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Jane Kelly: Tatler Tory trial by social media is no fair trial at all


Story so far; Ambitious young man, aged 21, rather strangely a fan of Margaret Thatcher, working for a Conservative campaigning group, throws himself under a train. Everyone is saddened. Another campaigning Tory is accused of bullying him, causing the suicide. The cruel bully is duly kicked out of his political party and his job, dismissed in ignominy.

The dead boy’s father fought for this and legal action against the purported bully. The Crown Prosecution Service did not prosecute because they didn’t have enough evidence:

“Having considered the evidence in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors we have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to charge anyone with offences of common assault or blackmail. We have advised that no further action be taken,” said a CPS spokesman.

Not happy with this, in early February, the dead boy’s father appealed against the CPS decision not to bring criminal charges. He also criticised the police for not doing more investigations into the death.

A new ‘right to review’ scheme allows victims and their families to appeal against CPS decisions over prosecutions.

Almost every participant on Twitter and large lumps of public opinion supported the bereaved father, feeling satisfied when the bully was given his marching orders and condemned by the Prime Minister. The office tyrant’s life was ruined as deliberately causing someone else’s death is not something easily forgotten or forgiven. In early middle-age, rising in his career, he’d come out worst in a national scandal.

There are a lot of bullies out there, of course. We’ve all met them, and some of us have had physical fights with them in our place of work and not bothered too much about it. But times have changed. People don’t have to ‘take it’ anymore. However, rumours began that the youth committed self-slaughter because he was gay and could not deal with ‘coming out.’ Then it seemed it was his father who could not deal with his emergence from the closet.

‘The family struggled with the news,’ as the BBC put it.

It then seemed likely that the boy had become depressed in the face of paternal disapproval, which also came as he was facing redundancy. The father then admitted that his son had already tried to kill himself three times by the time he was eighteen, lamely adding that he hadn’t mentioned  this before because it would have wrecked his case against his son’s supposed tormentor.

Ibsen couldn’t have done better than this incestuous, tortuous plot. Watching Ibsen’s work we comfort ourselves by thinking that none of it could happen now, as since the 1960s we can all express our guilt and rage freely and, in white northern European families, come out as homosexual without losing parental goodwill.

In fact the cruel, censorious societies depicted by Ibsen in the 1890s have not gone away. They seem to have been magnified by social media. Hearsay rather than evidence, hasty judgements to avoid further scandal, witch-hunting and curtain twitching have been elevated to an international level.

Was there ever a time when this wasn’t so? Perhaps there was a lull during the last war, when our parents and grandparents, pulling together against a common enemy, distracted from petty malice, were warned by the government that, ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives.’

Hopefully, the traduced Tory bully who has lived for nearly six months believing himself to be a murderer will not kill himself. He may start his life again as a better person. This being 2016 he will probably sue for damages and wrongful dismissal. In the meantime we need to visit museum shops and buy not just wartime posters instructing us to ‘Keep calm & carry on,’ but those by Fougasse, about keeping quiet about dodgy information. ‘Loose lips sink ships,’ and careers. Alongside them, in even bigger letters, we need to paste bill-boards with the words: ‘Evidence Please.’

We still cling to trial by jury but somewhere, somehow, with the rise and rise of victimhood, we have slipped into trial in the court of social media, and sentencing based on accusation, hearsay and tittle-tattle.

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Jane Kelly
Jane Kelly
Jane Kelly was a journalist with the Daily Mail for fifteen years. She now writes for the Spectator and the Salisbury Review.

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