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.
This piece in the Indie has only just come to my attention. It’s odd stuff, reporting that apparently Georgia is making a pitch to Boer farmers in South Africa to move to their country.
There are all sorts of intriguing political, demographic and cultural implications of this, but to explore those would be to miss the point. The most crucial impact would surely be on the world of rugby – if this goes ahead, would it mean that Georgia’s notoriously hulking forwards would be paired up with some of those lightning-fast Springbok backs?
If so, we might see a team sporting the St George’s Cross raising the Rugby World Cup – just not the one we might hope for…
On the back of a piece in the Independent by Sean O’Grady, Conservative Home’s Jonathan Isaby asks ”Should we care that the social background of the Government is unrepresentative of the country at large?”
My answer would, of course, be no – I don’t think you should be judged more or less suitable to govern the country due to your gender, skin colour or sexuality.
What I do think should worry us is the fact that Westminster is so devastatingly unrepresentative of the country at large politically.
We live in a nation that now has majority opposition to EU membership, oft-cited majority support for the death penalty for the most unpleasant offences, overwhelming enthusiasm for tougher sentencing, strong majority support for the legalisation of cannabis and extremely high levels of concern about the rate of immigration.
Where are those views represented in Westminster? Most of them are treated as fringe opinions that only a few MPs openly support.
It is irrelevant whether the political class have the right appearance, sexual interests or accents to represent the nation - but it is of the utmost importance that they represent the views of the people.
Amid all the hullabaloo about quotas and so-called “positive” discrimination being essential to produce a socially representative Parliament, one almost never hears those who make that case express any concern about the failure in political representation.
The fact is that those who argue most strongly for enforced social representativeness in Parliament are themselves almost totally unrepresentative of the nation politically. Would Sean O’Grady, I wonder, support quotas to ensure that the majority of MPs, like the majority of the public, were anti-EU or in favour of the execution of those who rape and kill children? I suspect not.