Madness at the Met

Rod Liddle, Times (London), Jan. 29

Celebrity Big Brother may have ended but luckily for us another media jamboree—no less inanely entertaining—has returned. Welcome back, Sir Ian Blair. We haven’t heard from you for a while. A week or two at least. It’s been far too long.

Blair’s job, as commissioner of the Metropolitan police and therefore Britain’s top copper, is not to catch criminals but instead to wander from television studio to radio studio making pronouncements so fatuous that you have to listen to them several times to be certain that you hadn’t dreamt them.

Last week he was on particularly good form and gave us two for the price of one. First, he confessed that he did not understand why the public got itself so worked up about the murder of the little girls, Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, in Soham. Nasty crime, he admitted—but why, he asked, was it such a big story? Later, when normal people reacted the way they usually do to Blair’s contributions to the great debate—with incredulity or anger—he was forced to apologise. Let us examine his contention that the media overplayed Soham.

Soham transfixed the public because a number of factors collided. First, it was a horrible drama played out in real-time on television every evening: Holly and Jessica go missing; they’re seen or maybe not seen by villagers; the police comb every inch of ground; their parents make tearful pleas; suspects are fingered and questioned; Ian Huntley is arrested.

Second, the victims were cheerful and likable little girls, which, in the public mind, tends to make the crime all the more appalling. Third, sexual perversion appeared to be the main motive for their murders, which the rest of us felt was particularly repellent. Fourth, they were murdered by someone who worked in a school—which worried the hell out of the rest of us.

The final point—and by far the most important—was that Soham was a hideous singularity. All we can glean from the terrible events is that there are among us a very small number of extraordinarily depraved people. It was the singularity of the tragedy—like that of Fred and Rosemary West—that held us captive.

There were other factors, of course—the insular nature of the village, which made the story horribly compelling, and also the intimation of police incompetence. But that’s why it gripped us. It certainly wasn’t because Holly and Jessica were white rather than black.

Which brings us to Blair’s second, unregretted, point, that the media is “institutionally racist” in the way in which it reports crime and gives less coverage to black victims of crime. Blair is, as you will be aware, obsessed by racism. Whether he is obsessed because of a deep-seated psychological flaw or because it is advantageous in career terms, we may never know. But obsessed he is.

Blair is not merely wrong on this point, though, he is diametrically, 180 degrees wrong. No crime attracts more press or television attention than when the police have let it be known that a member of our ethnic minorities has been attacked for racist reasons. Compare, for example, the coverage given to the brutal murders of Anthony Walker, a black man killed by two white men with an axe in Liverpool, and, in the same week, Richard Whelan, a white man who was stabbed to death by a black man on a bus in London.

Walker’s murder was front-page news and the lead story on our television bulletins; Whelan’s murder—well, can you remember hearing about it at all? And then there’s Christopher Yates. Does his name ring a bell? I bet it doesn’t. In late 2004 he was killed by three Asian men who had beforehand laughed about killing a white man. Didn’t make much of a splash. If our media is institutionally racist, then it is institutionally racist the other way around.

Nor is it true to say that black-on-black crime goes unreported in the papers: the callous drive-by shootings in Birmingham of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare was front-page news for days. Or is it the case that we care less, perhaps, about the deaths of black children? Nope. You remember the names of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells sure enough—but I bet you remember Damilola Taylor and Victoria Climbié too.

Blair should have a look at the things that go pretty much unreported, too. When newspapers mention the fact that there are disproportionate numbers of black and Asian people in our prisons, it is to highlight the institutionally racist nature of our criminal justice system rather than a greater propensity on the part of our ethnic minority communities to commit crime. This latter possibility is unmentionable.

I could be here all night—or, at least, until Blair’s next mind-boggling public pronouncement. His obsession harms us all, black and white. It is not enough simply to call it political correctness and thus write it off as the inevitable, almost Pavlovian, foible of an ambitious public servant. It is seriously deluded thinking and Blair is an extremely influential man. The danger is that our police become institutionally deluded as a result.

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