July 27, 2006

Repetition without deviation

Daily Mail Headlines - Spot The Difference

Spot the difference. In February 1997, the Daily Mail declared that five men who were acquitted of the murder of Stephen Lawrence were in fact his killers. They challenged the men to sue them, and they never did.

Today, following a documentary which has raked over the case and uncovered alleged corruption in one of the investigating officers, the Mail has repeated its assertion and its challenge to the men to sue the newspaper.

There's a little more going on here than simply trying to cause a stir. If one of the five men were to sue the Mail, the civil case would almost certainly have to examine the evidence for the Mail's assertion, and would very probably find that the five men did indeed commit the crime. However being a civil case (and under the rules of double jeopardy, which the government has considered scrapping), the men would essentially be found guilty but would not face prosecution. At the moment this would seem to be a best worst option.

But there's a danger in the Mail's use of repetition. Their article notes that at least one of the men has young children and that his neighbours knew nothing of his past until this week's revelations. While it's arguable his neighbours should know who they're living next to, it's very regrettable that his child may face repercussions either at school or in the local community generally. Given the hatred felt towards the five men – probably rightly – it's unwise for their children's identity to be too widely known. Some will argue the men should have thought about that before committing the crime, and realising the effect it would have on their kids, but others will rightly add that their children did nothing wrong and deserve protection.

The Daily Mail is, I'm sure, 100% certain that 1) the men will not sue, and 2) if they did, they'd lose. In which case I wonder if today's headline is a little unnecessary. It will bring unwarranted attention to the men's children while offering practically no chance of a conviction being brought. It's a powerful way to bring the story to people's attention, but by now the court of public opinion knows the men are guilty anyway.


- 5 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Also, if they were to sue, they would need an enormous amount of money. Libel is a rich man's game and the paper knows that these people are not rich, either. The newspaper is being somewhat disingenuous towards its readers in not mentioning this.

    27 Jul 2006, 09:56

  2. This was the Mail's front page 9 years ago. It changed race relations in Britain.

    Please…

    27 Jul 2006, 10:34

  3. Surely if they didn't sue nine years ago they don't have a hope now.

    27 Jul 2006, 10:41

  4. Those children aren't exactly going to have the best view of race in the this country though, are they? Maybe a little exposure to the media machine might show them that anything racist they may (will) have heard in the home is wrong wrong wrong. Just playing devil's advocate here.

    27 Jul 2006, 12:04

  5. Christopher Rossdale

    Nice to see the tabloids are still firmly comitted to Habeas Corpus. They've got it wrong plenty of times before; it really gets to me when people assume that they can assume that people were 'probably' guilty, but got off due to lack of evidence or whatever. Unless you were in the room with the jury, and saw all the evidence, you just can't know.
    Tim Robbins was innocent!

    27 Jul 2006, 23:38


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