‘Get your kit on, you’re nicked’: trial by media

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By Kenneth Roy [Published in the Scottish Review prior to the BBC Newsnight scandal and the emergence of Lord McAlpine as the Tory peer implicated by the programme.]

You may not be familiar with the name Paul Gadd. Heaven help us – and him, in due course – he is better known as ‘Gary Glitter’. There is not much about him that is glittering any more, if there ever was.

A week or so ago there was a photograph in the newspapers of an old bearded chap in a tightly buttoned coat emerging from a terraced house in London – was it London? I expect so.

Anyway there he was, facing a battery of snappers alerted by the police to his imminent arrest. I can’t be sure of the time. But it must have been about the hour the guys go to make their loot in the City, because one of the tabloids – or it could have been one of the broadsheets; they’re pretty well interchangeable – led the front page with this headline:

GET YOUR KIT ON, GLITTER, YOU’RE NICKED. NOW GET THE REST

They told him to get his kit on. Code for: he was naked. He was nicked. Code for: he is guilty. Now get the rest. Code for: there are others just as guilty and the cops must pursue these people with the utmost despatch. Gadd. Why didn’t Sam Beckett get there first, with that name of our time, symbolising the quintessential Gaddness of it all?

Glitter or Gadd or whatever he calls himself these days – do I think he’s guilty? I am old-fashioned enough to believe that the presumption of innocence applies to him as it does to every other citizen; it is supposedly the bedrock of our justice system. Help, that sounds pompous. Can I lighten the tone a bit? I shall go on trying. Can’t promise.

I have some advice for you if you happen to be curious and possessed of a working knowledge of British politics. It is quite a simple matter to discover the identity of the un-named senior Tory politician – biggish fish in Mrs Thatcher’s government, not that I intend any insult to fish – who is said to be ‘implicated’ in the latest child abuse scandal. The one in north Wales, in case you’re getting confused. You simply enter the name of your choice in a search engine and up will come the vilest rumours.

I read in the Guardian yesterday that he is unwell and resting ‘abroad’, where he lives. Ha. Another clue. We are drowning in a sea of euphemism. Journalism has become a crossword puzzle for the in-crowd. But he too – the un-named one – is already presumed guilty. The rush to legitimise the witnesses to his alleged crimes is astonishing. Not that I disbelieve them either. Like Basil Fawlty’s Spanish waiter, I know nothing.

In the old days – ah, those days – one waited patiently for the courts to determine guilt or innocence. I was often to be found in the press box, noting it all down in beautiful Pitman’s. The verdict meant nothing to me. Innocent or guilty – there was a shape to it. More often than not the trap door in the dock would creak open and the shape would disappear for years, possibly forever. There was a sense of objective satisfaction about it all. The newspapers could disclaim any reponsibility. They were simply reporting the chaos of human existence, the arbitrariness of it all.

But now the media are the judges. It’s all done and dusted before it ever reaches anything resembling a jury. Could we not save a great deal of unnecessary expense and just dispense with trials?

In one of the broadsheets last weekend, Chris Huhne, the former cabinet minister for climate change and all that jazz, was described as ‘disgraced’. I spent the rest of the morning – it beats watching the first of the day’s Andrew Marr programmes – pondering why Mr Huhne was ‘disgraced’.  There is nothing disgraced about him. He resigned his ministerial post in order to contest a criminal charge – a rather piddling one – which he denies. I understand that the case will come to court in mid-January. At the moment he is an innocent man. He may well remain one. Where’s the disgrace?

The reputation of Lord Boyd – the judge I wrote about on Tuesday – remains slurred by an alleged ‘misrepresentation’ by the BBC (and others) of a statement by the Justice for Megrahi Committee. Two more days have elapsed, and still the committee which prides itself on defending the traditions of justice appears to have issued no clarification of the meaning of its letter to the justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill; and still the BBC, the main publisher of the potentially actionable statement, has not set the record straight.

Rebekah Brooks. Must I mention her again? It seems I am her only defender. Earlier this year the Guardian republished a piece of mine in which I suggested that the Leveson inquiry, by over-reaching its brief, compromised her chances of a fair trial. It did her no good. It did me no good. With every new drip of poisonous gossip about her relationship with Dave, the case against her becomes more tainted by prejudice.

We can safely forget criminal justice. It has had its day. Get your kit on – you’re nicked.

Courtesy of Kenneth Roy and the Scottish Review