Anton Vowl at the Enemies of Reason has an excellent post on the media’s treatment of Chris Jefferies, who has been questioned by the police in connection with the death of Joanna Yeates. He points out the allegations and insinuations that have been hurled at Mr. Jefferies even though Mr. Jefferies had not been charged with anything:
His photograph has appeared on the front page of national newspapers 11 times. He was described as “weird”, “lewd”, “strange”, “creepy”, “angry”, “odd”, “disturbing”, “eccentric”, “a loner” and “unusual” in the course of just one article. That the former English teacher should have liked the classic Oscar Wilde poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol was described by one article as “Chris Jefferies’ favourite poem was about killing wife”. That the teacher should have taught pupils about the horror of the Holocaust and a classic novel by Wilkie Collins was described as him being “obsessed with death”. He was accused of being a ‘peeping tom’ by people who never made a complaint to police about his activities. One front-page headline asked of the landlord “Could this man hold the key to Joanna’s death?” and the next day asked “Was Jo’s body hidden next to her flat?” next to a picture of him.
Should people accused of major crimes have their identities protected? On balance yes, and it certainly should be the case for anyone who has not even been charged and brought to trial yet. There can be advantages to publicising potential suspects: other people may come forward with information which could lead to the police catching the perpetrator. But set against this is the damage done to innocent people (and everyone is innocent until proven guilty). For the time being Mr Jefferies’ life is over, thanks to a rabid media. I don’t know if Mr. Jefferies was involved at all in Ms. Yeates’ death, but nor does the media. That is for the courts to decide.
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Filed in: Civil liberties,Media