For the victim’s sake, men accused of Indian gang rape must have due process

Leave a comment

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil benefit of law!

Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ‘round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast….And if you cut them down…do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of the law, for my own safety’s sake!

 Man for All Seasons (Robert Bolt)

 Unknown-1I was reminded (not for the first time) of Thomas Moore’s impassioned defence of the rule of law by reports of the Indian justice system’s response to the extraordinarily brutal gang rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in Delhi.

Two local lawyers’ groups, the Sakhet and Delhi Bar Associations, voted not to act for the accused and created a ruckus in court when one solicitor did come forward to represent the men. Members of a campaigning group also present in court, Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan, joined in with the abuse.

The Delhi Bar Association website maintains it is ‘in the vanguard for upholding the democratic values that our Constitution stands for’. However, it was left to the lawyer acting for the victim’s family to point out after the courtroom rumpus that the constitution guarantees equality before the law. “They have to be properly defended. Otherwise, how can it be a fair trial?,’ he asked.

The details of the appalling attack on the 23-year-old student are, by now seared into all our minds. Six men are accused of subjecting her to a prolonged and horrific assault: she was raped, brutalised with an iron bar, and then thrown naked from the moving bus. She died later in hospital from her injuries. A male companion was also badly assaulted.

It is difficult to think of a more savage crime – nor one where it is more important that the accused (like the devil himself) have the benefit of due process. Those who committed this horrific attack are owed no sympathy – but they are, as the family’s lawyer was alone in remembering, owed a fair trial (as I write, at least some of the arrested men reportedly plan to plead not guilty).

If ever there were a case where it is imperative that the police, prosecution, judiciary and defence do everything by the book, this is it. The victim and her family deserve nothing less. Nor do the hundreds of Indian women who have taken to the streets to condemn the rapists, and protest against the shocking levels of sexual violence that blights their daily lives. They all deserve to see justice done, by which I mean convictions that are demonstrably safe, and which won’t be open to appeal because they were obtained by cut corners or coerced confessions.

Like many, I applaud the level of public fury that has followed this horrific crime and the overdue debate about attitudes towards women in India. I don’t blame Indian women for being angry. They have much to be angry about.  But, while angry protest may be vital if wider social change is to be achieved, the mob has no place in the courtroom. The court needs to remain a place where evidence can be calmly and objectively weighed and decisions reached on the basis of that evidence, regardless of what might be going on outside its door. A magistrate who dealt with some of the first defendants to reach court during the UK riots of summer 2011, admitted it wasn’t easy remaining objective as the disorder carried on outside. How much more difficult for a judge to remain dispassionate if she has just had to eject what was described as a  ‘writhing phalanx of lawyers, police, media and members of the public’ who had been ‘noisily crammed into the courtroom’.images

The six accused are due to be tried under a fast track system, introduced in response to concerns that the Indian justice system is slow and inefficient, particularly in handling sexual assault cases. However, Colin Gonsalves, an Indian lawyer and founder of Human Rights Law Network, has already dubbed the new system ‘fast track injustice’. He warns that decisions are made on the basis of ‘hunches and guess work’, with judges ‘cutting down on evidence, not allowing full cross-examinations, proceeding in the absence of lawyers in many cases.’

Even without the issue of being tried under an unproven expedited system, this case has many ingredients familiar to anyone with knowledge of the miscarriages of justice that blighted our own legal system. In common with the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six cases, it too involves a particularly shocking crime; overwhelming pressure for speedy convictions; ‘confessions’ obtained without lawyers present; and subsequent claims of police brutality and torture.

It took 14 and 16 years, respectively, for the exonerated defendants in the Guildford and Birmingham cases to walk free from prison. With the Indian defendants facing the death penalty, the stakes if mistakes are made are even higher. To add to the sense of a mob being out for blood, rather that justice, there have been calls for the men to be publicly hanged, and for a change in the law so that the 17-year-old defendant can also be executed.

However, Indian women and other vulnerable groups should be careful what they wish for. If history tells us anything, it is that when a society turns away from the rule of law and towards summary justice, it is they who have most to lose.

By barracking their colleague or demanding to see a teenager swing, the lawyers and rights campaigners of Delhi are doing a fine job of flattening the laws of the land to get after these particular ‘devils’.  But I guarantee that, if they succeed, it will be the already protected and powerful, not Indian women, who are left standing upright in the winds that will inevitably follow.

Female ‘victims’; male ‘experts’: how men and women make front page news

Leave a comment

When Australian prime minister Julia Gillard let the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, have both barrels – labelling him sexist and misogynist during a parliamentary debate – footage of her onslaught rapidly went viral.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard lambasts Opposition leader Tony Abbott for his sexist behaviour towards her.

Gillard’s perfectly pitched attack in which, although clearly furious she remained utterly coherent and calm, has been described as a turning point in Australian sexual politics. It prompted the Macquarie Dictionary (Australia’s answer to the Oxford English Dictionary, apparently) to revise its definition of the word ‘misogyny’; and, in the wake of President Obama’s lacklustre performance in his first election TV debate, the New Yorker even suggested he could learn something from Gillard.

Like many, I watched Gillard’s demolition of Abbott with an equal mix of glee and awe.

Perhaps inevitably, it hasn’t take long for Gillard to get her comeuppance. Just a week after being lauded as a fearsome political performer, Gillard is once again attracting headlines, but this time for being a hapless, ditsy female, who can’t walk in her high heels.

One a three-day state visit to India, which until that point had received zero attention in the British media, Gillard had the misfortune to get her heel stuck in wet grass and fall flat on her face, literally. She had the even greater misfortune for the episode to be captured on film, which is now receiving as much press coverage as did her barnstorming performance just a few days earlier.

Footage of Gillard going sprawling (sometimes accompanied by with frame-by-frame still photos), made it on to most of UK newspaper websites, including some, like the Mirror and the Sun, which hadn’t reported her earlier trouncing of Abbott. ‘Aussie PM’s hilarious face-first tumble,’ was the Sun’s headline; it was her ‘third faux pas involving shoes this year,’ reported the Mail Online; more than one newspaper described it as her ‘fall from grace’. It’s surely no coincidence that, in a neat reversal of the notion of ’power heels’, all the coverage laboured the point that what brought about Gillard’s downfall was her high heels – the footwear most emblematic of femaleness.

It is ironic that, between Gillard being feted for her triumph in parliament and ridiculed for her slip in India, the campaigning group Women in Journalism (of which I am deputy chair) published research* into the way women are portrayed in the British press.

As well as confirming how much men dominate newspaper front pages (80% of bylines were male; 84% of people mentioned or quoted in lead stories were male), the research also showed distinct differences in the roles that men and women play in news stories.

WiJ found that women are disproportionately likely to be portrayed as some kind of ‘victim’ – whether of crime, illness, or even, as in Gillard’s case, pesky high heels. By contrast, men quoted or mentioned were disproportionately likely to be ‘experts’. Three quarters of all the ‘experts’ in newspaper lead stories were male; nearly 80% of ‘victims’ were women.  Of the women named in lead stories, nearly a fifth (19%) were victims; the comparable figure for men was tiny, just 2%; whereas 61% of women were mentioned of quoted in an expert or professional capacity, the figure for men was 82%.

The research also looked at the way photos are used. It found that men account for the majority of front page photographs (64%), and that no female politicians featured in the top-ten images used on front pages during the period of the research. Where photos of senior women were used, the images were often unflattering or apparently intended to make them look ridiculous. For instance, home secretary Theresa May, appeared on a front page as the main picture four times during the month, but three of those were of the same image, with her pulling her mouth down in a grimace. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, was pictured three times during the research period, but twice the shot was of her with her hands up in the air, puffing her cheeks out. There were few pictures in which women looked sensible and serious.

It remains to be seen which version of Julia Gillard has the strongest hold on the media imagination in the longer term: the formidable politician, in command of herself and her argument; or the woman who can’t even walk on wet grass in her heels without falling on her face.

Seen but not heard: how women make front page news,’  Women in Journalism, October 2012.

‘BMW-driving defence lawyers?’ We’ll accept your apology, Mr Straw

Leave a comment

As the legal profession holds its breath to see what the appointment of Chris Grayling as new Justice Secretary will bring, it seems an opportune time to debunk one of the myths perpetrated by a Labour predecessor.

When Jack Straw was Home Secretary (he would go on to become Justice Secretary in 2007), he seemed to go out of his way to enrage the legal profession, attacking defence lawyers for being too ‘aggressive’, and forgetting their ‘wider social responsibilities’ (it’s an adversarial system, Jack! The clue’s in the name…).

Former Home and Justice Secretary accused criminal law solicitors of hypocrisy and being ‘too aggressive’ in defence of clients’ interests

He also claimed lawyers were in danger of outnumbering police officers. (A meaningless claim, if ever there was one.) It was left to the then Law Society president Michael Napier to calmly point out that, while there might be 83,000 practising solicitors, only 11,300 of these did criminal defence work, compared with 125,000 police officers. (What Straw had against the rest of the legal profession –  conveyancers, will-writers, those advising businesses or accident victims or would-be divorcees – was never entirely explained.)

However, the comment of Straw’s which still rankles more than a decade later was his depiction of defence solicitors as BMW-driving hypocrites. Speaking to an audience of senior police officers in 1999, Straw condemned civil liberties lawyers for campaigning against Asbos when they themselves were blissfully cocooned from the impact of anti-social behaviour.  There was, he said, ‘a huge issue of hypocrisy here. They represent the perpetrator of the crime and then get into their BMWs and drive off into areas where they are immune from much crime.’

Whether or not criminal law solicitors ever primarily resided in such crime-free idylls, they certainly don’t seem to any more. During interviews with 50 defence lawyers for the Guardian/London School of Economics studyinto last August’s disturbances, it was striking how many of them lived in inner city areas directly affected by the rioting. Many spoke about seeing the destruction, literally, on their own doorsteps; one described being under ‘house arrest’, as he was unable to leave his home in Hackney for several days as the trouble continued. Another, who was driving home to Brixton (whether in a ‘bimmer’ or not, he didn’t say), turned his car around 500 yards from home as the trouble erupted in front of him in the middle of the afternoon. A solicitor living in Tottenham described being kept awake by police helicopters and watching the retail park being looted from her house. Even some of the most senior solicitors interviewed lived in areas of relatively high crime, like Finsbury Park and Hackney.

Another defence solicitor arrives home after a hard day challenging Anti-social behaviour orders…

The new Justice Secretary may not like the activities of defence lawyers any better than Straw did, but these kinds of charges of hypocrisy no longer stick.

Interestingly, the research also included 130 police officers and a very different picture emerged here. It won’t be true in every case, clearly, but the interviews suggest that it is now the police, rather than defence solicitors, who after a shift in the inner city,  are likely to be heading home to the leafy suburbs.

The discrepancy over where lawyers and police officers live doesn’t seem to be purely an issue of finances: a two-year qualified solicitor doing defence work in London will be earning roughly the same (circa £30,000) as a Met PC with the same length of experience. All of which suggests that something else may be at work, and that police officers are more adverse than other professionals to living in the areas – or even the same kinds of areas – where they work.

It’s a point not lost on the Tottenham Citizens Inquiry in its response to the riots.

Among the inquiry’s recommendations for rebuilding Tottenham’s notoriously fraught relations with police was a call for the Met to recruit more Londoners. It also wanted to see officers new to Tottenham undergo a ‘six-month orientation process’ to help them better understand the area and its people. However, when one of the ‘commissioners’ to the inquiry asked Haringey borough commander Sandra Looby how many of her officers lived locally, her response was that she didn’t know, and, anyway, ‘it was not her job to tell people where to live’.

The police have long been criticised for failing to recruit enough black officers but the issue of recruiting people who live in urban areas to police urban areas seems to have been missed, previously. If officers’ only experience of an urban street or a racially mixed community is in their official capacity – where everyone they meet is a potential victim or presumed perpetrator –that is bound to have a skewing affect on their perception of and attitude towards the diverse mix of people they are there to serve.

Fiona Bawdon worked as a senior researcher for the Guardian/LSE ‘Reading the Riots’ research from September 2011-July 2012.

So that’s what they mean by deterrent prison sentences…

Leave a comment

Even the ‘case-hardened’ prosecutor was reduced to tears.

A 17-year-old A-level student – who had never been in any trouble before – had just been given 18 months in Feltham Young Offenders Institution for looting during the August riots.

The boy, who hoped to go to university, had gone into a café in Ealing, where he picked up two bottles of wine, and a T-shirt, all of which he gave away immediately. He was utterly ashamed of his actions and admitted that he had got carried away in the moment and, at the time, thought it was all a bit of a joke.

His parents, respectable, hard-working folk, took a different view: when they found out the following day, they took him straight to the police station, taking the clothes he had been wearing.

In court, both parents pleaded with the judge to spare their son from custody, and it’s hard to imagine their feelings when she imposed a lengthy custodial sentence. The judge told him that, were it not for the fact he handed himself in, his sentence would have been two years.

It wasn’t just the parents who were shocked at the judge’s harshness. The prosecutor involved in the case says: ‘Was that justice? Because I don’t think it was. That boy’s life has been ruined, and I’m paying for that. He just didn’t think about his actions, didn’t think about the consequences – but that’s what young men are like. It’s called growing up.’

She later saw the boy carted off  in a prison van alongside one of her more regular customers, a member of the notorious ‘Murder Dem Pussies’ gang. The latter was, she says, ‘a serious, serious offender with a book of convictions’, and fairly typical of the young men the 17-year-old will be rubbing shoulders with during his sentence.

No doubt, the parents had thought by turning their son in, they were doing the right thing; that if he owned up immediately, somehow everything would be all right. No doubt, they assumed his punishment would be tempered with mercy, not least because of his youth, previous good behaviour and genuine remorse.

But they hadn’t banked on what even the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald QC, has described as ‘the collective loss of proportionality’  which has afflicted sentencing after the riots. (In fact, the boy’s sentence was subsequently reduced on appeal to four months in custody.)

As a mother of a son of similar age to the lad sent to Feltham, I am haunted by the image of his well-meaning parents marching their son off to the police station to face the music. It haunts me because, I would have been that parent. If that had been my son, I, too, would have had him at the police station first thing the next morning to own up to what he’d done. But not any more.

If these severe sentences are intended to act as a deterrent, they are certainly effective, although probably not in the way the courts expected. They would certainly deter me from turning anyone in – and I suspect may have a similar effect on other people, which may hamper police efforts to identify rioters and looters by trawling through hours of CCTV footage. These sentences would also deter me from having faith in the justice system’s capacity to deal humanely with foolish but fundamentally decent teenagers who got carried away in the madness of last August.

My blunt advice now to anyone inclined to turn in a child would be: don’t. Don’t own up; don’t go to the police. Keep your head down, and pray the police don’t call. If police do come knocking, get yourself a good solicitor, and in the meantime admit nothing.

As one defence solicitor says, while parents with no previous involvement with the criminal justice system assume their wayward offspring will be in for  ‘a good bollocking’ from the police, those guilty of even the most minor offences are likely to face months in a YOI.  Whereas previously, his standard advice to clients in this situation would be turn yourself in immediately, in order to get maximum credit from the court for an early admission, now it would be to sit tight and hope for the best.

Another lawyer whose firm has handled many riot cases for adults and youths says that some juries are now acquitting defendants facing minor charges – in the face of strong evidence – and speculates this is because jurors know the sentences imposed if found guilty will be harsh. ‘Let’s just say, we’ve had some very good results for our clients,’ he says.

Of course, there is a place for deterrent sentencing in any justice system. Of course looting a pair of trainers in the context of the riots is more serious, and warrants harsher punishment, than run-of-the mill shoplifting. However, while the riots are undoubtedly an aggravating factor where sentencing of adults is concerned, isn’t the opposite true for children? Many of these young people now coming through the courts would, literally, never have seen anything like the looting and disorder we experienced last summer. How on earth were they meant to exercise judgement and restraint when none of the adults around them appeared to be? At the time, it must have seemed as if the world had turned upside down, normal rules no longer applied, and, crucially, everyone – mothers with babies in buggies, even elderly people on mobility scooters – was getting involved. How realistic is it to expect an excitable teenager in that situation to stop and think what the consequences might be? As one magistrate told me, ‘because they saw so many people doing it, they just thought it somehow wasn’t criminal.’

It’s not just defence lawyers and prosecutors who are concerned at the severity of the sentences. With police investigations continuing, one youth court sentencer worries that thousands more children – who were never in trouble before the riots and who would be unlikely ever to offend again – will end up in prison, with find their lives and educational chances blighted.

For some, the damage caused by a prison sentence may be far worse. There are already reports of vulnerable young people incarcerated for riot offences attempting to harm themselves. And last week’s suicides of two children who were in YOIs for non-riot related cases – 15 year old Alex Kelly and 17-year-old Jake Hardy – come as a gruesome reminder of just how unsafe these places can be.

If we get through this episode with no incidents of serious harm, or worse, among children sent to custody for the riots, it will be nothing short of a miracle.

Leave a comment

Doreen Lawrence: the diminutive ‘giantess’ who changed the world


I had planned to make my first blog in 2012 about sentencing in riot cases (having spent the past four months – and counting – as senior researcher on the Guardian/LSE ‘Reading the Riots’ project). However, following yesterday’s momentous jury decision in the trial of Gary Dobson and David Norris for the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence, the important subject of riot sentences will have to wait for another day.

Doreen with Smita Bajaria of Birnbergs, and Baljeet Sandhu of Islington Law Centre at the 2011 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards. Baljeet said afterwards that she had been inspired to become a lawyer by the Lawrence family's campaign for justice, saying: "Up until that point, I'd always just assumed that no one was interested in what ethnic minority kids from an inner city background had to say. The Lawrence inquiry showed that, although it might be really, really hard, you could change things."

The impact of the Lawrence case on this country is almost impossible to overstate. It has led to huge change in the legal system (abolition of double jeopardy, without which Dobson could not have stood trial this time); powerful anti-discrimination legislation (including the 2000 Race Relations Amendment Act, which places a positive duty on public bodies to eliminate inequality); changes to policing (with Cressida Dick, acting deputy commissioner at the Met, admitting it had had ‘more impact on policing than any other case’); even changes to our vocabulary (giving us the phrase ‘institutional racism’ to describe the systematic way that black people are discriminated against by organisations). It is hard to think of an area of life that this case has not touched.

But I don’t want to talk about any of that, here.

For me, the most incredible element of this case and the changes it has wrought is what it tells us about the power of a mother’s love. Not one of these reforms would have come about were it not for the awe-inspiring courage of Stephen’s mother, Doreen, driven by her determination to see justice for her boy. As Doreen says herself: ‘I’m just a regular mum that’s lost a son. From the word go, if the police had done their job and caught his killers, no one would have heard from me or known who I am.’

Speaking immediately after the verdict, Doreen talked about her enduring passion for her son and how he is in her thoughts every day. ‘How can I celebrate when my son lies buried; when I cannot see him, or speak to him.’ she said.

As the mother of two teen boys who are not that much younger than Stephen was when he was killed, I know a little about the ferocity of a mother’s love for her sons. I like to think that I would go through fire for them but have not (thankfully, so far) had that conviction put to the test. Doreen was tested in the most cruel way possible – and she has not been found wanting. She took that all-consuming love and what threatened to be overwhelming grief and channelled them into action. I only hope that, if the need arose, I would find just a fraction of the raw courage and indefatigability that she has sustained over nearly two decades.

This tiny woman (barely over five feet tall) is a giantess – an inspiration for mothers everywhere.

I have worked with Doreen for nearly 10 years as she is a judge for an awards ceremony that I organise, and she is one of the most modest and unassuming people you could ever meet. She is never comfortable in the limelight and is not a natural public speaker (when the original presenter pulled out of last year’s awards, she agreed to step into the breach so long as she didn’t have to make any kind of speech). She can be taciturn and is not one to emote on cue for the cameras. Yet where her murdered son is concerned, she is a tigress.

Her love for Stephen was so powerful that it changed the world – and she has done it all with grace and humility.

Doreen was awarded an OBE in 2003, which now seems scant recognition of what she has achieved and what she represents. I have no idea what the highest available honour in the land might be, but I do know that, nine exhausting years on from her previous award, if anyone deserves to receive it, Doreen does.

The Daily Mail and ‘Facebook juror’ Joanna Fraill have a lot in common

Leave a comment

You might think that having her inane, sub-teenage, Facebook exchanges made public (‘It’ll be over tomoz fingers crossed , im not as daft as am cabbage looking hahaha’; ‘awe fuck nos hw a didn’t get caught viv my nods and blinks’) would be punishment enough for any 40-year-old woman.

However, the judge in the trial of the ‘Facebook juror’, Joanna Fraill, sentenced her to eight months in prison for contempt, after she contacted a defendant in a drugs trial, via the social networking site.It’s hard to have much sympathy for Ms Fraill. She knew that she shouldn’t contact the defendant, Jamie Sewart, and that she was jeopardising the whole trial (‘pleeeeeese don’t say anything cause jamie they could call mmiss trial and I will get 4cked too’). Unsurprisingly, the judge wanted to make an example of her – not least to deter any other jurors who might be equally cavalier about their use of the internet.

No doubt, the case will be seized on by critics of the jury system as evidence that jurors can’t be trusted not to Google the names of defendants or witnesses (or, in the case of Ms Fraill, become their friend on Facebook and get into a discussion about ongoing deliberations).

The reality is rather more complex. There is nothing new about jurors’ bad behaviour scuppering trials; the internet just gives them new (and admittedly powerful) tools for doing so. In the infamous 1994 ‘ouija board’ trial, where jurors attempted to contact the murder victim to ask who had killed him, they used an upturned glass and a pack of cards (or whatever a ouija board entails), rather than a search engine, but the principle remains the same. (As an aside: one of the lawyers involved in the ouija board case commented to me about the jurors’ abject stupidity: given that the murder victim was known to be a habitual liar, why did they expect him to be any more truthful dead than alive?)

A friend proudly told me recently that when she did jury service years ago, she made a point of driving past the junction where the incident in question took place. She was horrified to be told that, what she thought was exceptional diligence was technically contempt of court. Another friend recounts that the judge in his case had specifically warned jurors that, during the course of the trial, they should not visit the nightclub where the alleged assault had taken place.

Clearly, some judges are better than others at issuing timely and clear warnings to jurors who may be tempted to do a little extra homework on their case.

What the debate about jurors and the internet invariably fails to recognise is that the quality of information they are provided with generally is lamentable. When I did jury service half a dozen years ago, on the first day we were all shown a court service video, presumably explaining what to expect. I say ‘presumably’, because the sound didn’t work and it was hard to tell from the pictures what the video was actually about.

Another friend, an experienced civil lawyer whose only experience of criminal justice was as a juror, was amazed to learn during our conversation that jurors are allowed to ask the judge questions about the case. She didn’t know and no one had told her during the trial.

If jurors are, indeed, routinely researching their cases on the internet, I suspect that this is more through lack of awareness, than malevolence. Lawyers and judges well understand the need for rules about admissibility of evidence and withholding prejudicial material – but for most ordinary people, the automatic assumption is that the more information they have, the better decision they will make.   In almost every other sphere of life now, before making any kind of decision – from which ironing board cover to buy, to whether to contact the person you met in a bar last night  – people use the internet as a matter of course.

Jurors who Google a defendant or look at his Facebook page will often be acting from exactly the same impulse – because internet research is what you do when you are being sensible and conscientious.   The courts have been slow to recognise that the huge cultural shift in the way people now access and use information was bound to affect what they do when they are jurors. Rather than just despairing at the potential of the internet to undermine trials, judges should make sure their jurors understand jury service is the one area where showing initiative and doing your own research is not to be applauded but, in fact, A Very Bad Thing (which could even land you in prison).

Ms Fraill was clearly stupid and reckless. She displayed absolute contempt for the trial, in the legal sense and in the way that most of us would understand the word. However, her contempt for the justice process is shared by much of the popular press.

Tabloid reporting of the criminal justice is invariably distorted, partial and almost wilfully inaccurate. The justice system is presented as a joke, where – through a combination of wily defence lawyers, judges who are too soft and out of touch, and political correctness gone mad –  the guilty walk free and the innocent are imprisoned.

As I write this blog, there just happen to be two headlines on the Daily Mail website which perfectly illustrate this point:

Mother who downed two litres of wine before driving her two children walks free from court

Shopkeeper who frogmarched teenage thief home to his father subjected to a TEN-MONTH court ordeal after police charge HIM with false imprisonment   

In case Daily Mail readers weren’t outraged enough by the shopkeeper story headline,the first paragraph of an early version of the Mail’s story made the completely bonkers claim that the ‘respected shopkeeper’ was ‘warned he could face life in jail’ for ‘frogmarching the boy back home’.

Where the tabloids are concerned, who cares that the only thing stolen was a bunch of grapes, or that the shopkeeper (however ‘respected’) didn’t actually see who took them (a detail edited out of later versions of the Daily Mail’s story)? Let’s gloss over the fact that he didn’t just ‘frogmarch’ a 15-year-old child, but chased him, caught him, put him in his car and then drove him home; forget the fact that the court’s punishment was not life in prison but a (rather more proportionate) £250 fine.

In the case of the drink-driving mother who was, in fact, banned from driving for two years and given a 12-month community service order, let’s give the impression she got off scot free with the (technically correct but misleading) headline that she ‘walked free from court’.

No one in their right mind would have any respect for the kind of court system portrayed in the tabloids – clearly, it deserves nothing but derision and, yes, contempt. Against this kind of backdrop, is it any wonder that the Ms Fraill didn’t take the judge’s warnings seriously and had no compunction about showing her own disdain for the court process?

Older Entries Newer Entries