Give Charlie a break
The boy’s gone to jail. Isn’t that enough?
Iwas watching the news on the evening of 10 December, some follow-up reports about the student protest the day before, and saw a clip of a young man wielding a mannequin’s leg — shod in a lady’s wedgeheeled boot — as he declared that he and the other protestors were ‘very angry’. He didn’t look that angry; actually he looked extremely placid and was obviously in a chemically altered state. My first thought was: Charlie! And then: you haven’t hidden that leg very well.
Charlie Gilmour is now in prison for his activities at the protest. But when he was two, I had just left school and had a gap-year job as his childminder. We spent our days making cars out of piles of leaves while his mum (then a single parent and a journalist at the Sunday Times) was at work. He was a remarkably sweet-natured child and is still, I swear it, a nice boy. I last saw him in November, round the time of his 21st birthday, about a month before his big day out. He always did have a streak of mischief, and it got disastrously out of hand on 9 December.
I hadn’t seen the papers, but it turned out he was on the front of most of them, pictured dangling on the Cenotaph. Not good. A deluge of photos followed. He’d been everywhere that day. He was so busted. He was in the Daily Mail wearing a scarf Zapatistastyle and juggling a rock. He was running away from a pile of pamphlets in the doorway of the Supreme Court, which he had, it was reported, tried to set on fire. Anyone who knows Charlie at all, is familiar with his wayward sense of humour, could see this was pure anarchistic posturing — a joke.
Oh, he was an idiot that day. It’s stupid to treat a protest as a party. It’s stupid to get off your face and it’s unbelievably stupid to swing on a monument that turns out to be the Cenotaph, offending many, many people, and kick a shop window, and sit on the bonnet of the Prince of Wales’s police protection vehicle, waving as if you’re a carnival queen, even if the car has just run over your leg. He got the attention he sought, in spades.
So Charlie, rather than the organised thugs in balaclavas, became the face of the protest. There followed great waves of hate from the tabloid readers of Middle England (and from America) — a level of opprobrium that remains out of all proportion. ‘He should be barred from all university’s [sic]. he [sic] is a mobster and will never atone’, wrote ‘Derrick’ on the Daily Mail website, a remark since given the green thumbs-up by 1,335 people. The abject apology Charlie issued — in which he said how terribly ashamed he was, that he was swept up in the excitement and had not realised that the monument he hung from was the Cenotaph — did not appease these people.
Nor does the 16-month jail sentence given to him last week. Cue lots of comments along the lines of ‘Do your porridge you little shit’, and some crowing about jail rape.
You don’t have to be a genius to realise it’s not all about the affront to our glorious dead, but about resentment — and fair enough, but you sort of wish the people posting these comments would realise it too. I don’t want to play down his actions that day, but when people point to his wealthy family and imply that this makes his behaviour worse, I want to say that if he were from a more mundane background, things would be easier for him now. For a start, his name would have already been forgotten.
Even Judge Nicholas Price seemed to admit that Charlie was being penalised for being privileged when he said: ‘I have to take into account that you have had many advantages which are denied to most young men who come before this court.’
Last month a boy the same age as Charlie was in another court for a particularly nasty burglary. He grabbed the female shopkeeper by the throat and smashed her against a wall. The judge gave him 160 hours of community service and a few compulsory sessions with the Youth Offending Service to help him ‘address his behaviour’.
The thing is that most of the time when you read the papers you don’t know the people involved. It’s easy to believe the details you are given and slip into moral outrage. But here is someone who, although he behaved like a complete twat, I know not to be dangerous or violent or bad. I know he’s not even a complete twat.
Anyway there it is. Sixteen months, as an example. But as I say, Charlie is likeable. He is already making friends at his holding prison, where he spends 23 hours a day locked in his cell. He plans to read history books and hopes to be allowed back to Cambridge for the final year of his degree. He’ll make the best of it.
The appearance of Rupert Murdoch before the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee confirmed that some of the best action in parliament is now before select committees, not in the chamber. — Select committees were around in the 18th century, when they were convened for particular purposes. An early one, in 1763, examined ‘the state of private madhouses’. They fell into disuse in the 20th century, when their work was taken over by inquiries made up of non-MPs. — The idea of permanent committees of MPs to examine the work of the government dates from 1966, when Richard Crossman, then leader of the House of Commons, set up two: one into agriculture and one into science and technology. — The name ‘select committee’ was revived when the current system of committees based on the work of each government department was established in 1979.
According to IBM, the call centre industry in the Philippines has overtaken that in India. Which countries employ the greatest number of people in call centres? US 5,200,000 UK 592,000 Philippines 350,000 Germany 339,000 India 330,000 France 309,000
Spending it at the spa
Former Met commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson accepted a five-week stay at Champneys Spa, worth £12,000. What can you get for your money at a spa? £99 One-day use of facilities at Sanctuary, Covent Garden, plus tea with cupcake or macaroon and glass of pink Prosecco £180 One-day ‘experience’ at Bath Thermae spa, including oriental massage, hot stones pedicure and bamboo facial, plus two-course meal and complimentary towel £175 One night at Lighthouse, Essex, including 50-minute body massage £440 Two-night break at Ragdale Hall, Leicestershire. Includes tension-release scalp therapy and perfect body polish
The Metropolitan Police employs 45 press officers. What are the other big public sector employers of communications staff? Ministry of Defence 255 Department of Health 122 Department of Work and Pensions 113 Defra 106 Department of Transport 105 Downing Street 40
the spectator | 23 July 2011 | www.spectator.co.uk Rod Liddle
A pie in the face for the police from the dark side of public opinion
At time of writing I do not know the name of the lumpen oaf who tried to rub an ersatz custard pie in Rupert Murdoch’s face during his testimony to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee. It is possible that it was not a person at all, but a phantasm, a creature from the dark side spontaneously brought into being by the national outpouring of hysteria and hyperbole, much as the chupacabras, or goat-sucker, will manifest himself in the peasant villages of South America when the locals are gripped by a grave but irrational fear of something.
Our own version was a typically blubbery piece of self-righteous ectoplasm who will not, I suspect, be banished back to his netherworld until the national mood has abated, until those who loathe News Corp — the London left, the MPs, news organisations who are its commercial rivals and so on — have their vengeance. It may be that even then people will only be happy when they have joined my Facebook group ‘Everyone Should Be Sacked Or Killed’, which I set up in response to some previous (now forgotten) outpouring of hysteria a short while back. These atavistic jolts of mass hatred are becoming an almost monthly occurrence, whipped up by the social networking sites, the politicians turning this way and that in order to fall in step with what they believe to be the national mood.
Anyway, the fat phantasm with the custard pie was scarcely less supernatural and otherworldly than the appearance, the day before, of Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, telling MPs that he had never countenanced hacking or ‘blagging’ on his paper — part of a group which had employed private investigators 1,387 times — rather more than any other news organisation on the planet.
Listening to this, and watching fatboy with his shaving foam pie, one wondered if one’s own reservoir of utter disbelief was deep enough to last throughout the week. Still no apology from the Prime Minister for having knowingly employed a man whom he knew to be implicated in phone hacking and who, it now transpires, was himself offered freelance advice by another ectoplasmic creature, Neil ‘Wolfman’ Wallis, a former News of the World deputy editor, who has since been arrested. And then, on the TV screen, the ever-present Dowlers who, via the offices of their ubiquitous lawyer, opined that Rupert Murdoch should not be allowed to complete his takeover of BSkyB and were listened to with indulgence. What an odd few days it has been.
And not a good few days for the filth, either. The Metropolitan Police have lost a bunch of top brass for their supposed misdemeanours or errors of judgment. And as a consequence, a possible replacement at the very top of this troubled organisation is a certain Cressida Dick who, if you remember, made her name by overseeing a police
People will only be happy when they have joined my Facebook group ‘Everyone should be sacked or killed’
operation to shoot innocent Brazilians on the tube. Given a choice, I think I would prefer a copper who took the occasional gratis stay at a posh health farm over a more pious individual who nonetheless presided over the most inept and damaging police operation of the past 50 years. An operation which, it still seems to me, was not dealt with in an entirely open and transparent manner by the Met.
Nobody got killed as a consequence of Sir
‘They’ll never finish tattooing David Beckham.’
the spectator | 23 July 2011 | www.spectator.co.uk
Paul Stephenson recovering from his cancer treatment at a health farm, although I suppose we should agree that it is probably a bad idea for a copper of any rank to accept gifts worth £12,000 from anyone, even if they have nothing to do with Rupert Murdoch. Sir Paul emerged from this week with a fair amount of dignity intact, although one might argue that he was grotesquely naive — but then, cancer may have that effect. Stephenson maintains that he had no knowledge of any link between the health farm, Champneys, and the exciting Neil ‘Wolfman’ Wallis, whom the Met had employed to do freelance public relations work. But there was a link, it transpired, and Stephenson immediately resigned.
Now the Met is being questioned over its close relations with News International, and the fact that almost one quarter of its media operation has been drawn from the Murdoch empire is cited as evidence of this. But old Wolfman aside, there is no suggestion that any other communications workers for the Met were involved in any hacking or blagging — and they had to be recruited from somewhere within the national media.We are now at the point where anyone who has had, at any point, anything to do with News International is seen as being a bit suspect. This may well be fair enough, in a general sense, and I speak as one who is a part of that organisation myself, but it is scarcely any more true now than it was, say, three months ago.
Everyone is now apparently agreed that the hacking of mobile phones is a bad thing, especially if the people whose phones were hacked have had a rough time of it, or are dead. However, apparently an exception can be made if the hacking is being done in something called ‘the public interest’. This leaves just about enough wriggle room for me to assume that, much as I suggested last week, not very much will change as a consequence of this bizarre and relentlessly entertaining interlude. Defining what constitutes the ‘public interest’ is not a scientific undertaking.
Spectator.co.uk/rodliddle The argument continues.