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Home > Culture and Society

Spare a thought for the children

Is there anything else to be said about the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman?

Well, a bit.

13 September 2002

The murders share a number of depressingly predictable features with other high profile killings. Things like...

Hate mobs:

According to the BBC, at Maxine Carr's court appearance, a mob outside was shouting: "Where's your boyfriend?" As viewers could clearly hear if they listened closely, the mob was also shouting, rather less obliquely, "You fucking evil slag!". While an outpouring of anger might be expected with such a horrible crime, hate mobs are, quite literally, very ugly.

Hate mobs are very homogenous in social class and personal appearance. For a start, shouldn't they be at work? Also note the prevalence of those short haircuts that seem de rigeur for any middle aged woman who lives on a council estate. Plus, they're all overweight, apart from the skinny children they've brought with them to experience all the fun of child murder and mob hatred at an early age. Finally, a good 80 per cent are wearing polyester sportswear, giving the impression that the baying mob is sponsored by Adidas.

Is this a classist, sneering observation? Yes. But it's hard to have much sympathy with people who take small children to a quasi-riot outside a courthouse.

And wouldn't it make a refreshing change to see, just once, a sociology lecturer in the mob shouting "You're the product of a complex series of social and psychological factors!" at the police vans.

The hanging lobby:

If anyone should show their respects with silence at times like this, it's the capital punishment lobby. In a way, sadistic murderers do deserve to die, in a frontier justice sense, but is this really the right time to be venting your own rather distasteful bloodlust? And will the hanging lobby please desist from bringing up the 'sense of closure' that a good hanging would bring? Hanging criminals probably gives *some* people a sense of closure. It probably makes others feel worse. And if you're so concerned about the feelings of victims' relatives, why don't you campaign for life sentences to mean life to avoid the sort of prevarication we've seen with Myra Hindley? (Which they usually do in particularly horrible cases.)

Collective grievers:

It's been said before, but isn't mourning the death of complete strangers an insult to the rather more real grief felt by the victims' families?

Glib vicars:

At a service in Soham, Rev Tim Alban Jones spoke of "evil at work" in Soham. Murdering children is evil, in a trite sense. But bandying about concepts like 'evil' shows the hypocritical stance of the church in modern times. Is Rev Alban Jones saying the murderers were possessed by evil? By demons? Or maybe Satan himself?

It's unlikely, and he'd soon be asked to move to another parish if he did. Has Christianity got anything helpful to say about the murder of children? No, not really. Religion only offers comfort if you really believe in it. The platitudes that the church offers usually seem to cause more grief, rather than less, when someone has to confront the unexpected or violent death of a loved one. "Your children were murdered because God gives us free will." Horrible, isn't it?

The death of reason:

Whenever gruesome cases like this occur, any exploration into why it happened is ignored for fear of upsetting the public, who are credited with having only two thoughts: that we share the mass grief going on around us, and that Evil Is

A good example is Ian Huntley being held for psychological assessment. 'HE WON'T CON DOCS' screams the Sun, suggesting that Huntley is faking mental illness in the company of bleeding heart psychiatrists. TV news echoes this sentiment, grilling representatives from the secure hospital on security arrangements and living conditions. Life's a breeze in a high security mental hospital, after all.

To say that murderers (if indeed that's what Huntley is) and so on are disturbed is stating the obvious. Whether they're actually insane is something that is established by experts. That's the law.

Whether Huntley is insane or not, can we expect anyone to discuss *why* people murder children? Not really. But you don't have to be an ultra liberal to argue that events and long-term circumstances produce murderers. Knowing what these might be isn't liberalism gone mad, any more than acknowledging the existence of extreme paranoid schizophrenia is.

Of course, it's easier just to believe that some people are born evil. According to one newspaper, when Rev Alban Jones began talking about God, thunder was heard overhead.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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