Summer Fun

The media have had a good summer full of serial killers. Hot weather and violence go hand in hand. No sooner had Stephen Griffiths, more widely known as The Crossbow Cannibal, stepped into the dock with his World Wrestling Federation persona (I’m wondering if when the case starts in the Autumn if he’ll appear in a spandex costume, complete with a cape. I’m seeing orange and yellow) than unhinged cabbie Derek Bird wiped out half of Cumbria on a whim. And then came the hunt for jealous psycho killer, convicted child-beater and hero to thirty-five thousand Facebook users, Raoul ‘the legend’ Moat.

 

The media saturated the nation with coverage of the Moat hunt. We had Kay Burley kitted out by the wardrobe department in her approved fell walking waterproof gear, up in the Northumbria wilds, where she interviewed any body she could lay her hands on. There was the endless speculation from so-called experts. Something that happens with almost every news story there is now, whether it be the Shock and Awe raid on Baghdad (so tell me, how will the people be feeling now…?) or some Royal visit (and what will the Queen do if she needs a shit?). Be sure that no matter what the topic there is an expert somewhere prepared to talk for hours about fuck all. But Sky scraped the bottom of the barrel on this one. We had authorities on woodcraft who’d once been camping in the Lakes rambling on about moss and the nourishment to be had from acorns. Retired firearms bobbies who’d never pulled a trigger in anger and who’d retired while the police were still using Lee Enfield .303s and calling for assistance using whistles, talking us through hard stops and the ensuing Post Traumatic Stress. Fuck me they were all useless. Why didn’t Sky get their hands in their pockets if they were going to do this thing right? Where was Ray Mears showing how Moat might be able to fashion a shelter from discarded Tesco carrier bags and a broken golf club shaft? Where was Andy McNab discussing how Moat might garrotte ramblers using little more than some braided dock leaves. Where was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall showing how Moat might then cook those rambler’s like road kill, garnishing the dish with some Basil and a few stinging nettles? And if she’s such a pioneering journalist why wasn’t Kay Burley on her knees, commando style through the sewerage below Rothbury to bag an interview with Moat? Luring him out of the shitty water with a hot Gregg’s pasty and a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale. Why didn’t they have Sly Stallone talking via satellite link from Hollywood about how Moat must be feeling as a Johnny Rambo-wannabe Urgh, yeah, I bet the guy’s feelin’ pretty kinda isolated right now. I sure hope the cops shoot him; because I bet you a Swiss Army Knife to a fully automatic Heckler and Koch MR762 assault rifle that somewhere in the hundreds of pages of journal and hours of Dictaphone tape Moat apparently left for the police he said at some point, ‘you drew first blood’. I betchya. Go on, I fucking betchya!

 

Instead of this high quality, high brow approach, we had Sky and the BBC eliciting responses from traumatized people by the use of closed leading questions. Chasing crying people down the streets in Rothbury. You say your Mam’s been trapped in her house by the police? What can your Mam see? Tell your Mam the police have no right to trap her in he house, tell her to get out there and bag a picture of Moat!!! Wringing emotion out of them for the cameras like the last wank of a dying man. But half the problem is that you can see the people they grab hold of enjoying themselves. Wanting their Big Brother moment. Their fifteen minutes of fame. You see the feverish gleam of excitement on their faces, the sickness in the eyes. It’s like the virus from 28 Days Later. They quickly get turned into media zombies, slavering at the mouth with stereotypical sound-bites and baseless opinion. It’s like a throwback to The Word with Terry Christian and the slot where people would do anything to get on TV. What next Sian Phillips tempting some rail crash victim into pulling off their bandages just to get a ten second slot on BBC News 24? And look at this severed foot… do you think that’s the result of poor track maintenance…? Back to Huw in the studio… Huw. Thanks, Sian, now here’s Tom with the weather…

 

And then we finally had Moat cornered and Rothbury got the bunting out and had a party in the street. The community hadn’t been brought together this much since the 1977 Silver Jubilee or when Hartlepool hung a monkey. I expected to hear ‘Agadoo’ and ‘Build me up buttercup’ kicking out as the town came out to relish the drama of it all and have a bit of a knees up. The circus had truly come to town. The news helicopters buzzing around, dog-fighting each other, desperate to get footage of Moat as the police tried to negotiate with him. Even when the police were trying to get people back, the Sky News reporter was promising the viewers with tears in his eyes and outrage in his throat that Sky would get them the story they had the right to have. And too fucking right. OK so you have a man who’s cornered by police, he’s not going anywhere, he no longer poses a danger to the community, but obviously it’s in the public interest to intrude on the negotiations. Any fucking idiot can see that! Fucking interfering woodentops! So you might argue that maybe it is a bit of salacious voyeurism and putting the negotiations at risk, but surely we have a right to be entertained! Come on! This is the news as a spectacle. This is reality TV on the rolling news. I can see Sky News at Tyburn in the 1700s, pushing cameras into the faces of those about to be bereaved. So your husband is going to be hung, you must be feeling terrible… Catching HD images as the cart is pulled away, shit and piss falling through the bowels and bladder. Kay Burley shaking her head at the barbarity of it all, urging viewers press the RED button now to get inside the hood cam to see the death look and hear the executed man’s final groan and then nudging the cameraman to get a close up of the kicking legs of the corpse, pushing a relative forward – exclusive rights to an interview – to pull on the legs… Go on, Kylie, finish him off, chuck you’re weight on his ankles… How does it feel having dragged all your weight down on your Dad’s legs and snapped his neck? What are your thoughts on capital punishment…? The media are in the enviable position of being able to constantly criticise other people. To change their view like a chameleon. And so desperate were they to fill the screens with something that it got morally confusing. Why aren’t the police letting the family through to negotiate with Moat? How could the police put the family at risk by taking them through to negotiate with self-confessed killer Moat? They hammered on and on and on about it all in obvious and irrelevant detail as the ‘tense standoff’ continued and it got to the point where I was thinking when are the police going to see sense and let Gazza through the cordon with some Wispas and a few cold tins? Fair dos, he’d be like a slightly pissed up Samuel L. Jackson in ‘The Negotiator’ but the public have a right! THE PUBLIC HAVE A FUCKING RIGHT TO THIS MADMAN. WE’VE FUCKING MADE HIM, HE’S OURS. The public took him from being a kid-slapping, steroid-fuelled knuckle-dragger and turned him into a national obsession. Raoul Moat was like Susan Boyle with a pair of nostrils to do the singing. The lad had the X-Factor. So let fucking Gazza in there NOW. ‘Reet, av talked to Rowl, we want a barrel of Newcastle Brown Ale, a couple of kebabs, an ‘elicopter and Cheryl…’

 

And then, to the dramatic images of the night vision camera showing a parked up Land Rover and the microphones turned up to full gain, Moat saved the taxpayer a fortune and blew his big pumpkin head off. And a legend was born. Because suddenly the media showed more sympathy for Moat than they did his victims. Turning jealous psycho killer and convicted child-beater Moat into some kind of folk hero and victim of police over-zealous desire to protect the public. Obviously changing tack keeps the circus running. More debate on the police tactics, more closed leading questions to get the family of Moat or so-called experts to waffle on inconclusively and spitefully for hours and hours and fucking hours on the rolling loop. Chucking blame about like monkey’s throw shit. But why all this debate? Fair enough, the Health and Safety executive gets in on every aspect of British life and our liberalism has taken us to the point where we give a home to those that want to blow us up, but perhaps this was pushing things a bit too far? Say what you want about the Americans, and I often have, but they would have riddled self-confessed murderer and self-proclaimed ‘I’m going to shoot any fucker who comes near me’ Moat with more holes than a Tetley’s teabag on first sight; plus probably a few passing hill walkers daft enough to wander into the background (collateral damage). And apart from a cursory ‘FREEZE, MOTHERFUCKER!’ and maybe ‘pass me another clip, Waylon,’ would have said next to nothing. Nothing that you’d have heard above the teaming rounds of high velocity fire, at any rate. It’d have been job done, hand the guys a six pack of Bud and let’s argue about which of us Steven Segal is going to play in the film.

 

We used to sniff at the American tabloids and the American news channels. We used to laugh at their shallow sentimentality. Ha-ha-ha, hee-hee-hee… Ambulance chasing and celebrity obsessed. But it’s like drugs and crime and obesity and mullet haircuts, ten, fifteen years later and we absorb their culture. Except we’ve put our own holier-than-thou, hypocritical spin on it. Like we did the no win no claim shit that we took up from the Yanks – I got £20,000 and the slippery floor is now cleaned an inch at a time and surrounded by high-viz barriers. Yeah, right, because you really gave a shit about anyone else ever slipping, you false, sanctimonious cunt. The media is the tail that wags the dog. The public gets what the public wants. And what the public seems to want is more dirt. More sensation. More reality soap opera with lives that don’t really count. The lid has come off Panadora’s Box and we may never get it back on again. We are appealing to the lowest common denominator. This is Thick Britain.

And justice for all

On 23rd November 1910 Hawley Harvey Crippen was hung at Pentonville Prison for the murder of his wife Cora in the February of the same year. The case was a sensation in its day, to the point that Crippen’s name has lived on in infamy while other killers of the era have faded and been forgotten. Crippen – the little man, the worm that turned – was a dodgy doctor with a chequered past, who poisoned domineering Cora and buried her in the cellar at their home at 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Holloway. Kate Williams a musical hall acquaintance of Cora’s, known to the Victorian/Edwardian world by her stage name Vulcana the female strong woman, reported Cora missing to the police and voiced her concerns about Crippen, but Crippen, together with his lover Ethel Neve, fled with Neve disguised as a boy, aiming to get to Canada on the Steam Ship Montrose and disappear. Following a wireless tip off from the captain in the mid-Atlantic, Inspector Dew of the Yard raced across the pond to catch the ‘London Cellar Murderer’ by the quicker mail boat, and Crippen was brought back to England in handcuffs en route to his Old Bailey trial and the long drop with a short stop.

 

According to Her Majesty’s Court Service, ‘Jury service is one of the most important civic duties that anyone can be asked to perform. As a juror, you have a chance to play a vital part in the justice system. Each individual juror will be asked to consider the evidence presented and then decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.’ Prior to retiring to consider their verdict the jury will receive instructions from the judge, outlining the jury’s role and requiring that their decision of either guilty or not guilty be based not on the balance of probabilities but on a belief beyond reasonable doubt, and that the jury’s decision must be reached without prejudice and based purely on the matters heard in court by considering the evidence which has been deemed admissible.

 

Back in 1910 there was no television. No radio. No internet. News got to the people slowly, stylistically censored by the prevailing morals of the time and in print. Even so the Crippen trial was a spectacle. A hundred years later and news is more immediate than ever before. This is the Age of Information. The good, the bad and the all too often ugly. Almost everyone has a mobile telephone capable of capturing broadcastable sound and images in High Definition. Advances in the communications network allows these files to be emailed to news agencies or directly posted to the internet within seconds (for example the London G20 riots from 2009). News embargos are harder to enforce because information is so much harder to contain. Most people have access to the world wide web. You can post a ‘I’m being murdered by my husband’ update on your Facebook page via the iPhone or Twitter a kill total as you wander ‘round the streets shooting strangers. And such is the competition in the media – TV, radio, the internet, newspapers and magazines – each desperate to scoop the next big story, that each agency tries to out do the next by releasing increasingly sensitive information in an effort to attract viewers/readers. And in cases where multiple agencies have hold of a story, then each tries to elbow past competitors by bagging some exclusive angle. With as many juicy details as possible. The more salacious the better. The more contentious the better. The more controversial the better. Creating more arguments. Had the Crippen case been unfolding today, he would have been interviewed on the Montrose by Kay Burley. Plucky Kay abseiling on deck from the Sky News helicopter. The interview beamed live around the world. Ethel Neve would be a double page spread in the tabloids holding a bottle of poison, recounting her torrid affair with Crippen, and Fiona Bruce would have been in the cellar of 39 Hilldrop Crescent, telling us about the feeling of evil and the stench. All before Crippen went anywhere near Lord Chief Justice Lord Alverstone in the No. 1 court of the Old Bailey.

 

The Contempt of Court Act 1981 states that conduct may be treated as a contempt of court as tending to interfere with the course of justice in particular legal proceedings regardless of intent to do so. [The] rule applies only to a publication which creates a substantial risk that the course of justice in the proceedings in question will be seriously impeded or prejudiced. The strict liability rule applies to a publication only if the proceedings in question are active within the meaning of this section at the time of the publication. Under the act, together with other circumstances, criminal proceedings are deemed to have started when an arrest has been made. Married to this, Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right to a fair trial.

 

This brings us to Bradford, West Yorkshire and 2010. Between April 2009 and May 2010 three women went missing in Bradford. Suzanne Blamires, Shelley Armitage and Susan Rushworth. All three women were living vulnerable lives, funding their drug and drink addictions through prostitution. Police were alerted when CCTV footage was discovered which appeared to show a serious assault and following this the body of Suzanne Blamires was found in the River Aire. Stephen Griffiths was arrested a short time later on suspicion of murder. Remains of Shelley Armitage were also later recovered from the Aire. Susan Rushworth’s body has so far not been found. Griffiths was charged with the murders of all three women.

 

Stephen Griffiths might very well be a loner and a weirdo, as the press are eager to report, but that doesn’t preclude him being intelligent. Griffiths is a psychology graduate who at the time of the murders was studying criminology as a mature student. And I have a sneaking suspicion that his defence has already been hinted at with his first appearance at Bradford Magistrates’ Court and later the same day at the Crown Court on 28th May 2010. A defence that will have nothing to do with whether he’s done it or not. Noting to do with the truth. But everything to do with Article 6 of the European Covention on Human Rights. Because thanks to the press coverage, it would now almost seem that Griffiths’ name is irrelevant to anyone on the jury. The twelve good men and true. So why should he give it to the court when they ask him to confirm his identity? Why not give the name he has been branded with? Because thanks to the media exposure, how many people don’t now think that Griffiths has committed these murders? Who cannot have heard of the case? Who cannot be aware of the media’s implications? The hints at the evidence? And above all these things that fact that Griffiths is inextricably tied to a label the media has identified him with. A label he’s apparently felt compelled identify himself to the court with as being stronger than his own name. Because thanks to the media Stephen Griffiths is the now Crossbow Cannibal. So ask the jury to clear their minds of all prejudice and good luck with your fair trial.

Joan of Arc’s Walkman

Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to the tomorrow’s world that was promised when I was growing up. Raymond Baxter, the lying charlatan bastard, smugly highlighting the Pi function on a pocket calculator the size of a house brick that ran for ten minutes on two dozen triple A batteries with his special pointing pen or talking us through the mind-blowing wonder of Ceefax on a 20 inch tube TV wrapped in a fake teak cabinet, was adamant that there would be uranium-powered hover boots, time machines as common as photo booths so we could slip in and out of history at will during a trip to the shops and that we’d have colonised Mars and be living in aluminium igloos with genetically created pets by now. And perhaps most importantly this morning when I’m tired and hungry and can’t be arsed, that we’d get all the nutrients we needed just by taking a couple of tablets a day. Instead of which I’ve got to wash a fucking pan out. For fuck’s sake. Sometimes it seems that it’s only Complan and McVitie’s low fat Hobnobs that have got their act together and stepped up to the mark.

 

What happened to that brave new world that they said would be ours? What happened to the guarantee of a better, more convenient tomorrow? Where are the disposable, bio-degradable plates? Where are the engines powered by little more than water mixed with a spoonful of miracle crystals that will run for years? Where are the cyber whores and robotic studs from West World who service your every need and then fuck off at the press of a button? Where are the highways in the sky where we can drive across the Atlantic in a bog standard reasonably-priced family flying car and get there in an hour? All these years and what have we got of this tomorrow’s world that’s here and now and available for purchase today? Farah hopsacks with their indestructible fabric from the future and the Pot Noodle. And that’s it. As for the rest, we’re still living in the bloody Dark Ages. All that promise has come to nothing. Tomorrow was the day before. Because I still haven’t seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion or watched C-beams glitter in the darkness at Tannhäuser Gate. I still haven’t got a hologram TV that projects the programme into the middle of my lounge or a teleporter in the space under the stairs. And I still have to squirt Fairy Liquid into a pan and scour the remains of Monday’s Baked Beans from the bottom before I can eat. The boffins have let us down. The future that was supposed to be today looks like yesterday but without the optimism.

 

But perhaps I’m being unfair. Much wants more and all that. Because technology is like adipose tissue; we’re so eager and heedless to consume that we never notice it going on but try getting rid of it and you’ve got sweat, frustration, tears and a nervous breakdown on your hands. For instance, most people are in agreement that Microsoft Word is pretty shit. Most of us use it and, after some deliberation, we all think it’s pants. Let’s face it. It formats things wrongly, none of the commands are where you’d expect them to be, it spazzes up the alignment, it shoves in page breaks when it feels like it and hides text up it digital arse. But it’s familiarity that’s bred such contempt. Because I remember my old Brother typewriter. Complwting a evun a simpel lettre wihtout any spulling mustakes or corections was lick trynig to splot the f&cking atum. And if you wanted a copy of what you’d typed you either had to carbonate it or take a trip to the library to use their Xerox machine with a worn out toner cartridge and stand in line next to some dodgy old fella who was photocopying pictures from The Blue Peter Annual, wondering if you were going to need some more 5ps. And what about if you wanted some big titles? Lining up those letter transfers that you pressed onto the page by rubbing a pencil on them was unbelievably finicky and time consuming. Arrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ve rubbed it on too high!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Arrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! some of it’s peeled off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And editing the text of what you’d typed…? Anybody got any Tipp-ex? Some Liquid Paper? So Word, when you think about it, is a revelation. When Word came into my life it was like a Medieval monk spending years illuminating a manuscript to find that he’s spelt a name wrong the whole way through finally being handed Caxton’s printing press. Even with its faults and that smug fucking Paperclip that taps on the screen all the bloody time pointing out that you’re grammars’ shit it’s still one of the most liberating inventions of all time. And what about the internet? Look how that has revolutionized our lives. Forget the shameful trip to the newsagents or Softy’s Hard Stuff and the crafty reach up to the top shelf for your porn, the information Super Highway drives those shaved cheerleaders and horny MILFs up to your house, through the wall and into the lounge like they’re being chauffered in a stretched Rolls Royce with a Jacuzzi in the back by Keith Moon. ‘Ere you go, mate, fill yer boots. Sorry about the window. Technology in the last two decades has changed the world in a way that hasn’t been done since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century. I bet there are some old people out there who genuinely think they’re living amongst wizards. That can’t make any sense whatsoever of the world around them. Whose daily life must be like they’ve been beamed onto Bespin’s Cloud City, still clutching a copy of The People’s Friend in one hand and a cup of cocoa in the other. You’re telling me that you have a ‘phone in your pocket?! In your pocket?!!! A ‘phone???!!!!!! In your pocket?????!!!!!!! But where are all the wires?!!! What do you mean that you’ve got ten million songs inside that little shiny white and silver card?! Where’s your Gramophone???!!!!! Just a minute, a ‘phone???!!!!!! In your pocket?????!!!!!!! I tell you, if Boots ever do get a time machine booth don’t wander back to the fourteen hundreds with your iPod on. They’ll fucking burn you. But you don’t even have to go that far back to freak yourself out. Imagine going to sleep in 1980 and waking up today. See the world through those eyes. Eyes that still hadn’t seen the ZX Spectrum or the compact disc or power steering or redtube or Chip and PIN or automatic doors. Then you’d be truly amazed by the everyday life that you now live. Hardly anybody carries cash anymore. We all have TVs the size of billboards. We can have video calls with people at the other side of the world (just ask Leslie Grantham). We all have computers that we book holidays with and buy cars and play games on. We don’t know we’re born. We’ve never had it so good. Illegal downloads, online affairs, easy gambling, parking sensors, bagless vacuum cleaners and remote central locking key fobs. The world is at our finger tips.

But this technological Utopia is perhaps not what it seems. A hidden, nasty truth, like the smiling come-hither euthanasia of Logan’s Run, lurks behind the shiny guile of the iPhone and the omniscience of the work’s Blackberry. We’ve been tricked. Because it’s a corollary of Parkinson’s Law that technology multiplies the amount of work you’re expected to accomplish in a given time. We work the same hours but we do more because of Microsoft Office and the silicone chip. And we are becoming increasingly available. So why can’t you sort out that work email on your day off? Why not put in an unpaid hour at home banging out some more shit? You should be doing six reports an hour instead of one now you’ve got that new software… We are being invidiously wired into the network. We are being made to toil for technology rather than technology making life easier for us. Tomorrow’s world is turning us into slaves to the machines. And this is all Raymond Baxter’s fault. Baxter the false Moses with his pledge of a technological Promised Land. Send Schwarzenegger back through time via the Time Booth™ (right at the back in Boots, near to the home perming kits but before you get to the dispensary) to kill Baxter before he shows us the digital watch and the compact disc player. Before he entices us with the ATM and the barcode. Because all they’ll do is yoke mankind. They’ll turn us into drones for the machines. And we’ll still have to find the time to wash out a fucking pan. Save the world, free humanity, kill Raymond Baxter.