Thursday, January 20, 2005

Monsters, Freaks & Charles Clarke

The recent visit by the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe to the Cumbria location where his father's ashes had been scattered has aroused the ire of his victim's families and some sectors of the media. The idea that he should be allowed to visit the site has provided newspapers and broadcasters to put microphones in front of the living victims of Sutcliffe's crimes, and invite them to give a suondbite on their pain.

This is exploitation and cheap copy on its grandest scale. Outrage that the murderer can honour his own father seems to be merely another manifestation of a desire to constantly villainise the perpetrators of horrific crimes. There can be no argument that the crimes were awful, but the constant desire to succour on them seems to reflect a base desire to assert one's own distance from them by repeating your abhorrence and lack of understanding for it. Therefore, the incomprehensibility of the Ripper murders becomes something to wear on your sleeve, as a personal and public declaration that you could never do that. the same is especially true for the Bulger killers, Venables and Thompson, whose villainisation reassured parents that they were utterly apart from their own offspring, and were permeated in every ounce of their soul with otherliness.

Charles Clarke made his first correct decision as Home Secretary in upholding a visit by Sutcliffe to his father's grave. It will not bring back the victims to deny such a visit and the pain of the families is heightened more by the press's eager return to the issue than the fact he had a couple of hours out of Broadmoor Hospital on a heavily-supervised visit. It is the mark of a civilised society that we should we able to permit a man mourn his father, no matter how angry we may still be on behalf of his victims. Brutalising criminals, no matter how horrendous the crime of the target, often brutalises the society as much as the criminal