get to barter about their prison time, then he can only do it – morally and politically – by starting from a higher sentencing base in the first place. Radically increase the basic sentence for rapists – something which the public and the media would support – and then start asking whether there should be a discount for confessing early on.
It’s that time again – the Stat Prawn is here to update on the ebb and flow of traffic. I’m pleased to say March has gone really well – helped by exclusive stories on the failures of various Conservative Associations and the revelation that Ed Miliband freely confessed to some pretty massive foreign policy blind spots.
Absolute Unique Visitors: 12,361
That makes March this blog’s biggest ever month in terms of Visits and Pageviews, and second biggest month ever in terms of Absolute Uniques.
Particularly interesting is the fact that Twitter has overtaken ConservativeHome to become the 3rd biggest source of traffic after Guido and Iain Dale – this shows the growing power of social media. The fact that it is closely followed in the rankings by Google shows the growing amount of word-of-mouth referral to this blog. That’s down to you lot out there, so thanks for your support, comments and Tweets.