Socialist Worker

Whipping up the lynch mob terror

Issue No. 1707

News of the World's cynical use of paedophile issue

Whipping up the lynch mob terror

By Kevin Ovenden

THE NEWS of the World is exploiting the murder of eight year old Sarah Payne to boost its sales through a cynical campaign which could unleash lynch mobs across Britain. On Sunday it published the names, pictures and general whereabouts of 49 people who have been convicted of child sex offences. It cruelly played on parents' fears for their children's safety by asking, "Does A Monster Live Near You?"

The lynch mob was not long in coming. Just hours after the paper hit the streets a 300-strong stone-throwing crowd surrounded the home of 49 year old Iain Armstrong in Manchester.

He is NOT a paedophile. But he happens to wear a neck brace, as does one of the people pictured in the News of the World. Iain Armstrong says, "Some women who live round the corner came round and stuck a paper in my face and asked if I was him [the man in the News of the World]. "I said no, but they said, 'We think you are,' and walked off. The next thing I knew there were about 300 people outside the house. The crowd were all shouting, 'Paedophile!'"

Armstrong showed the police his driving licence to prove he was not the man named in the paper. The crowd eventually dispersed. But at 9pm a brick came crashing through the window of his ex-wife, who lives next door. Attacks such as that on Iain Armstrong were the entirely predictable consequences of the Murdoch-owned News of the World's story.

They have happened before.

  • A 14 year old girl was burnt alive three years ago in the West Midlands when vigilantes firebombed her home, wrongly believing a paedophile was living there, after a story in a local paper.
  • Francis Duffy, 67, was nearly beaten to death after the Manchester Evening News published a picture of a paedophile who looked like him.
  • A 24 year old man was kidnapped and tortured by vigilantes for a week in the West Midlands in March because they "suspected he might be a paedophile".
  • Paul Webster, a 38 year old unemployed Plymouth man, drank himself to death after neighbours accused him of being a child abuser. He was not.
  • Frank Revill, 55, from Kent, was hounded three years ago after groundless accusations of child abuse.

The News of the World did not care that innocent people would suffer. It ignored the warnings from the police, probation service and experts that "naming and shaming" paedophiles would lead them to change their names and addresses, and potentially put children at greater risk.

Paul Cavadino of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders said, "Experience shows that when paedophiles are publicly identified some of them go to ground, fearing vigilante attacks.

"They move elsewhere and change their names, making it difficult or impossible for the police to track them. This may in fact increase the risk to children." THERE WILL be more witch-hunts, such as this one in Scotland, as a result of the News of the World campaign


How gutter press twisted the truth

REBEKAH WADE, the new editor of the News of the World, says she is desperately concerned for the welfare of children and young people. Yet she chose to print a picture of a topless 16 year old "glamour model" on the same day as her paper named people who have had a sexual interest in teenagers or younger children.

The paedophile story was full of inaccuracies. It claimed, for example, that "the number of convictions for gross indecency with a child doubled between 1985 and 1995, from 633 to 1,287."

In fact, Home Office figures show a fall of between 12 percent and 61 percent over that period in the number of convictions for each of the six most common sexual offences against children. The total number of child sex convictions in England and Wales fell from 5,136 to 3,530-a drop of 31 percent.

The paper said there are "110,000 convicted paedophiles" in England and Wales. But that is lumping together the small number of serious sex offences with incidents like flashing and showing pornographic material. The police reckon that only 50 out of this total are predatory paedophiles of the kind of who abduct and rape children.

Other offences are, of course, disturbing and can damage children. But no one could seriously suggest that flashing is the same kind of offence as abduction, rape and murder.

The News of the World included a woman in its "list of monsters" who had had sex with a boy of 14 and had a baby by him. Does anyone really think she is in the same category as a child murderer? In this way the paper exaggerated the threat children face. Between five and nine children are abducted and murdered by strangers in Britain each year. Such terrible tragedies are extremely rare.

Sex Offending Against Children: Understanding The Risk is the Home Office's most up to date survey or research into child sex abuse in Britain. It found that:

  • "The majority of perpetrators sexually assault children known to them, with about 80 percent of offences taking place in the home of either the offender or victim." The single biggest category of offender is male relatives.
  • "Adolescent sex offenders probably account for up to a third of all sex crime, but only a small minority of adolescent sex offenders continues to sexually offend as adults."
  • "The vast majority of sex offenders against children typically act alone."
  • "About 20 percent of those who are convicted of sexual offences against children are reconvicted for similar offences."

If the News of the World really cared about protecting children it would be campaigning over other issues. A child dies on average every two or three days in Britain at the hands of a family member. All research shows that children are most likely to be killed between birth and starting school by a family member.

Murder rates are at their lowest for children of school age and rise again for young men in their late teens and early twenties. The News of the World ignores these figures because they suggest that the "traditional family" is not a safe haven, but is somewhere where the pressures people are under can have violent results. It would rather have us believe that child abuse happens because some people are "plain evil".

Last year 221 children were killed on the roads in Britain. Third World debt kills 19,000 children every day. Campaigning over these issues would save lives. But it would not lead to scaremongering stories designed to boost newspaper circulation.


NEWS OF the World editor Rebekah Wade is known as a Rupert Murdoch favourite. She took over the job in May of this year. She is also known as a "consummate networker" and is a friend of the Blair family. When Sun editor David Yelland got his job, it was Wade who introduced him to Tony Blair at Chequers, the prime minister's weekend retreat.


The real picture

OF COURSE child sex abuse is appalling. But it is not spiralling out of control.

A study of men born in 1953, 1958, 1963, 1968 and 1973 found, "If anything, the proportion of men convicted of a sexual offence against a child appears to have declined. In overall terms, about 0.55 percent of the [men studied in] 1958 and 1953 had such a conviction by the time they were 30 compared with 0.45 percent of [those in] 1963."

Studies in the US show the incidence of child sex abuse is about the same now as it was 40 years ago.


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News
Sat 29 Jul 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1707
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