Yesterday, the Sun newspaper ran what it called a World Exclusive under the headline.
To most people, the word ‘arrest’ means that someone was detained, was charged and will appear in court in the very near future.
But the police now seem to be using the word ‘arrest’ in a very non-colloquial way. What they seem to mean by ‘arrest’ in any high-profile case – especially anything within an intercontinental ballistic missile’s reach of the headline-grabbing Jimmy Savile paedophile story – is that they have simply questioned someone under caution in a trawl for evidence.
Having a headline saying ‘arrest’ makes it seem that the police are actually doing something. They are indeed doing something, but there is an element of PR-led bullshit rapidly creeping in here.
Yesterday’s Sun story:
ROLF HARRIS SEX ABUSE ARREST
TV LEGEND, 83, QUIZZED OVER ASSAULT CLAIM
was more complicated than it seemed.
The story was actually that the UK TV star Rolf Harris “was held” (note the Sun’s use of the past tense) “over historic sex abuse allegations by police from the inquiry set up following the Jimmy Savile scandal”
There is obfuscation here, again caused by the police’s PR-led attempts to show they are actively doing something.
In fact, the Sun story ‘revealed’ that police had raided Rolf Harris’ home on 24th November last year (he was not there), interviewed him under caution on 29th November last year and arrested him on 28th March this year.
As far as I am aware, this ‘arrest’ means he was questioned under caution, not that he was actually charged with anything nor with any court date pending.
The police were quoted in yesterday’s Sun as saying: “The individual falls under the strand of the investigation we have termed ‘others’.”
The police started off investigating the Jimmy Savile paedophile case and people connected to that. Then, quite rightly, they started investigating totally unconnected claims of (particularly media-connected) non-paedophile sexual incidents brought to their attention.
These cases are labelled by them as ‘others’. But, by saying that ‘the Savile enquiry police’ are investigating these ‘others’, the police PR machine implies the cases are connected directly to the paedophile investigation and this (presumably intentionally) gets the police ‘brownie points’ in the public’s eye.
What interested me, though, was that the Rolf Harris arrest story was not new.
As the Sun reported yesterday in their Rolf Harris ‘exclusive’, “Harris has been named on social media sites by hundreds of thousands of people” and “the world’s media have been camped outside his home since he was first questioned”.
Their story concluded with the line: “Other celebrities arrested include Freddie Starr, Jim Davidson, Dave Lee Travis, PR guru Max Clifford — who all deny wrongdoing — and Gary Glitter.”
The difference, though, is that when those people were questioned – or “arrrsted” as the police phrased it – they were named in newspapers.
The original detention by police of Rolf Harris WAS reported when it happened, but the reports did not name him. Variations of the phrase “prominent children’s entertainer” were used. Why?
On my Facebook page yesterday, referring to the Rolf Harris arrest report in the Sun, I posted:
The only surprise is… Why was this not reported last November?
This resulted in an online conversation between Martin Besserman, owner of the long-running Monkey Business comedy club in London, and writer Harry Rogers.
I reprint it here in full with their permission:
Martin Besserman: It’s wrong to name. The man has not even been charged, let alone found guilty.
John Fleming: Everyone else was named. In this case, variations on the phrase “prominent children’s TV presenter” were used.
Martin Besserman: John, again it’s not impossible someone wishes to cash in on his fame, to set up so to speak.
John Fleming: In this specific case, it’s relevant that I worked in television for several companies… But my point is why were others named but not him?
Martin Besserman: So are you saying name and shame without even being charged? That surely is not reasonable!
John Fleming: I tend to agree. But I am saying either name or do not name. Why were the others named and not Rolf?
Harry Rogers: Probably ‘cos he had had such close access to the Royals
Martin Besserman: John, I hear what you are saying, but I don’t feel anyone should be named unless found guilty
John Fleming: Again, I tend to agree with you. But why was Rolf, almost uniquely, not named?… I actually agree with you. There should be anonymity. But, if there is not, then everyone should be reported equally.
Harry Rogers: The BBC reported there were legal restrictions until today and now those restrictions have been eased, otherwise he would have been outed before today
John Fleming: It would be interesting to know what the restrictions were. A super-injunction?
Martin Besserman: The same stigma for men accused of rape. Woman not named, but sometimes they make up stories. The law needs addressing. It’s outdated.
Harry Rogers: Wait and see
Martin Besserman: The sad thing about all of this now is that a man in his eighties will now be remembered for sex charges, as opposed to decades of being a wholesome hugely talented entertaining individual.
Harry Rogers: And if he is guilty? Then what….
Martin Besserman: Well, if guilty very sad because he will be judged as a person for that and not for his wonderful contribution as artist, entertainer and indeed as a well known animal lover.
Harry Rogers: As such a person that you describe he should have known better, if guilty. It is an abuse of privilege that allows many celebrities to believe that somehow they are different to everybody else, but the reality is that they are the same as the plumber or the school caretaker and should be treated accordingly.
Martin Besserman: Harry, this is subject for debate. An error of judgement perhaps 40 or 50 years ago, although not condoning, surely is not revealing of a person’s real character necessarily.
Harry Rogers: Tell that to the Nazis still hiding even now after the holocaust and those who spend their lives hunting them down. If sex offenders had not given way to their proclivities there would be no story here. Sexual abuse and violence are things which harm people for years. As a teenage boy I was raped by a minor pop star and said nothing for years because I felt ashamed, however it did cause me a lot of grief. You think Rolf deserves to be let off for a minor indiscretion, if he did it. If he did do it then he abused a position of trust and power and deserves to face the music. Sun arise early in the morning.
Martin Besserman: I hear what you are saying Harry. Let’s say his crime was just wanking a boy off 40 years ago. Would that be reasonable to pursue charges now? I am not so sure. If it was rape of a child that of course is another matter… My main concern is the naming and shaming before a verdict! Undemocratic
Harry Rogers: I hardly think the police would be wasting so much time and effort if that was the case, Martin but, in terms of naming and shaming, Rolf Harris can easily come forward and defend himself. There isn’t a TV or media outlet that wouldn’t give him a platform to tell his story… And, anyway, child wanking is still an abuse of power
Martin Besserman: Harry, this is the problem. Police keep on wasting time and public money.
Harry Rogers: The pursuit of child sex offenders is not a waste of public money… As a tax payer this is one police activity I am in favour of
Martin Besserman: Harry you are right. My main concern is the naming and shaming before a verdict
Harry Rogers: As I say if he is innocent then let him stand up and deny it and if that is proved to be true then let him sue the accusers for bundles.
John Fleming: I would be surprised (guessing from what I know) if there is any accusation of child sex abuse in the Rolf Harris case. I would be very surprised if it involved boys or under-age girls. The police say it is not directly related to the Savile case; it comes under their ‘others’ category.
Martin Besserman: The accusers probably don’t have millions. It might be the Michael Jackson case that made people think they might cash in
Harry Rogers: Speculation is dangerous
Martin Besserman: So what should I do Rolf Harris is my Facebook friend?
Harry Rogers: Justice is important. The BBC is putting its neck on the line by running the story again so soon after the Savile debacle… As for Facebook Martin it’s probably best if we all wait and see. I have no idea what the accusations are, neither do I know whether he is guilty of anything, I am prepared to wait and see what happens, however I am interested in the fact that he has been arrested and will watch this case with the view of an abuse victim to see how it pans out. The fact that we know his name is meaningless. It is the evidence that counts. And we are all adults so we are able to make up our minds about it provided it is all out in the open.
Martin Besserman: My problem with this is a man now in his eighties cannot walk the streets in fear of attack etc. This has to be wrong!
Harry Rogers: Rubbish
Martin Besserman: I don’t think so