The story of school girl Megan Stammers and Maths teacher Jeremy Forrest has shocked my home town of Eastbourne and the whole nation.
After taking Megan to France without the knowledge of her parents, Jeremy was caught and is due to be extradited back to the UK. He will face the criminal charge of ‘abduction’ which carries a maximum sentence of 7 years. From a quick reading of case law, it looks like he could be locked up for around 18 months at most.
But some have claimed any legal action would be a waste of time and money.
“It could be that they are madly in love,” said one Daily Mail commenter.
For me, whether they are “in love” or not is irrelevant. It’s disturbing that people are rushing to defend Forrest.
The Crime of Love?
Another commenter, this time on an Independent article said:
“As his lawyer said, his only crime was that he fell in love with a 15yr old…he was stupid the way he went about it, but I don’t think there will be any more than 5-10% of anyone who knows about this story that thinks he did it with any malice or force/manipulation of the girl, and that she didn’t know what she was doing. Again we’re casting judgement…but all I’m said is that I agree with Martin – love has no boundaries.”
His “only crime” was not to fall in love with a 15 year old. That is not a crime. Taking a 15 year old out of the country against the knowledge and will of her parents is a crime. The fact that he was a teacher and therefore abusing his privileged position only makes it worse.
If the UK government did not prosecute Mr Forrest they would send the message that it’s OK for any adult to take any child wherever they wanted in the world – as long as “love” was involved!
A Willing Abductee?
Forrest’s best defence will be that Megan went willingly. I have no problem with this lowering his sentence, but it does not and should not let him off the hook. ‘Abduction’ may not be the best word to use as it implies Megan was taken against her wishes – but I wholeheartedly defend UK law stating that someone other than a child’s parents taking a child out of the country without consent is illegal, morally reprehensible and totally unacceptable.
Anyone who suggests otherwise need only put themselves in Megan’s parents shoes. Imagine a stranger taking your daughter out of the country and not being able to contact either of them. Once you think that scenario through, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s right that Jeremy Forrest is brought to justice.
As for the sentence, I think we can all agree 5 years in prison would be harsh. But some are saying that any prison sentence would be harsh.
Sending a message
But if Forrest is not locked up, that sends the message that if a teacher runs away with a pupil, the worst that will happen is they lose their job. That will be a risk some are willing to take. Being locked up in prison for running away with a pupil is a different risk to take. I think a prison sentence would be a good deterrent. And in this area, a deterrent is clearly needed to stop such incidents from happening in the future.
There are related issues here. Anyone under 18 is a child. Young people don’t like this. Plenty of teenagers want to be “grown up” and will chase “adult relationships” – many of which will be inappropriate. At the same time there’s an epidemic of adults in their 20s and 30s who don’t want to grow up, get a job and contribute to society. They’d rather live with their parents, remain on JSA and play COD all day long. The children want to be adults and the adults want to be children.
I’ll stop there before I make any more sweeping generalisations that are likely to get me into trouble.
Over to you…Would love to hear your answers to the question in the headline…
I’m in the habit of writing tweets that never get read.
That’s not because I have 0 followers, but because I’ll write a tweet, stare at it and think “do I really want to say this?”. Quite a lot of the time the answer is “no way” and the “tweet” button will never be pressed.
I don’t mean to make out that I’m wonderfully controlled and am always really careful what I say on Twitter. Sadly that’s not true. I’m a work in progress in all areas of my life, including this one.
Nevertheless, three recent stories in the media have really made me think.
1. The first was the case of Liam Stacey who has been sentenced to 56 days in prison after he made racist comments on Twitter.
The tweet in question? “LOL. F*** Muamba. He’s dead!!! #haha”, presumably without the stars.
2. The second story broke about this time last night. Mrs Speaker tweeted she was tempted to try the drug Mexxi before it’s made illegal.
“Am I the only one now slightly tempted to try mexxy before it becomes illegal? I won’t, obvs”. Her comments came just days after the drug has been linked to the death of at least two people, leading to her being labelled “insensitive”. I found both the Daily Mail‘s Headline “Will She Ever Learn?” and Mrs Speaker terming the paper the “Daily Fail” pretty amusing.
3. Finally, according to Reuters, Kuwaiti authorities arrested a man on Tuesday for insulting Mohammed over Twitter.
That’s three stories about Twitter in one week. Oh wait, I’m wrong. The biggest story about Twitter this week is that the company has admitted there’s a bug going around that will make your account unfollow people randomly, without your permission (thus providing all of us with a wonderful excuse the next time someone asks why you’re not following them).
Presumably the legislature that allowed Liam and the Kuwaiti man to be arrested applies to Facebook too, and, come to think of it…this blog. I’m hardly the most controversial of bloggers, but it’s still a scary thought that what I write here could get me arrested.
I would not defend any of the above tweets. But I would question if arresting people for what they say on Twitter is fair. It’s a grey area.
Some would argue that just as someone walking up to me in the street and hurling racist language warrants arrest, the same rules should apply in the online world.
On the other hand, millions of views are expressed on Twitter every minute. Fanatic and offensive views aren’t normally read by thousands. And if they are, a large percentage of those thousands will write back and give the tweeter plenty of grief!
This happens all the time with celebrities. Let’s say I tweet that Dom Joly is the least funny person on the planet. He’ll retweet my message, sending it to his 133,000 followers. 10,000 of those followers will then hurl abuse at me in turn. It’s basically Karma. And it’s beautiful.
So which of these two philosophies on Twitter and free speech is best? I err on the side of the latter, but I’m open to persuasion either way. I look forward to reading your comments and watching the wider debate grow. I think this is an issue that will run and run as time goes on…
Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many guest posts on this blog in 2012. If you want to be the next person, email me. But for now I’ll hand over to my good friend and fellow Journalism graduate Gus Marriott…
The verdict on the Stephen Lawrence trial spread through the world like wildfire. Press, TV, Radio and online media were caught up in the haze of grief and relief that spelled the end of a turbulent, emotional trial.
While the media coverage was concurrent, what caught my eye was the coverage about the media – in particular the Daily Mail.
2011 was a dreadful year for journalism. Not only did I finish my degree in it, and be let out into the real world, but also the Leveson Enquiry tore through the jugular of the profession, bleeding out bad practice, but also the public’s faith in the “fourth estate”.
Along came 2012, and in the midst of this crimson tide, The DM championed their prior coverage of the Lawrence case. Campaigning journalists – the last battalion of justice and the public interest, had prevailed and saved the day for journalism. Or had they?
Aside from the DM’s rather smug assertion that it was “their” victory, it’s important to note that one successful campaign doesn’t equal an ethical and worthy trade. After all, which newspaper was the spearhead for the “Sarah’s Law” campaign? That’s right, NOTW.
It’s true, and painfully ironic, that what journalism needs right now is a hearty dose of PR. And a self-righteous ‘we told you so’ isn’t going to help the situation. It needs a new reputation with a restoration of old values. A return to critical, campaigning press, for the sake of the public (not for the whimsy of celebrity culture) may not make as much money, but it will help improve the value of journalism.
When I studied the subject, these were the principles we were engaging with. Yes we could design magazines, or have a bit of celebrity coverage to appease the masses, but we were taught cold, hard, reporting through a mixture of theory and portfolio work. If the profession and the public can hang on long enough for this batch of graduates to take control, things might be very different (with an emphasis on ‘might’.)
As for the DM, yes – they got it (partly) right all those years ago, but they now need to prove themselves capable of producing more of the same if they really want to brag.
The story shocked everyone.
As of Sunday this week, The News of The World will close.
During my Journalism studies over the last three years, I’ve learned a fair bit about newspapers and always thought we would see a couple of National newspapers close over the coming years…but never under these circumstances. I always thought the recession would force some of the tabloids to call it a day.
The phone hacking scandal has literally got worse and worse over the last few days. I was beginning to wonder who hadn’t been hacked by the paper! Milly Dowler was terrible enough, but then the parents of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. Add to that the victims of 7/7 and it was getting more and more serious. Currently the list also includes Steve Coogan, Chris Tarrant , Boris Johnson, George Osborne, Hugh Grant and even journalists from rival publication the Daily Mail! Even royalty weren’t exempt from this ludicrous event. Even Prince William’s name has been added to the list.
Once of the reasons this is such a shock is the newspaper has existed for 168 years. Not even Rupert Murdoch is that old!
I have very mixed feelings. On the one hand, the paper had to go. Allegations were mounting by the hour. On the other hand why should every journalist at the paper lose their job? Surely not every single reporter was involved in this scandal? We now have a case of 200 jobs being lost and reporters having to find work whilst having ‘Journalist at The News of The World’ on their CV. Even if you are completely innocent of these allegations, it’s not going to look good at all.
As for the paper itself, most people will agree a huge amount of the paper was trash. Yet it had a massive (7,489,000) readership, so clearly not everyone thought it was useless. This tweet raises an interesting question on this point.
I watched John Snow break the news on Twitter a good 10 minutes before the BBC put anything on their website. So if anyone out there is still trying to ignore Twitter, give up now! Maybe my generation will live to see the day when more money is invested by newspapers on things like Twitter rather than physical publications?
The Murdoch family own nearly 40% of all the media in the UK, including News of The World, The Sun and The Times. Some commentators are suggesting the government and the police may have turned a blind eye to such unethical behaviour because the Murdochs are so powerful. If that’s true, such a scandal will be much more important than the phone hacking itself! Either way, is it time to re-think our media ownership laws?
Despite this fiasco, the Murdoch family and News International will continue to hold an incredible amount of power when it comes to the way we all consume news. Opinion is divided over how much this will hurt the corporation. My view is it could be trouble for the short term, but once the Sunday Sun gets going, they will recover. The nice PR touch of donating remaining News of The World profits to charity will help a little, but ultimately the public has a very short memory when it comes to incidences like this. In a few months all will be forgotten…until the various investigations into these events are made public, of course.
Make no mistake, this is a monumental event in British Journalism history, but it’s not the end of Murdoch’s empire. The best we can hope for is a radical shake up in journalist’s behaviour across the board. I have no inside information, but I really doubt the News of The World was the only paper doing this.
Finally…the big debate (as if the rest of the topics in this blog post weren’t enough to think about).
Should editor Rebecca Brooks resign? Let’s assume she didn’t know the hacking was going on (an idea I find hard to believe). Should she still go? Let me know your thoughts below…