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Sunday, 6 June 2010

Disaster Tourism

It was discovered by espionage author Chapman Pincher that “dead men don’t sue”. This revelation meant that Pincher found it much easier to denounce former head of MI5 Roger Hollis as a KGB agent in 1981, because Hollis was by this time eight years dead. The practice has been perpetuated by the tabloid press in the last few days following the Cumbria shootings, as Derrick Bird, who did the shooting, ultimately took his own life.

Rupe’s troops at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun led the pack with the characterisation of Bird as “Psycho Cabbie”, and the rest have followed suit, in the customary rush to milk the story and put on sales before the public tire of it and the hacks go back to their usual diet of sleb-trashing, football, and frightening their readers using a variety of bogeymen.

To some, the blanket coverage of Bird’s shooting spree may cause revulsion, but to many others there is a macabre fascination with such acts. Just how much was brought home to me by a work colleague some years ago when I was on an assignment near Bristol. At the time when Fred and Rose West had been arrested, but before their house had been flattened, that colleague had just remarried, and with his new wife was doing the rounds of friends and relatives in and around Gloucester.

After starting back for Bristol, they realised that the Wests’ house was not far off their route. But, they both agreed, disaster tourism was something that one shouldn’t really do – and then curiosity got the better of them. The car was parked up and they walked the couple of hundred metres to Cromwell Street. Turning the last corner, they were amazed to find just how many more people had succumbed to that curiosity.

Scores of sightseers were milling around outside the Wests’ now former home. A mobile hot dog and burger van was doing good business, as was another selling ice cream. But the most startling presence was a stall selling souvenirs – mugs, key rings, T-shirts – which the punters were lapping up.

Just as they lap up the tabloid tat. It’s business, but not as we might like to know it.

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