Tell it as you see it, Libby

November 27, 2009

Memo to self – trust your gut feeling more than you do. A thought prompted today by the 400-odd reponses to Libby Brooks article “The Jane Andrews I Knew” in today’s Guardian. I should have contributed but I didn’t.

It seemed a classic case of a genuine and insightful piece by an informed and discriminating journalist that was then taken to pieces – both the journalist and the article- by a pack of baying hounds who scented blood.

And what drew them to the kill? An apparent concern that the relatives of someone brutally killed could be distressed by the journalists’ repetition of what close relatives at least had previously heard, live in open court, during the trial that convicted his killer (who was also his partner) for murder. What they heard then was the defendant’s actual testimony of an abusive relationship involving anal rape, domination, bondage and role play that she had found degrading. Available to read in the Guardian article were no more than the words in the sentence before this one.

The indignation this provoked was both disproportionate and contagious.

What stood out for me as astonishing was:-

-A naive faith in the court system to arrive at the essential truth of matters, with no higher authority than because a judge and jury said so rendering that truth unquestionable,

-That the delivery of a jury’s verdict establishes with finality the truth of all evidence heard in a case,

-Allegations presented in court about a victim, but not accepted, should not subsequently be publicly reported or repeated, especially if the victim is dead

-Evidence, if it comprises later testimony from a convicted murderer is not evidence; it is invariably self-serving and may be discounted on those grounds,

-Where a defendant claims abuse by the victim of the alleged crime their testimony counts for nothing unless corroborated by claims of abuse by individuals having had an equivalent earlier relationship to the victim,

-Where a defendant suffers from a established mental health condition, one indicator of which involves suffering from some form of delusion, none of their evidence can be true,

-To believe evidence rejected by a court is to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome,

I find this shocking and, were I ever to be tried and plead not guilty to a charge, would insist on objecting to any jury member having contributed to a Libby Brooks thread. I was angered and disappointed. The sense of certainty in assertions about circumstances no-one can ever know the truth of was suffocating.

All the good liberals suggesting it should never have made it into print was disgraceful. All the usual characters who have never managed to allow a bandwagon to pass without jumping on it chucked in their unoriginal and gratuitous tuppence-ha’penny and a sloppy but arrogant complacency seemed to emerge as posters became aware that they formed part of an overwhelming majority.

There is comfort in crowds and a frisson from their directing a collective wrath towards institutions they see as remote and unaccountable but simultaneously representative of themselves. That’s why they are sometimes dangerous.

What I find most disheartening however, is the near complete absence of scepticism.

I’m no lawyer, nor an expert on domestic abuse, but from experience, of people and of representing them when faced with allegations at work I know this: many get stitched up for lack of evidence.

From dealing with cases of bullying at work I also know that the key to establishing it has happened, and giving oneself a chance of persuading others of this, is to work out and describe the significance of often plausibly innocent and normal behaviours that have well understood but different meanings for perpetrator and victim.

I know neither Jane Andrews, Thomas Cressman, the man she killed, nor the journalist Libby Brooks. I know none of the posters whose contributions have animated me. But I do know how vital it is for the pursuit of justice that in the teeth of posters’ adverse, and often worrying, reactions, Libby Brooks should continue telling it as she sees it.

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