Baby P’s mother: The final injustice

Allison Pearson’s column today shows the nice dividing line between due process and mob rule:

“So now we are allowed to call him Peter. Baby P finally has a name. Yet the identity of the man and woman who caused his death remains a closely guarded secret. How come guilty adults enjoy more protection than an innocent child ever did?”

Some wonderful emotive sensation to get us going – we’re asked to consider why people who currently subject to legal investigation are given the anonymity not on offer to their victim. There are some very obvious answers to this – the protection, in this case, is temporary and genuine. This is the same as anonymity for Baby Peter – whose anonymity, if anything, went further, being not just temporary but, to some extent since we don’t know his surname, ongoing. In Peter’s case, however, it is unclear what genuine protection anonymity offered – the covering up of his name had more to do with securing a fair trial for those implicated in his death, rather than anything substantive to protect him. At most, it aimed at ensuring a right to justice for him. Allison is deliberately conflating the genuine protection anonymity offers to the adults with an anonymity which would be almost entirely pointless to offer to the victim. At the same time, she invites comparisons between the physical vulnerability of the Baby with the vulnerability of the adults, suggesting that they are being screened from a similar violence which is their due.

“The law, as we saw in the trial of the brute and his girlfriend for a separate crime at the Old Bailey last week, does not protect vulnerable children. Instead, it may end up shielding the adults who abuse them.

It makes a four-year-old girl come to an intimidating court to relive the trauma of being raped at the age of two.”

As a point of order, it should be noted that the person who made a four-year-old girl come to court was the person found guilty of raping her – who knew what they had done but tried to avoid taking responsibility for it. It should be noted that the court did all it could to make the experience less intimidating for the victim – removing wigs and conducting communication through videos rather than having the girl there in person. The alternative to this approach would be that no evidence was adduced at all in open court for these rapes taking place. That would not protect vulnerable children, but mean that someone who raped children got away with it. Alternatively, it would mean removing the solid principle of law that you have the opportunity to question evidence brought against you, allowing convictions on mere hearsay. No one wants to see children testifying in court, but when they do it is unfair to blame the justice system for it.

“The jury was not told the adults in the dock were also the couple in the Baby P horror show. The woman was found not guilty of cruelty to the raped child. Do you really think this would have happened if the court had known how she hoodwinked officials during Peter’s brief life? Of course not.”

Here Allison comfortably answers her own question as to why people in criminal cases are allowed anonymity. The fact that Baby P’s mother was involved in the Baby P case says nothing about her involvement in this case. The fact that you are guilty of one crime does not make you automatically guilty in all similar cases. It might make you more likely, but how is a jury to distinguish honest judgements of probability from the natural animosity which would stem from knowing that the person in front of them had committed something heinous previously? Surely there is a right to be tried for the crime you’ve been accused of, and not for others which you’ve already been convicted of?

“Do I sound angry? Well, too bad. Who will stand up for these children if their mothers won’t?

The brute, the mother and their lodger will all be sentenced on May 22 for ‘ causing or allowing the death’ of Baby P. The brute, whom Peter knew as ‘Dad’, can expect to get a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Perhaps the baby torturer could attend a woodwork class in prison and see if he comes out with his head still on.”

And so it ends – with the actual blood lust only hinted at in the introduction, carefully couched as a suggestion for the baby torturer to run a gauntlet of others fulfilling Allison’s desires. The anger is understandable, the feeling that a fixed sentence is insufficient is understandable, the abhorrence is understandable. It stems, however, from the feeling that this person has been brought bang to rights, a feeling which we have because we know our legal system to be fair and impartial with our juries unbiased by former prejudices. Were we to follow Allison’s prescriptions and take away protection from those we ‘know’ are guilty because we’ve shown them to be guilty of other things, that confidence would be gone. At which point we wouldn’t just have mob justice, but mob injustice as we started woodworking the genuinely innocent, fitted-up and reformed. Some guilty would, no doubt, ‘get what was coming to them’, while others would walk, free to carry on doing whatever abhorrent things they did while the innocent literally took the rap. Justice requires a uniformally fair system, even for people we don’t like.

Advertisements

Fred the Shred’s an easy target, but we should all beware of the nihilists of the Left… itching to reduce this country to anarchy

Here’s a cheery column from Stephen Glover:

“There is an emboldened nihilistic movement bubbling below the surface whose beliefs are profoundly anti-progress, as well as being injurious to the poor in the West and the Third World. In a way they are far worse than the old communist Left, which at least aspired to running an efficient state. This new lot abominates cars and aeroplanes and technology – in short, most of the achievements of the modern world.”

The attack on Sir Goodwin’s Edinburgh property was merely the first skirmish of a bigger war, one that threatens the very heart of our civilisation.

“Just remember that their prescription is not to introduce moderate reforms, but to pull the system apart so that, if they have their way, we will end up eating soya beans, riding about on donkeys and growing clumps of maize in our back gardens.”

The anarchists are coming. Be afraid.

There are a couple of things that we might want to consider before we start barricading our properties to protect ourselves against Swampy’s massed hordes. For one, how are we moving from a single attack on a media hate figure¹ to the overthrow of everything we hold dear?

“Listen to the statement made to Edinburgh’s evening newspaper by those who attacked Sir Fred’s house: ‘We are angry that rich people … are paying themselves a huge amount of money, and are living in luxury, while ordinary people are made unemployed, destitute and homeless. This is a crime. Bank bosses should be jailed.’

Simple souls, no doubt. But also revolutionary ones. And they speak for a growing constituency of anti-capitalists whose analysis of the economic recession – if that is not too grand a word – is fatally encouraged by the Government’s and the media’s jihad against Sir Fred Goodwin and his ilk.”

So, Stephen makes two claims: that this view is revolutionary, and that it speaks for a wider constituency. Well, it’s not that revolutionary, it’s actually quite reactionary in as far as it is singling out a small group of people for special treatment as scapegoats, rather than addressing the causes of the imbalances in the system. It doesn’t overturn anything, it merely adjusts unfavourable outcomes after the fact. Revolutionary would be nationalising the whole banking sector and re-organising it as a collection of mutuals run for the benefit of their members and employees, for example. Retaining the same system with the same people at the top creaming off a little less is not a revolution. With that in mind, how broad a constituency do they speak for? Well, quite a large one – the Mail, among others, thinks it is high time we looked at remuneration.

Does this constituency necessarily overlap with those wanting to overthrow the capitalist system? No, not even Stephen can conclude that it does:

“A single attack on Sir Fred Goodwin’s Edinburgh house hardly signifies the beginning of mob rule”

So why the shoehorning? If you want to talk about the anarchist mob, why not just have a run at the Wombles preparing for the forthcoming G20? How can we justify the fear that the media is turning us anarchist?

“Is this really what the Government, even the BBC, wants? No one doubts that many bankers, Sir Fred among them, have made unforgivable errors. The sensible response is to introduce reforms so that the same thing cannot easily happen again. The anti-capitalist brigade wants to tear down the whole edifice. Alone, they were pretty harmless and peripheral. With ministers and the media acting as their helpmates, and declaring that capitalism has disastrously failed, they could become dangerous.”

Stephen is equivocating here on the idea of the failure of capitalism. Capitalism has failed: it has failed to pull the underclass up, it has failed to to prevent the gap between rich and poor from reaching such unpleasant levels, it has failed to provide stability or security to the middle classes. These aren’t things it was ever aiming to provide, or which, conceptually, it was ever likely to, but from a human point of view it is a system which fails to give us important things. This is not the same as the system failing in the sense that it doesn’t work – it still works better than controlled economy and people are still better off, in some senses at least, than they would be under anarchism or similar systems.² I have yet to find a media source or minister who is proposing an alternative to capitalism (I’m happy to be corrected on this, as ever). While they’re happy to talk about systemic failures, such as the inability to solve poverty, they do not talk about the system failing.

The media and government, rather, seem to be calling for exactly what Stephen is calling for – reforms to make the system a little less abhorrent. His conclusion, on this basis, is completely unjustified:

“Lay off the bankers. Stop exciting the mob. Let’s hear some robust arguments in favour of free trade, capitalism and open markets. They have produced enormous wealth before, and will do so again, while the policies (if they can be so dignified) of the protesters who will be on show in London next week would lead only to anarchy, poverty and chaos.”

This begs the question, because it automatically excludes reforms of banking pay as part of the solution. It excludes discussions of whether free trade does provide enormous wealth, or whether they lead for anarchy, poverty and chaos for some. These discussions are not ‘exciting the mob’, they are the necessary activities of democracy.

Stephen has conjured an image of rabid anarchists attacking the institution of private property³ to conclude that all arguments against the status quo are out of bounds and all critics are as bad as each other. The argument is poor even were the threat not so overstated. If Stephen wants to reduce the threat to bankers, there is no better place to start than looking at his own paper’s coverage of them. From there he can start thinking about how he can modify the capitalist system to be less piratical. Using the damaging of property of a media hate figure as a prop for the entire edifice of expropriation because you don’t want to discuss reform or your own approach to social problems is a much worse solution.

——————-

¹ Interestingly, Stephen feels that the BBC is largely to blame for the demonisation of Sir Fred Goodwin (“I freely admit that all newspapers have played their part in turning Fred the Shred into Public Enemy Number One, but the organisation which undoubtedly went further than any other was the publicly funded BBC, which is charged with being neutral and even-handed.”). Now, the Mail provides examples like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9; and more throwaway lines as found here: 1, 2, 3, 4; throwing up your hands and saying ‘The big boy hit him harder’ in no way absolves you of the responsibility. This is a common enterprise across the media – the Mail has happily contributed to the construction of Sir Goodwin as a hate figure and the responsibility for people treating him as such lies squarely on their shoulders as much as anyone else.

² For very good libertarian and fraternal reasons, anarcho-syndicalism is still a ‘better’ system if you’re starting from scratch, but given our starting point in a capitalist system, there is no way you could achieve this without mass suffering. ‘Better off’ is relative to where you start, and from where we are, I’ve yet to see a better alternative to some form of capitalism.

³ Using Google Street View – “Incidentally, though there is no evidence that they played a role in this instance, Google’s new on-line street maps will be a marvellous aid for voyeurs, as well as for anyone who might want to burgle or damage your home. They show every house in 20 cities, including Edinburgh, and will be extended to many more. Where on earth is the public benefit?” – which Stephen wants to suppress, in spite, presumably, of robust arguments for free trade and capitalism.

Paddington Green nick, that’s where our bleating MPs belong

There are a couple of sentences that pretty much save you reading this little piece by Peter Hitchens:

“If you abolish the distinction between right and wrong, don’t be surprised if the police are neutral between criminal and victim.”

and

“Socialism, alas, always leads to tyranny by one route or another.”

We’re in a crisis, there’s no longer a distinction between right and wrong, the police no longer distinguish between criminal and victim and we’re heading towards socialist authoritarianism. But, not to worry, with the danger comes the solution:

“You can deal with Britain’s crime and disorder crisis only by undoing the Left-wing revolution of the Sixties.”

This is presented as common sense – no arguments are adduced. Peter just gives us a series of things he disagrees with, lets the reader nod sagely to the ones he knows about while the rest get through by association and we’re all set for our conclusion. Somehow we’re meant to infer a link between terror legislation, police hair cuts, welfare, the Human Rights Act and the student activities of members of the cabinet, andconclude from it all that law and order has collapsed and we’re heading towards a socialist dictatorship. The fact that there are no links, and that the shopping list of gripes is contradictory and largely imagines is missed in the speed of the attack.

So let’s take a stop back. What would it mean for the distinction between right and wrong to be abolished? Well, we might reasonably expect rape to be legalised, murder to be OK, and to be able to deal drugs, rob houses, commit fraud, lie under oath, assault people or speed, all with impunity. This is not the case. It is, however, harder to hide your wrong-doing with silence¹, it’s harder to get away with crimes on technicalities and the risk of convictions failing because one juror is swayed by non-relevant factors is diminished. Human rights defences protect the innocent from politically motivated attacks, and it is much harder to stich people up without evidence. If anything, the distinction between right and wrong has been more clearly drawn.

The idea that the police are now indifferent to victims is also unsubstantiated, both by argument and in reality. The police cannot hit criminals any more, but beyond that, what is Peter basing this libel on? No police officer I’ve ever met.

Essentially, what we’ve had is a list of real and imagined things which he disagrees with, regardless of their contribution to his argument. The double jeopardy rule was presumably valuable because it was an ancient right, the fact that abolishing it serves the purposes of justice is unimportant. The police are now threatening, delighting in the persecution of the innocent because Peter says they are. The reader picks the bits that chime with his perceptions, based on previous statements in the same publication, until they hit Peter’s conclusion.

That conclusion is persuasive because we all know socialism is bad. It means paying more in taxes, money you have earned, essentially to support charitable cases you’d rather not support. And in that way its tyrannical – it makes you do things you’d rather not. Other things which appear tyrannical include the arresting of members of the opposition and terror laws and so we have a direct line linking the two.

So let’s go back to our earlier list – human rights, double jeopardy, right to silence, majority juries – or the ‘subsidis[ing of] fatherless families‘, ‘deliberately destroy[ing of] discipline in schools‘, ‘transmit[ting of] mental slurry by broadcasters‘. Is any of this tyranny? Tyranny would be sterilising women, beating unruly children and censoring broadcasts. Tyranny would be the police targeting blacks, beating up gays, fitting up Irish people and the ‘obviously guilty’, allowing rape and domestic violence on the quiet. Tyranny would be the rich getting off their drunk-in-charge convictions on technicalities. Tyranny would be homeowners murdering people.

Tyranny is not the rule of law – an independent judiciary backed up by an international court of appeal who will deal with the allegations against Damien Green in due course.

The world which Peter Hitchens writes of is not one that exists. Who are the armed paramilitary social workers? Where is the invisibility between right and wrong? Where is this crisis of law and order? Where is the socialism that’s coming to tyrannise us? There is no basis in reality for these assertions. But in the repeating, the story becomes myth. The things we should welcome we’re told to fear, the people who protect us we’re told to mistrust, the liberalisation of our society becomes oppressive. Peter creates a fear where none exists. On that basis its him we should be afraid of.

————–

¹ The right to silence hasn’t been abolished – you can remain silent, but if it transpires at your trial that you didn’t say something that would have been relevant to the investigation into your possible guilt then the jury is allowed to take that silence into consideration.

What sort of society have we become when a good Samaritan is kicked to death and a suicidal man jeered by a mob?

Stephen Glover has a problem with statistics:

“Crime, according to some statistics, has fallen in recent years. Others argue convincingly that violent crime has risen. We can bandy about figures as much as we like”

And who could blame him? By their very nature, statistics depersonalise events reducing them from one off incidents of personal significance

“My own teenage son was beaten up in [Oxford] centre a few years ago.”

to a series of numbers in a table

Number of violent crimes per 1,000 population

2002/03

2003/04 2004/05

2005/06

2006/07

Oxford City

24.57

24.51 26.54 28.04 31.82

[Source: Oxfordshire Data Observatory].

They reduce arguments to a counting of beans, as if the numbers themselves were what mattered and not what they represent.

But here’s a thing: I work in Oxford and am yet to be mugged, which presents a bit of a problem. In their isolation, we have conflicting anecdotes. Devoid of context, we can do nothing with them – they speak of an individual experience of crime, but not of the world in which that experience occurred. Significant personally, if anyone else wanted to draw significance from them, they would need to see how they fitted into a wider picture.

There are two ways to get our wider picture. This is Stephen Glover’s

“We can bandy about figures as much as we like, but Frank McGarahan died a shocking death all the same”

In one sentence we move from the thematic to the episodic. From there, it’s just a short jump into the narrative.

“Norwich does not yet have the reputation of Los Angeles. It is a cathedral city where a street murder of this sort would have been scarcely imaginable 20 or 30 years ago.”

Effortlessly, the anecdote moves from being part of a wider empirical world where we can ask questions like ‘how typical’ into being part of a story where typicality is a condition of inclusion. The import of the anecdote is taken as a given; the world is in decline and this proves it.¹

The problem with taking this approach is that by separating events from their context we can use them to confirm almost anything. ² With our conclusion already in place, we can draw on anything we like, drawing post hoc causal links as we go along

“How oddly symbolic, too, that Mr McGarahan’s murder should have happened outside a lap-dancing club.”

As with our conflicting mugging anecdotes though, we have a problem. On its own, each story is just that, a story. In the Mail

“the police sometimes struggle to maintain law and order, where they can seem ineffectual in turning the tide of mindless violence, and where there are terrifying gangs of amoral youths “

At which point, we might wonder whether we need argue. If Stephen Glover thinks the world is getting worse, for him it probably is. This is, in itself, no small tragedy. The story though, perpetuates. There will always be things that shock us, or social policies which offend us, which reflect our decline and feed our fear. Fearful people seek action to reduce their fear, and fear without context demands action which matches. By the time he’s finished, Stephen is applauding mob justice and ‘zero tolerance policing’, which is an easy position to take when you can be sure it won’t be you being mobbed or policed. He tells the story because it justifies his fear and in telling it he spreads that fear. We lose the faculty to evaluate, and the fear becomes free-standing. The risk of crime decreases while its fear increases.

Stephen Glover can never know whether he is right – all he has is perception and belief, unchecked against the real world. Given that the narrative approach he uses moves backwards from conclusion to evidence, he can only ever be right by coincidence, not design. Even if the statistics were as questionable as he claims, chances are he’d be wrong. Which might be something worth considering.

—————————–

¹ We can think of these approaches as ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’ – in the former we take our facts an look for the conclusions we can base on them, in the latter we have our conclusion and look for bolstering evidence.

² From the same starting point, I could tell tale of the heroic rescue of a Lithuanian man by a stranger – someone who would give their life to save someone they’d never met before. Strangers are wonderful – there has always been crime, but it’s surprising how often strangers intervene like guardian angels. We hear about them all the time, from which we can safely conclude that there are a lot of them out there, protecting us.