Revenge is not Justice

Following the imprisonment of Roy Whiting for the murder of Sarah Payne, a friend and I had something of a disagreement over what was already being labelled “Sarah’s Law”; that is, the right for parents to know if a pedophile was living in their area. Subsequently, trails of this law have been reported as being successful, but I still feel rather uneasy. There will always be the potential for ill-informed or plain wrong information being used to seek ‘justice’ on people who may be nothing more than elderly men living on their own, or indeed something far more tragically comedic.

I am reminded of the disagreement with the current coverage of the re-arrest of Jon Venebles, and the inevitable media coverage.

Earlier this month, 27 year old Jon Venebles was returned to prison following an undisclosed breach of his control order. Seventeen years ago, Venebles and Robert Thompson – aged just 10 – abducted and killed three-years old James Bulger, in a case etched on the collective mind of the nation.

In a statement to the House of Commons I agree with Justice Secretary Jack Straw has said it would not be in “the interests of justice” to release information about Venebles’ return to detention. Quite rightly, Straw has reminded the country about the importance of putting the rule of law above both the mob rule of tabloid hysteria, and the often all-too heavy hand of simple assumption. Make no mistake; I remember the case as vividly as anyone did at the time, and understand why Bulger’s mother feels so emotional about “doors slamming in her face”, as she told television reporters today. Venebles must receive a suitable punishment for his latest reported crime.

Ultimately, the contentious nature of ‘justice’ runs up against the scrum of ‘revenge’ in cases like this. I despair at the reactionary tabloid press, running rumours and ‘exclusives’ about possible reasons for Venebles’ re-imprisonment as though they were simply dealing with the latest reason for Pete Doherty being arrested or John Terry being seen without his wife. No killer, however notorious, can be regarded with any taste as ‘celebrities’. Inevitably the logic of tabloid newspapers appears to bend and curve when dealing with such ‘easier targets’.

If the tabloids get their approach to this story wrong, by splashing rumour and incomplete truth all over the front pages for days on end, all a good lawyer needs to do is prove the impossibility of a fair trail for Venebles to walk free.

“Revenge” is not justice. The death penalty, so often called upon in these circumstances, is simply a form of “revenge”, barely more civilised than blood lust. Maybe this sounds like “tabloid logic”, but I cannot see that killing criminals has made the United States of America any less dangerous for its citizens. The decent rule of justice has already been proven this month; Venebles committed an act against his control order, and is now back in prison. Should be hang for his first crime, or this reported second?

I am not naive enough to believe that tomorrow’s newspapers will U-turn on the exhaustive, breathless crusade for ‘the truth’, as though the full details of Venebles’ latest crime will satisfy readers as the conclusion of a soap story line. I trust that Jack Straw will maintain this measured and mature handling of the situation.

Sometimes “man is the measure of all things”. How we, as a nation, handle this story in the coming weeks could well be the measure of us all.

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London fascist week

Nick Griffin must think all his birthdays have come at once.

From the first dawn of new year 2009, the mainstream media and blogosphere have united in giving the British National Party the one thing they crave; massive and widespread coverage. For around six months the topic was “How we can stop the BNP being elected to Brussels”. When the North West of England, and Yorkshire & Humber elected one BNP member each, the former being Griffin himself, a brief flurry of discussion later has lead to a new target: the BBC, in allowing Griffin to appear on Question Time, is now in the firing range.

Deluded rent-a-quote Peter Hain, MP for Neath and Welsh Secretary – so in other words, Minister For Having Nothing To Do With How the BBC Conducts Itself – has been ranting like a wind-up toy for weeks about nothing else. He called the BNP “illegal”, which must come as some shock to the Electoral Commission whose Register of Political Parties includes them just as they do almost every other group wishing to stand in elections. In Mr Hain’s imaginarium, the BNP probably do not exist. Or else, perhaps, they do; Griffin is only one below the Archbishop of Canterbury in order of precedence, and Question Time is a CGI-laden one-off event broadcast across all frequencies and watched by literally everyone.

The BBC are completely within their rights to ask Griffin to appear on Question Time, just as they are completely within their rights not to ask a card-carrying member of the Monster Raving Loony Party: much to the annoyance of people like Hain, Nick Griffin has gone and achieved the sort of democratic mandate every trick in the book was supposed to deny. “No Platform” has resulted in dozens of councillors, a GLA member, and 2 MEPs. The one thing which could have stopped the tide of BNP success – face-to-face discussion – was dismissed as being something akin to collusion or agreement.

Allowing Griffin to appear in all his pudgy wonky-eyed glory will “prove the lie” on the strength of his party and their policies. Jack Straw represents Blackburn, so should know a thing or two about the realities of racial relations in a multi-ethnic town. Bonnie Greer has her own perspective on the difficulties – and consequences – of racism far beyond our shores. On any subject other than race – and there’s quite a few news stories circulating at the moment – Griffin will struggle. Anyone who has seen UKIP leader Nigel Farage shoehorn Europe into every single answer he’s asked to provide know how tiring it becomes hearing the subject heave-hoed up the hill each and every time.

Griffin will hang himself with his own words. It’s not as though his other interviews and appearances have ever been successful in reinventing his reputation. Those who wish to deny his voice on QT forget just how many blogs and YouTube appearances the man is getting even as I type. Let democracy and the democratic process actually happen, on a respected and popular television programme, and then react.

There are a lot of extremists on the left-wing who forget that the “spectrum of politics” can so easily be displayed not as a straight-line, but as a circle…