What was supposed to be a monumental public relations coups in terms of youth engagement, but probably also designed (in part) as mitigation against the much maligned post of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), is rapidly turning into a political nightmare.
But is all the vociferous comment little more than a storm in a teacup, one being fuelled by the usual British media frenzy?
At the beginning of this month Paris Brown from Sheerness, was appointed to work for Ann Barnes, Kent’s PCC who incidentally, is one of the few supposedly independent of any political party. Miss Brown’s role is to represent young people across the county of Kent and, “to build a bridge between the world of young people and policing.” – A wholly admirable sentiment I think you would agree?
3-Apr-13: This will be a real hands-on role and I’ll be relying on Paris to guide my office on how we can deliver a better service for all young people in the county and tackle youth offending…(Ann Barnes)
But, in less than a week since Ms Barnes appointed her new Yooff Ambassador, it seems the incumbent of that post is likely to lose her new job; at least if the Mail on Sunday have anything to do with it (see below).
7-Apr-13: Paris Brown, 17, posted violent, racist and anti-gay comments on Twitter – along with foul-mouthed rants boasting about her sex life and drug-taking…(mailonsunday.co.uk)
The PCC has obviously been quick to protect her new teen-age role-model(?) and employee. That in it self makes a refreshing change within policing circles but that as they say, is another story! The content of Ms Barnes’ mostly contrived damage limitation media release (see here) was to be expected however she has some valid points.
The idea of a Youth Commissioner was born out of my long experience in the world of Policing, as a teacher and as a parent. There is a growing gap between younger people and the Police and others agencies of law enforcement. Young people are too often demonised by certain elements in the press and are often criticised mercilessly…(Ann Barnes)
The part of that release that interested me was the (probably also mostly contrived) response quote from Miss Brown herself. Given her (alleged) previous views and comments posted within social media, are the following words the ones which would actually be used by a member of our predominant yooff culture?
I deeply apologise for any offence caused by my use of inappropriate language and for any inference of inappropriate views. I am not homophobic, racist or violent and am against the taking of drugs. If I’m guilty of anything it’s showing off and wildly exaggerating on Twitter and I am very ashamed of myself, but I can’t imagine that I’m the only teenager to have done this…(Paris Brown)
After their sustained attack on Miss Brown’s suitability for the role, at least The Mail were happy to report that she is probably (but still sadly, mostly in a disparaging manner) actually indicative of most teenagers today. The PCC also pointed out that Miss Brown is wholly representative of today’s teen generation, which is why she was chosen for the role.
Whether or not she [Brown] is actually ”ashamed of these comments” remains to be seen but as the PCC rightly points out and I agree; “ I would bet you that any parent who accessed a Twitter or Facebook account would be surprised and perhaps shocked at some of the stuff that’s on it because that’s what kids do.”
The PCC is also right when she says; “they like to impress their mates” – a factor which is all part of their struggle to try to find their place in our society. A process made increasingly difficult with the constant vilification they tend to receive these days.
Paris may have ”been found guilty of boasting” in many of the messages she posted to her social media accounts however; is she really guilty of an offence here? She may have (unintentionally I hope) offended someone however; is she actually guilty of the bigotry, homophobia or the promotion of alcohol and substance misuse that The Mail seeks to imply?
If she is actually guilty of anything it’s probably just an acute case of immature stupidity! But I’m also concerned that we may be expecting a little too much of our youth sometimes; are we really suggesting that our mostly free-thinking ’kids’ should be totally constrained by the same levels of political correctness often endured by the rest of us?
The political correctness of modern-day society that has been a thorn in the side of many policing matters for years now. A decade on since the then Home Office minister John Denham, was criticised for using the phrase “nitty gritty” at the annual Police Federation conference, because of race relations ‘rules’ (see here).
Thankfully we have moved on a little since then. However, there is still a general perception that things haven’t changed that much during the ensuing years, despite some sensible and pertinent comments to the debate at the time (see below).
As long as political correctness stands for self-examination, then it is nothing short of a duty in a responsible society. Where it amounts to the repression of freedom of thought, it is very much the opposite…(Andy D – UK)
Double talk, double think results in lies and deception. Sweep away PC once and for all…(A Social Worker)
All that said and far too often, we still have a tendency to place expectations upon our children, usually without providing them with all the ‘tools’ to adequately complete the tasks we set them. At least not to our ‘expected’ standards. But, as in this case, our ‘standards’ are not actually replicated in many of our younger citizens. The things that we adults believe to be ‘correct’ and ‘right’ (by our ‘standards’) aren’t aways necessarily perceived in the same manner by our youth.
Given the predominant journalistic methodology of The Mail for marginalisation and/or exclusion of our youth from society, it’s hardly surprising that they chose to vilify Paris Brown. Stupidly and naively, she presented them with an ideal and fortuitous opportunity. But we should all remember and consider the original raison d’être behind her appointment i.e. “to build a bridge between the world of young people and policing.”
Paris Brown may (allegedly) drink a little too much, she may be a little loud and in your face. She may be a little too sexually active for someone of such ‘tender’ years and she may say things on Twitter and Facebook that some find inappropriate or offensive however; she IS (like it or not) indicative of today’s youth. But also, unlike many of her peers, perhaps she actually sees a way forward to change adult perception about our youth?
In addition to that, Ann Barns appears to be actually trying to understand the problems surrounding youth offending and anti-social behaviour, all be it a little late. Hopefully she is also trying to do something constructive to combat these problems? Can the same really be said about the rest of us?
- Crime commissioner under attack over teen czar (telegraph.co.uk)
- Crass tweets embarrass teenage police commissioner (thetimes.co.uk)
- Try telling the teen sheriff she’s a waste of money (independent.co.uk)
- Teen Crime Commissioner In Offensive Tweet Row (news.sky.com)
- Boss defends ‘offensive’ youth crime tweeter (itv.com)
I’m starting to question the capability of our legal system and I’m not alone. In our fast-moving and open digital age; is it still able to provide totally fair and unbiased trials any more?
Our legal system is still (arguably) one of the best in the world, despite its many faults however; a suspected offender is still rightly innocent until proven guilty. How long that remains to be the case in this ‘connected’ world is worryingly becoming questionable?
In addition to the internet and the powerful influences of social media platforms, it is increasingly difficult for an ‘alleged’ offender to feel confident they will receive a fair trial, this is often due to the methods of our mainstream media. A feeling which is exacerbated when the suspect possess any so-called ’celebrity’ status or, mostly thanks to the emotive media machine, are unfortunate in gaining public notoriety because of the so-called reported ‘facts’ of the alleged offence.
This week’s exclusive revelations from the media about a popular TV actor are perhaps another case in point.
Le Vell (real name Turner) was first arrested in September 2011 and questioned over alleged child sex offences, but the matter was subsequently dropped by the CPS. Now, Alison Levitt, QC, principal legal adviser to the Director of Public Prosecutions, has reviewed the file of ‘evidence’ and decided that, the previous decision not to prosecute was wrong.
…there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to charge Michael Robert Turner with a number of sexual offences…(Alison Levitt QC)
As yet I haven’t read any reports which suggest there is any ’new’ evidence in the above case therefore, the cynic inside me wants to ask; if it wasn’t in the public interest to proceeed then, why is it now? Perhaps the original decision was made because, ‘there was no realistic expectation of a conviction’? Or perhaps worryingly, in light of the immense public opinion and media interest about the Jimmy Savile scandal was the thought process more like - we better have a go at this now in case it comes back to bite us later?
Already the ‘no smoke without fire’ brigade are out in force suggesting the CPS actions show the allogations must have been right after all, mustn’t they?
Whatever the eventual outcome for Turner his life and erstwhile popularity are already taking a severe beeting, irrespective of any subsequent proof of guilt and conviction. I don’t condone any of the alledged offences however; I’m prepared to wait for the court case outcome before offering comment about the suspect. These types of issue all make the weeks news about a call for anonymity for alleged sex case offenders relatively unsurprising, at least to me.
Maura McGowan QC, chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales, said defendants should get the same right to anonymity as complainants…(bbc.co.uk)
With the predominant lynch-mob mentality that often prevails amongst many users of Twitter and Facebook, I can fully understand the thought process that brought Maura McGowan to her conclusion. She has bravely placed her head on the chopping block of (media engineered) public opinion. At the risk of making like Dobbin and forming a constituent part of your next supermarket ready-meal, I’m happy to place my napper under the same clever of thought and opinion.
Until they have been proven to have done something as awful as this, I think there is a strong argument in cases of this sort – because they carry such stigma with them – to maintain the defendant’s anonymity…(Maura McGowan QC)
Barristers at 2 Bedford Row are (rightly) held in high regard; the Chambers are at the pinnacle of the UK legal game and the opinion of their team members is wholly worthy of respect. Whether or not you agree with that opinion, on what is an extremely emotive subject (hence the level of media interest), is by its very nature a whole different ball game.
Capability, experience, legal/social knowledge and business acumen not without standing, McGowan offers up valid arguments in support of her call. We don’t question the right to anonymity for victims, despite proven cases of malicious and false allegations in the past, why therefore do we question that right for an ‘alleged’ offender? When I say ‘proven’ I mean in a court of law, despite the final opinion of prosecution or defence counsel.
There are so many barriers to victims reporting sexual violence… Hiding the name of their perpetrator is just one more way to victimise victims further…(Maura McGowan QC)
Not without regard to the rights of both victims and suspects, I’m also of the opinion that; mainly due to pre-trial media methodology, along with viewpoints formulated from social media hysteria (often based upon less than factual information), we actually run the risk of destroying one of the fairest legal systems in the world. All this is before you start to consider the risks and dangers of self-inflicted fatalities.
The family of a violin teacher believed to have taken her life during the trial of a man who sexually abused her have said “the court system let her down.” Frances Andrade was found dead after giving evidence…(bbc.co.uk)
Sad as any death is, long-term mental illness and suicides are not uncommon in cases such as these, especially with such high levels of implied (or justified) guilt and/or stigmatism, on both sides of the legal argument.
Unless we want a legal system based upon mob-rule, one that is in turn formulated and directed by bigots, zealots and fanatical idealists, perhaps we need to do something to try and curb the inherent public craving for salacious innuendo and shocking opinion?
As long as that’s what we apparently want our media methodology will continue to fuel that desire.
- Sex accused ‘should get anonymity’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Sex suspects ‘should not be named’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Sex suspects ‘should not be named’ (independent.ie)
- Anonymity for alleged rapists ‘would mean fewer victims coming forward’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- Lawyers at war over calls to give rape accused anonymity (thetimes.co.uk)