Thursday, 10 February 2011

Blair was right shock!

No of course not Tony, but Lord, formerly Sir Ian, of that ilk. Of the seven Commissioners I served he was my least favourite, since I believe he caused damage to the structure, the culture, the aims and the reputation of the Force. But when he drew attention to how the media treated murder victims differently according to their background, I felt at the time he was probably correct - even if he expressed it a little too controversially.

In the last eight weeks we have witnessed what he meant. Two tragic murders - those of Joanna Yeates in Bristol and Nikitta Grender in Newport have it seems been separated by much more than the Bristol Channel, and illustrated his point perfectly.

If one were to compare the basic facts of these two murders there are certain similarities. Two young women, attractive, unmarried, murdered in their own homes. If anything, Nikitta being about to bear a child (which, of course, was also a victim of the murder) and the callousness of the attempt to burn her and her home after the murder ought, one might think, to make her crime slightly the more outrageous, the more newsworthy.

But while Joanna's murder was at the top of the news for many days, coverage of Nikitta has been very low key. So what are the differences in their cases which might have influenced this? Yes, the Christmas period during which the investigation into Joanna's disappearance and death was largely played out might have been quieter for other news; the very fact that such a tragedy occurred over the most important Christian religious period may have added a poignancy to the tragedy too. But isn't the real difference exactly what Lord Blair was alluding to? Put simply, using a perhaps old-fashioned concept, it was their class.

Joanna was 25, had studied, got qualifications - she was an Architect, so we were repeatedly told. (In fact she was a landscape architect, a very different occupation and one which wouldn't perhaps have had the same cachet and therefore impact?) She came from a middle-class family, rented in a nice part of town, had a middle-class boyfriend and eloquent friends and family willing to speak to the media.

Nikitta was 19, eight months pregnant (though unmarried, as we were reminded on a few occasions) and lived on a council estate. Her mother spoke via a statement read by police; her friend was interviewed on national news wearing a dressing gown. In daytime. The coverage was scant given the gravity of the crime; what there was did everything to promote an image of a typical (?) sink-estate unmarried teenage mother-to-be. A stark contrast to the features of Joanna's life and background which had been accentuated.

Murder detectives, to a man and woman, strive to solve their cases completely irrespective of the nature of the victim. It would be impossible to do otherwise - the reality of murders, especially in London, is that victims are all too often involved in drugs, gangs, prostitution or other lawful but 'alternative' lifestyles. Were value judgments made on the victim's worthiness then very little would get done. I find it a pity that the media are not as inclusive in the way they deal with these tragedies. I am genuinely interested - is it merely a commercial thing? Do murders of middle-class women sell more papers?

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