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Thursday 4 March 2010

Understanding A Little Less

I had been a paid-up Cheshire resident five years or so before the Bulger case, the beating and killing of a toddler by two ten year olds in Bootle. It was an ideal excuse for the tabloid media to whip up a frenzy, while of course selling more copies. But it was not the first “child killer” case in my memory, and I will return to that later.

Tabloid land has been raking over the killing of Jamie Bulger this week with the news that one of those convicted, Jon Venables, has been returned to jail for breaching the terms of his parole. What the tabloids have not been doing is to dwell even for a moment on their routinely disgraceful behaviour, both now and then, and towards the recent arrest of two boys in Edlington, South Yorkshire, for brutalising two other children.

For the print media, such cases are the best of news: the attackers are easy to demonise, the inevitably less well off families concerned cannot hope to sue – so making it easy to make up and print whatever appeals – and the copy generates more sales without the assembled hackery having to break sweat.

In the Edlington case, it was not easy to find out about the horrific home environment of the two boys arrested, and once the story had been found, it was not easy to read about: here is a bold attempt from the Independent (my thanks to a Zelo Street regular for the tip).

Unfortunately, public awareness is not helped by politicians displaying little more principle than the tabloids, and cashing in on events like the Bulger killing to boost their flagging popularity: both John Major, with his “society should condemn a little more and understand a little less”, and Michael Howard, illegally extending the Bulger killers’ jail terms, being prime examples.

The poverty into which many brutalised and brutalising children are born, and their convenient characterisation, is more than coincidental: here I return to that first “child killer” memory. Many years ago, my family lived on a mature and sprawling housing development in West Yorkshire: the estate had two large parts, “upper” and “lower”, the latter being generally older housing, including ours.

This was a generally well off part of the world, but it was not immune to criminality: two little girls were found murdered, and ultimately the killer was found to be a 13 year old boy, from the “upper” part of the estate. He had been known to have a sadistic streak, but his was a “good family”. There was no media scrum, no lynch mob, no mass descent of hacks on the neighbourhood. The name is still firm in my mind, but no trace can be found on the web, unlike Mary Bell and the Bulger killers, and so I do not give it here.

But the thought that the poor get screwed over, both perpetrator and victim, even in justice, has occurred.

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