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Jerry Hayes

The hounding of Christopher Jeffries and anyone who is different

December 31st, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

There is something deeply unpleasant about the way the press, even the misnamed “qualities”, are smearing the character of Christopher Jeffries, the teacher brought in for questioning over a murder of a young woman. I haven’t got a clue whether this man has any charge to answer or not. And I very much doubt whether anyone else has.

So what is the picture that we are being painted by our trusty seekers after the truth in Her Majesty’s press?  Well, they have trawled the area, no doubt bunged police officers, spoken to his pupils and pieced together a tapestry of tap room tittle tattle. Well, welcome to journalism. And the picture painted? That he is a loner, an eccentric, has unkempt blue rinsed hair, loves poetry: particularly Rossetti. And what an image that conjures up.  A beautiful flame haired woman floating peacefully in a stream. Dead.

But this goes much deeper than bored editors desperately trying to fill their pages with the stale fare of New Year resolutions, diets that improve your sex life and drunken teenagers who must be educated about the dangers of the Demon Drink. We as a society are nervous about those who are different. For reasons that go way back to the persecution of eccentric healers as witches and even into antiquity, we are wary of those who, to our standards, are strange.

You just have to look at the viscous bullying on Facebook of the fat the skinny, the disabled and the gay. If you’re the slightest bit different, ginger, shy, dress oddly: prepare for a childhood if not a life of abuse.

Look at Susan Boyle, her life in tatters until she plucked up the immense  courage to sing in public, because she was regarded as “slow”. Remember that tragic mother and disabled daughter who committed suicide in a car in a lonely lane because they couldn’t take the relentless taunting anymore. And look on any housing estate in Britain. There will always be a gaggle of kids outside some poor old sods house giving them hell. Why? Because they are different.

And if you think it’s bad over here just look across the water at the good old US of A. I always think  it ironic that a nation founded by those persecuted for being puritans should become so profoundly intolerant of difference whether it be colour or sexual orientation. Remember the brutality of Lyndie England towards Iraqi prisoners? What I found more disturbing was the comments from those in her home town. “Where Lyndie comes from those from another county are regarded as aliens.”

And do you remember that programme when Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear team drove into the deep south in one pink car with “man love” painted on the side, and another with the slogan, “country music stinks”, to see what the reaction was? Well, it was pretty dramatic. Top Gear fled the town in genuine fear of their lives. Is it any wonder after years of childhood abuse and rejection that some go back to their schools for terrible retribution?

We have a great tradition of tolerance in this country. But it is only skin deep. Scratch the surface in our communities and something dark, ugly, menacing is lurks. It is fear. And fear of the different feeds the membership of extremest groups.

So back to Mr. Jeffries. If he is charged, British Justice assures him of a fair trial. But if he is not charged or acquitted, his life will never be the same again. He will be regarded as that strange, eccentric, blue rinsed loner, somehow connected with a death. Happy New Year.

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Comments [ 39 ]

  1. Phil Dando Phil Dando says:

    “We have a great tradition of tolerance in this country. But it is only skin deep.”

    Nice to see someone pointing this out. I think a lot of people out there have simply learned to keep quiet about their prejudices, doesn’t mean they aren’t there, festering. And once these people realize they share these prejudices with a few people around them, things get mob nasty pretty quickly.

    Just look at the early stages of the X Factor. I’m sure that there are plenty of REALLY bad singers that show up at these events, but the only ones who get through clearing and end up on stage are the ones who look a little odd as well. Funny looking and talentless. Cue acceptable mockery.

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      Spot on!

    • Ben Martin Ben Martin says:

      The first stage of X-Factor auditions (or as you quite aptly put it, “clearing”) are held in arenas and small stadiums! They have people going around the crowd, picking people out based on a visual assumption that they will behave oddly/sing terribly on stage. Says it all about the X-Factor really, that such a judgement is made on such a superficial thing.

  2. Ben Martin Ben Martin says:

    So true, and as I was saying to @fleetstreetfox on Twitter, this is reminiscent of the character assassination faced by Robert Murat in the Madeleine McCann case. Never charged with a single thing but still receives death threat. Here’s how he’s getting on these days: http://joana-morais.blogspot.com/2010/03/robert-murat-continues-to-receive-death.html

    Having not studied journalism law since 2006 (but hey, I passed my exam!), I am admittedly quite rusty, but is this not the press getting their digs in before (sorry, IF!) he is charged, so they are not charged with contempt of court? Terrible behaviour.

  3. James James says:

    I know how the man feels. I’ve always been aware that I’m different from most people and they’ve been only to happy to emphasise this to my face and behind my back too. I’ve had a vague feeling of persecution most of my life and the problems I’ve had are so bad that few people believe them. I now know why I’m different though: I was recently diagnosed with Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. My life has been an exemplar of the symptoms of this disorder and could be used to illustrate a text book IMHO.

    A lot of people have gone out of their way to ruin my life because they didn’t understand me, not that they would’ve wanted to in the first place and have more or less succeeded. I;m having huge problems finding a decent solicitor to help me out with some serious legal issues I have because they’re not up-to-speed with the relatively new Adult ADHD diagnosis.

    For me Britain is most definitely not a “green and pleasant land”. Scratch the surface and it’s very unpleasant indeed.

    If you feel you would at least like to talk to me about my issues, feel free to drop me a line.

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      Really sorry that you’ve been having such problems. Your life must have been hell. And you are not alone. Will drop you an email

      • James James says:

        It really is, unfortunately. I’ve not worked for five years either as a result. Career over, no idea what to do now to be perfectly honest.

  4. “viscous bullying on facebook”? Was “vicious…” intended?

    Sorry to pick up on a typo in a great piece…

  5. Jennie Kermode Jennie Kermode says:

    At Trans Media Watch (www.transmediawatch.org.uk) we deal with a lot of cases like this. Transgender people are frequently the targets of sensationalist, sometimes malicious press stories. These can occur in relation to other stories or can be built around the tiniest details of their personal lives, making them news because they are trans. This can result in harassment and threats from neighbours and work colleagues, and can contribute to family breakdown.

    We don’t expect the public mood to change overnight so that transgender people are able to enjoy the same respect as anybody else, but we do hope that journalists can make the effort to take a more informed and less salacious approach.

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      Sadly, don’t hold your breath. Remember how the case of the spy in the bag has been treated and there was no evidence that he was a transvestite (yes, I do know the difference!). Years ago Alex (now lord) Carlisle and I wrote a letter to the Times about the appalling discrimination against transgender people. There is a hell of a lot of ignorance out there. Good luck

  6. adrian adrian says:

    jerry,great article,totally agree. some of the stuff printed is ludicrous. one article yesterday said when he was a teacher he sometimes got angry and threw books ! yes of course,my teachers got angry and sometimes threw chalk at me when i wasn’t paying attention.thats what teachers used to do in the 70s and before. if being a bit camp and eccentric makes you a killer,showbusiness must be full of serial killers !
    still,the modern press is more restrained than it used to be. remember the tabloids in the 80s? unbelievable.
    i got here from a link elsewhere,great seeing you again,i used to watch you on tv with james whale. you were one of the few tories i could stand. keep telling the truth.

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      Thanks for that! I agree the press are a hell of a lot better than they used to be. I remember the days of being hit with chalk and board rubbers, but nowadays it is strictly forbidden. He just sounds a bit old school.

  7. Beatrice Bray Beatrice Bray says:

    Sometimes people are seen as different by bigots because they do not want to realise that we, as humans, are essentially the same.

    I met that reaction when I wrote for the Guardian. I criticised Guardian cartoonist for applying the word “psychotic” to Margaret Thatcher in such a way as to suggest that she was psychotic at the time of her premiership.

    Whatever your views on Mrs Thatcher in my opinion it is unfair to use the entirely legitimate psychiatric term “psychotic” as a term of abuse against Mrs Thatcher or indeed any human being. We do not know Mrs Thatcher’s current state of mind and I do not believe she was psychotic when she was Prime Minister. I should know. I have experienced episodes of bipolar. I know what it is like to experience psychosis. Mrs Thatcher was not like that when she was Prime Minister.

    The Rowson cartoon was also unfair on people who experience the very difficult condition of psychosis. We do not want our lives to be limited by our mental health problems but the likes of Mr Rowson and other Guardian contributors habitually define us as freaks.

    To give the Guardian credit the Guardian was open-minded enough to commission me but Guardian moderators did next to nothing to protect me from hideous and prejudicial abuse from Guardian bloggers on Comment is Free. Some of this has been deleted but I saw it. So did my 80-year-old mother. She was horrified. Arguing that the abuse was taken down many hours into the day of publication does not wash with me or my mother. We both suffered immediate psychological damage and we are still suffering the consequences.

    I did not even know that I was going to face audience renown for its cruelty towards people with disabilities. The Guardian never told me in advance. I would never have done knowingly put myself in front of such of an audience without a lot of preparation and thought. I am a former journalist and I have also been involved in the debate on employment and mental health for some 20 years. There are ways of helping employers and employees to work together in stressful situations but the Guardian chose to ignore such strategies. In health terms I have paid the price. I am now in an acute ward. Funnily enough I experience more freedom of speech and freedom of thought in this locked ward than I ever did as a contributor to the Guardian, a supposedly liberal paper.

    My case is now with the Press Complaints Commission. I am arguing that the Guardian discriminated against me because it pushed me in front of a hostile audience with no thought for my welfare. I also say that the nature of the words hurled against me – most of them are now deleted – was highly discriminatory. The moderators left them on display for hours. How am I, an Incapacity Benefit claimant, to reclaim my good name? Is there anyone out there who cares about freedom of speech for people with highly stigmatised disabilities? How are we to take part in debate?

    The Guardian and indeed the PCC were willing to say that the Sunday Times jibe against BBC Sports Presenter Claire Balding was prejudicial because it mocked her sexuality but my mental health contacts have warned me to prepare myself for disappointment. The Guardian appear to be denying my allegation of discrimination. Championing a gay, famous TV presenter is one thing. Championing an unknown person with a stigmatised illness is quite another.

    For a mental health campaigner I am media friendly. As I have already said I used to be a journalist. I have been a Guardian reader for 35 years so this is not some lifelong vendetta. My grievance is very specific and I have pursued it so doggedly to keep the doors open for future contributors.

    I am very much a believer that people with mental health problems should have the chance to engage with the media in all its forms. Research shows that people with mental health problems are the best advocates of tolerance in the media but if a supposedly tolerant paper like the Guardian will not provide basic protection against abuse who is going to volunteer to make future media appearances?

    I have not a clue what the PCC will decide but simply by pushing this issue as best I can I have drawn attention to the contested debate over free speech online and mental health. If you want to know more about the legal and regulatory background see my blog:

    http://alligin.tumblr.com/post/2050966360/my-fight-for-freedom

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      Good luck with your case. The blogosphere can be very nasty indeed with some very unpleasant views screaming across the net. Mental health issues have always quite wrongly been stigmatised and so many people just don’t realise how widespread it is. Things are getting better thanks to efforts of people like yourself. But we still have a long way to go. Good luck.

  8. diana bruce diana bruce says:

    Chris Jeffries has had some articles written about him – hardly surprising given that he has been arrested in a high profile murder case.

    The phrases listed above have indeed appeared in the articles – but Jerry Hayes omitted “respected member of the community, leading light of the Neighbourhood watch, supporter of the continued use of the 1662 book of common prayer, retired head of English at a renowned independent school, active member of the local Liberal Democrats, Volvo owner ….” – perhaps because they didn’t fit in with his theme of hounding?

    So – yes columns should be written in defence of those hounded by the press but this headline is (as yet) a poor example.

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      I’m afraid you are only referring to the first piece in the Guardian and not the other newspapers nor the television coverage.

    • Lorna Spenceley Lorna Spenceley says:

      I suspect “active member of the local Liberal Democrats” was probably the worst smear the press could think of! :-) Great piece, as so often, Jerry.

      • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

        Yes! I suppose that is the only actionable part. Damages would be very high! Hope you had a great christmas. Happy New year

  9. InLikeFlint InLikeFlint says:

    Sorry Jerry, but this is bollocks.

    Granted, the press have done their usual hatchet job on someone who may or may not be guilty of murder, but this is nothing new, nor is it confined to journalists in England. It’s cheap, sensationalist and sells papers, and as long as people keep buying them, will continue.

    However, to link this to a supposed witch-hunt against anyone ‘different’ is simply barking. Susan Boyle is a case in point. I yield to no-one in my loathing of ‘The X Factor’, ‘Britain’s got talent’ et al, and their shameless manipulation of a seemingly gormless population in the name of entertainment, but to follow your argument, she would have been ignored and then cast into obscurity, when the opposite is the case – her popularity in the US is even greater.

    Yes, people can be cruel. Yes, they can be bullies. Mobs are generally not to be reasoned with – but this doesn’t mean that you can therefore make a sweeping generalisation like: ‘We have a great tradition of tolerance in this country. But it is only skin deep. Scratch the surface in our communities and something dark, ugly, menacing is lurks.’

    On the whole, people are overwhelmingly nice and are perfectly willing and able to accept others for what they are. They are thoughtful, kind and ready to help others. It is as true of this country as it is of all others. The English are still very tolerant, and in fact have always encouraged non-conformity. You may criticise the rednecks in America for getting annoyed with Jeremy Clarkson, but I can’t be the first to point out that programmes such as ‘Top Gear’ are there to entertain, not inform, and as such are hardly reliable barometers of the truth. In any event, by lumping together some events from the deep south, aren’t you guilty of the same intolerance that you profess to loathe?

    This post apart, I have thoroughly enjoyed your writing over the last few months, and look forward to doing so again in 2011. Happy New Year!

  10. Mark Wallace Mark Wallace says:

    A good post, jerry – I’m collecting all the suggestive media comments here: http://www.crashbangwallace.com/2010/12/31/posh-loner-who-liked-poetry-but-not-sport-obviously-did-it-say-media/ If you spot any new ones please chalk them up!

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      Thanks Mark, will have a look as I always enjoy your blog. I see the AG is about to issues guidelines to the media on this case

  11. Colleen Colleen says:

    Despite a degree ed, demanding career, running my own business, active engagement in local politics and protest movements and being an excellent lip reader, I’ve been bullied by a Neanderthal minority on account of my severe to profound deafness throughout my life. So I know the dark strain of ignorance that runs though some – and it’s important to state that it is just a minority – of what passes for humanity well.

    Unfortunately, much of the media and press seem driven to profit from pandering to these Neanderthals. So, if Chris Jeffries is innocent, I hope he sues Sky and much of the media for everything they have: not that this would compensate for his wrecked life and reputation but it might make him feel slightly vindicated and make them think twice next time.

    Perhaps we need a change in the law to protect the anonymity of those in Mr Jeffries’ and the McCanns’ situation from media and online witch hunts until and unless found guilty? For, given the crass and unethical nature of so much of what passes for reportage in the media now, how else can any defendant be assured of a fair trial?

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      God, that is so depressing! Good luck to you. At least you have shown that despite your disability you can achieve more than most people. Shame on them

  12. Colin Colin says:

    Standard police procedure, isn’t it? If you can’t find the real culprit, fit up the local weirdo – see Barry George, Stephen Downing, Stefan Kiszko etc. ad nauseam. I wish I could share your confidence that, “If he is charged, British Justice assures him of a fair trial.”

    Mind you, he is a Liberal Democrat, you’ve got to watch them…

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      Wooooh there. There is no evidence of a fit up, just that hte press have gone over the top!

      • Colin Colin says:

        I’m feeling cynical today! Besides, if there were evidence of a fit-up, it wouldn’t be much of a fit-up, would it?

        Seriously though, the real danger, I think, comes not from the police deliberately framing people (I’m sure that’s extremely rare), but rather convincing themselves that a particular suspect must be guilty, and so viewing all the evidence through a lens of prejudice, exaggerating the strength of incriminating evidence and overlooking potentially exculpatory material, sometimes to the extent of “forgetting” to disclose it to the defence. This tendency can only be made worse by the sort of attitudes exemplified by the press in this case – and by the police too often in the past, the unfortunate Colin Stagg being another example.

        Of course Jefferies might be as guilty as sin, we shall have to wait and see what, if any, actual evidence emerges.

  13. Caro Casba Caro Casba says:

    It would be easy to frame an eccentric loner with no alibi for the murder of Joanna Yeats. Does someone really become a murderer at 65? I should imagine it takes some strength to strangle a fit and healthy 25 year old. I think people who are taken in for questioning in regard to a serious crime should be kept anonymous. To be interrogated by the police and have forensic investigators go through your house with a tooth comb is not something that anyone would welcome. I should imagin you’d feel worse .than raped at the end of it. To then have your name and reputation torn apart by the media, is enough to destroy anyones life. Do you remember Tom Stephens – the first man arrested for the Ipswitch murders? He was grilled by the police, house searched, torn apart by the media and he was innocent! Also Colin Stagg in connection to the murder of Rachel Nickell? Also innocent.

    Our media culture reminds me of the colosseum in Rome. We’re certainly not a compassionate or sophisticated society. It’s vulgar voyeurism and a tribal mentality.

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      I’m afraid that you are right. I remember one of the first cases I defended many years ago. A man was accused of indecently assaulting a 13 year old mentally handicapped girl. he was dragged through the press, but acquitted. His life was ruined. Don’t think people accused of crimes (apart from those involving sex) should be anonymous. But what has happened to Jeffries is quite beyond the PCC rules.

  14. Lee Lee says:

    I’ve got Asperger’s syndrome and all my life I’ve been bullied and excluded because I’m different. I’m a loner [not by choice], I speak in a strange and deliberate manner with a monotone delivery, I’m clumsy and have an unusual gait, have difficulty in maintaining eye contact and have eccentric interests – and therefore, at nearly fifty years of age, I’m still looking for my first job and have never had a relationship.

    Children go out of their way to come up to me to make strange animal noises close up in my face and ask me if I’m a nutter or weirdo, and adults accuse me of being drunk or a drug addict.

    I could go on…what a modern, liberal, enlightened society we live in.

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      I cannot comprehend how awful life must be for you. I don’t know what words of comfort I can give you, save that not everybody thinks like that, it’s just so difficult to get to know them. Yours has been a very humbling comment. I hope many people read it and look within themselves. And then look at others in a different light. But despite your difficulties in verbal communication you are great with the written word. You should write more. Perhaps a blog under a different name. Tell the world what it is like for someone like yourself, a thoroughly decent guy who by reason of an affliction is regarded as an outsider and excluded from “normal” society. It borders on the wicked by the few, but ignorance and fear by the many. I really do think you should write. You will find far more empathy and friendship than you can imagine. And who knows, perhaps happiness. You bloody deserve it! Good luck and never forget that your talent is with the written word. Use it to the full.

    • Colleen Colleen says:

      Lee, I do feel for you, I know what it feels like to be more capable than many others yet treated like an alien at times. Let’s face it, everyone with a disability has to be extraordinarily capable to survive, so it is hugely insulting when a minority of abnormal inadequates, who have never achieved anything in their lives – and who are the real aliens! – have a pop at us. I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty weird stuff too. A supermarket checkout assistant threw herself, prostrate on her conveyer belt, shouting: “She’s deaf, she’s deaf, I can’t handle this!”, then trounced off leaving me and my shopping, simply because I’d asked her to look up so that I could lip read her. I was shouted at by a number of a queue of people in a supermarket for behaving weirdly, solely for BSL signing to a deaf checkout assistant. A deaf friend and I were told by an office manager to finish our business and leave quickly because our signing was upsetting people. A deaf friend who can’t speak was ordered off a bus because he was unable to reply to the driver’s questions. Such conduct is not confined to strangers either, my mother’s response to my diagnosis was one of shame: “How can you be deaf? No one in our family’s ever been deaf.” I even had to sack a husband whom I caught making humiliating comments to my friends behind my back: bloody good riddance too! :)

      As I see it, we have two ways of dealing with such ignorance: we can either sink or swim. Jerry’s right, find something that you do well, blogging is great idea, and carve out a niche for yourself where you can win respect and affection and make contact with enlightened others.

      Here’s a man with Asperger’s and Tourette’s syndromes, also called Lee, whom I greatly admire. He’s done just that:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llWmtP7lruc&feature=fvsr

      Lee finds BSL signing helps controls his tics so he’s turned it into an art form. He has a huge following on YouTube for his beautifully signed songs for deaf people and BSL students and for his inspirational spirit. He inspires me. Lee’s now studying to become a BSL interpreter at Bristol Uni and has been featured in a BBC documentary.

      I hope this year is happier for you, Lee the blogger.

  15. Helen Li Helen Li says:

    You must not confuse the press with ordinary people. I have lived in many countries, both in the East and the West, over the past thirty years; and I can tell you that the latter is far more compassionate, tolerant, receptive, and wise than the former which is driven by commercial prerogatives mainly, much like lawyers and MPs really. I don’t know why former tenants or pupils at Clifton are talking to the press like that about an innocent man. “Peeping” in windows and not “letting people put up net curtains?” Wow, I can give you a few names that fit with that kind of behavior. “Throwing things about?” Didn’t Gordon Brown do the same things? People must not be tempted by their moment of “five mintues’ of fame,” if that was what motivated those deluded souls who blathed to the press. But on the whole, people don’t persecute those who are different from them and respect others’ privacy, especially in the UK. So don’t given yourself a halo by attacking us.

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      What utter deluded nonsense. Read the comments of Colleen and Lee and maybe you might learn a little about the brutalities of life. I was an MP for 14 years and saw people victimised in the most disgusting way. Where on earth do you live to come up with such sanctimonious garbage?

      • Helen Li Helen Li says:

        So this is the sort of arrogant, rude, mindless beast who fester the legal and politcal arena? You spout all those nonsense on your stupid blog, and think you have the key to the truth to all things? I am an ethnic minority who have been racially attacked, physically and verbally, and my property had been vandalized by thugs, some of them racists. Yet, I retain my opinion that ordinary people, British people in particular, are civilized, fair, generous and polite. MP for 14 years? Big deal! Well, you were chucked out, weren’t you? Anybody can pick up exceptional cases of brutality or violence; but to generalize that to condemn a whole people is just opportunistic nonsense. Poor dear, you would not dare to say that about the populace of the UK if you were still craving for their votes, now, would you. Good riddance to bad rubbish!

  16. TJ TJ says:

    Small detail, his name seems to be Jefferies, not Jeffries, though this surname does have a number of variations in spelling.

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