You won't be surprised to learn that despite the quite possibly unprecedented apology made to Colin Stagg by the Metropolitan police yesterday, not a single one of the newspapers which played just as significant a role in ensuring that he became a social pariah could find it within themselves to admit that they might have something to be sorry for also. After all, that sort of thing doesn't sell newspapers and it might make some of their readers question the integrity of both the journalists themselves and the paper they read as a whole. No, the story's moved on; now it's about the police incompetence, the paranoid schizophrenic with Asperger's syndrome who was able to kill again and the fact that he lives a so-called "cushy" existence in the highest security mental hospital in the country.
Stagg's tormentor in chief isn't quite finished with him yet though. The Daily Mail can't break out of a habit of a lifetime, so even as it grudgingly admits that he wasn't a killer, it just has to get in a few digs to the ribs:
£706,000, an apology from the Met and Colin Stagg is still bitter
Yes, how dare someone that's just "won the lottery" be "bitter"? After all, it was only 16 years of being suspected of one of the most notorious crimes in recent history despite being completely innocent; anyone else would be satisfied with their lot in life and glad that it wasn't longer.
He issued a statement of thanks for the ‘grovelling’ apology - and posed with a brand-new £27,000 Toyota Rav4 he bought himself as a ‘present’ with his compensation.
Ah yes, a 'present'. Only in the Daily Mail could something so innocuous be sneered at.
Inside were books on witchcraft, an altar and a black-painted wall decorated with chalk drawings of horned gods. Pictures from pornographic magazines adorned other walls. Books on the occult are still on the shelves, but a 50-inch plasma TV now dominates the living room and a new flameeffect fire adds a homely touch.
You really would think the Mail could lay off the snobbery for just one time, but no, apparently not.
Stockier now than when he was arrested, Stagg added: ‘I never want to talk about the case again as long as I live.’
He is not quite as media-shy as he claims, however. He wrote a book about his experiences, has given interviews for cash - and has just spent months with a BBC film crew. But his girlfriend - for whom he has bought a new patio, and lavished presents on her children - insisted to the Daily Mail yesterday: ‘Colin just wants to get on with his life like a normal Joe Public.’
What a hypocrite - how dare he make some more money when he's already won the lottery? He might not have kept his promise to stop talking to the media - but why shouldn't he when he's finally got what he wanted and when a high profile BBC documentary might also help put the record straight?
And still it goes on:
Miss Marchant confirmed that Stagg retained his interest in the occult, ‘but not in an evil way’ and said he was an extremely intelligent self-taught individual who ‘flies through the Times crossword’, but at heart is just ‘a normal regular guy’.
In other words, he's still weird, and we were completely justified in repeatedly suggesting he might just have been the sort of twisted psychopath that could carry out such a horrific crime. Oh, and he reads a rival newspaper.
The Mail's entire coverage is a catalogue of archetypal sensationalism, reflection completely absent from it, with the contempt for Stagg still apparent. The intro to this particular article is almost pornographic and wholly unnecessary, especially after Nickell's own family called for an end to the pain they suffer when the case is constantly recalled:
He probably watched her for a little while.
Almost certainly, he would have walked towards her at first, just to check her face. Maybe he even smiled.
This was the way Robert Napper stalked his prey before turning back to pounce on them from behind, usually with a knife at their throat.
Sometimes, in the dark, he would spy on them for hours in what they assumed was the privacy of their homes.
But here on Wimbledon Common, he selected his victim in the full glare of a summer day. Rachel Nickell was 23, blonde and beautiful, an ex-model and devoted young mother.
The whole cache of photographs of the young Napper the Mail has seems to have been handed to them by his father, whom the paper interviews. As a result, it's remarkably coy about his father's own apparent role in Napper's descent into mental illness, which the Guardian fills in:
During his first 10 years of life, he witnessed brutal violence meted out by his father, Brian, against his mother, Pauline. Such was the trauma suffered by Napper and his siblings that when the couple divorced, all four children were placed in foster care and underwent psychiatric treatment.
It seems Napper suffered more than his siblings, undergoing treatment for six years at the Maudsley hospital. As he reached puberty, he was psychologically damaged further when a family friend assaulted him on a camping holiday. He was 12 years old.
Another article summarising the police blunders opens thus:
The story of how one of Britain’s biggest murder inquiries descended into a disgraceful shambles which wrecked reputations starts on Wimbledon Common shortly after 10.30am on July 15, 1992, when Rachel Nickell’s body was found by a passer-by.
The Mail of course had no role in this disgraceful shambles which wrecked reputations. They just published what the public wanted, or even when their writers were sympathetic towards Stagg, they still had to write about how unpleasant he was, John Junor going beyond mealy-mouthed in writing that:
it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that he was indeed innocent.
Even in the Mail's main article, despite all the evidence now showing how Stagg was almost certainly completely fitted-up by a desperate police force that was under pressure from the likes of the Mail, it still uses weasel words and quotation marks, all to suggest that perhaps it was justified after all, such as here:
Their misguided ‘obsession’ with Stagg was compounded by what one senior legal figure described yesterday as the ‘mesmerising’ influence of Paul Britton, the controversial forensic psychologist who compiled a profile of Rachel’s likely killer.
Yes, it was misguided, but it obviously wasn't an obsession. If it was, surely the Mail's coverage down the years was as well. Perhaps it's just covering itself. Perhaps the Mail's journalists are just heartless bastards. Who knows? Still, obviously Rachel's parents deserve the same treatment given to Stagg:
Senior officers were forced to make an unprecedented public apology to Stagg, currently enjoying a £706,000 compensation payout. Astonishingly, there was no such apology to Rachel’s family - even though detectives were compelled to admit that had Napper been apprehended back in 1989, Rachel need not have died.
"Currently enjoying"; says it all, doesn't it? There was in fact such an apology to Rachel's family, delivered at the same time as John Yates said sorry to Stagg, and in any event, at least publicly neither Rachel's parents nor her partner appear to blame the police to any great extent, her father in his statement saying in effect that the benefit of hindsight was a wonderful thing. Likewise, there was no apology from them to Stagg over how down the years they had urged a change in the law so that he could be tried again, although they have undoubtedly suffered just as much at the hands of the media as he has.
The Sun, thankfully, is much fairer in its treatment of Stagg, its article on him without any of the sneering of the Mail's. It even nicely skewers Keith Pedder, who always believed in Stagg's guilt sudden Damascene conversion to his innocence, without an extra word:
“I do feel sorry for him. He has paid a terrible price for a man found not guilty of murder.”
It would be nice to imagine that Pedder is genuinely sorry for what he inflicted on Stagg, but the money made from his books, now if not already heading straight for the pulping plant, probably means that he's in a decent enough position to be able to now feel contrition.
The Sun can't of course keep such fairness going; it simply isn't in its nature. Instead then yet more photographs of Nickell's son Alex are published, whilst the chutzpah of the Sun's story is almost sick inducing:
Reclusive Andre, 46, moved with Alex to a remote Mediterranean town to rebuild their lives — keeping their past a secret from locals.
But obviously not from the hacks which have plagued them both ever since Nickell's murder.
For sheer tastelessness, the Sun's main article on Napper's crimes wins the award. Headlined:
Ripper loved to butcher blonde mothers in front of their children
It attempts and completely fails, except in the exploitative sense, to compare Napper's crimes to Jack the Ripper's. Never mind that Jack's victims were prostitutes and Napper's weren't, and that the only thing that really connects them was the ferocity and savageness of their attacks, it takes the analogy to breaking point and beyond.
The Sun's overriding concern though is attempting to create outrage over Napper's so called "cushy" existence in Broadmoor, underlined by how he's allowed to feed the chickens and rabbits within view of a long lens. That he is criminally insane and such a danger that he will spend the rest of his life in mental hospital is obviously not enough of a punishment for his horrific crimes; after all, Philip Davies MP and Shy Keenan say so.
And the Sun's leader, naturally:
And the question The Sun asks today is this: Can it be right that a man who has so savagely taken the lives of others is allowed to live such a cosy life himself?
The Sun of course doesn't know whether his life is cosy or not; it just knows that he's allowed outside to feed farmyard animals. It doesn't matter that as well as a place for those convicted of crimes, Broadmoor also holds those convicted of none, who through therapy might eventually be released; Broadmoor ought to be the equivalent of Alcatraz, purely because of the nature of the crimes that some of those held there have committed.
Common decency demands that the way our justice system treats him reflects his crimes.
Should we let someone come in and rape him every so often, then? What is to be gained from locking someone so obviously damaged by his upbringing up all day and all night until he finally expires? Should his mental health be allowed to deteriorate even further, making him even more dangerous, as such treatment will almost certainly result in? The Sun doesn't say. Our rights just aren't being served by him seeing the light of day at all.
The Sun knows best, just as the tabloid media as a whole did. It knew then that Stagg was guilty and it knows now that it was the police blunders that doomed Nickell. It can never be wrong; it can never admit that it was just as mistaken, just as complicit as they were. And they accuse others of being totalitarian.
Labels: abuses by tabloids, Colin Stagg, Daily Mail-watch, Keith Pedder, Mail-watch, media analysis, media reporting, miscarriages of justice, Rachel Nickell, Robert Napper, Scum-watch, Sun-watch