‘Evidence’ and ‘Fact’ are two different things. The words are not interchangeable. That basic lesson in the comprehension of the English language appears to have been missing from the curriculum of an entire generation. Time and again we hear ‘but there is evidence’, even ‘credible evidence’ as a reason why something is ‘a fact’ set in stone. Evidence, broadly speaking, is merely the reason why YOU may hold a particular belief.
A recent court case beautifully illustrates just how ‘compelling evidence’ can work in two diametrically opposed directions.
Two young men, living in a foreign country, are driving home after a hard day’s work. They don’t speak the language particularly well, but they are honest and industrious, and have made a success of supporting themselves in their new country. In fact they have just been paid. They chatter excitedly to each other as they drive along in their battered car, planning an evening of celebration.
In the distance they can hear the siren of an emergency vehicle, one that they can’t yet see. As it happens, they are just approaching a complicated traffic calming series of ‘impediments’ in the unfamiliar road surface – they slow down. As they slow down, the emergency vehicle, a mini-bus, appears in their rear view window – whoops! They realise that this is not a place to slow down, the vehicle cannot get past them. With a belch of smoke, they gun their ancient car forward to get out of the way. Now a junction is in front of them, giving them the space to pull over and let the vehicle speed past. The siren is on top of them now, blue lights swirling round – and they have effectively blocked the only way to turn off this road – what if the emergency vehicle didn’t want to go straight ahead? What if it wanted to turn left?
In a panic, the driver puts his foot on the accelerator and guns the car forward again – just as the emergency vehicle does in fact try to turn left in front of them. Ouch! Or rather Crunch! They hit the min-bus! Men in helmets pile out of the mini bus and rush towards their car – a truncheon is raised and smashes the passenger window. Broken glass flies round our intrepid pair as these masked men shout at them in an unfamiliar language. Eventually both of them are pulled out of the car and manhandled to the roadside. They are bruised and battered, panicked and exceedingly frightened. They are searched and their money is taken from them.
Now what we would appear to have here is clear and compelling ‘evidence’ that these entirely innocent young men have been robbed and beaten by an out of control van full of thugs – wearing the uniform of the British Territorial Support Group. Time for a knee jerk reaction from Twitter or the Blogosphere in general? These ‘facts’ are not in dispute – so you appear to have ‘credible evidence’ to support a campaign for compensation and an entire ‘van-full’ of men to be punished for their behaviour. Why not join the ‘support the Polish pair’ campaign?
Hold fast! Because this case has wound through the judicial system, as opposed to having been fought out in the media after some of the parties had died, we have more ‘credible evidence’ to consider.
Just round the corner from where we first met our two young men, other events were taking place. An elderly man was being robbed of some £3,000. Confused, hurt and frightened, he phoned the police. They relayed the information he gave them over the Police radio. Three young men, 40ish, stocky, wearing white t-shirts, with strange accents, ‘could have been Scottish or Polish’ he thought. Said they were plumbers. Had made off in the direction of ‘Aboyne Road’.
As that message was being received, a van full of Territorial Support Group officers were surprised to see a battered Audi car with Polish number plates, containing at least two young men in white t-shirts drive past them from the direction of Aboyne Road. Surely reasonable grounds for a stop and search? They follow the car, listening to the rest of the radio message as they approach the traffic calming chicane. They turn on their blues and twos and pull up behind the slowing vehicle – but instead of stopping, with a belch of black smoke, it speeds up and disappears round a bend in the road! They set off in hot pursuit, and catch up with the vehicle as it appears to be about to be abandoned lying skewed across a junction. With a flourish of advanced police driving, they go to pull in front of the vehicle to stop it driving off again, at the exact moment (these things have been tested to the second) that our intrepid pair realised they might be blocking the junction and try to drive forward! Ker -runch!!!
A perfectly reasonable ‘stop and search’ has just turning into ‘fleeing miscreants’ compounded by ‘ramming a police vehicle’. Police officers pile out of the mini-bus shouting perfectly reasonable things like ‘I say, old fellah, what do you think you’re doing’ and ‘get your bloody hands up’, only to find no response from inside the car. Correction, there is a response, the passenger leans forwards and fumbles in the glove compartment….with a split second to make a decision, an officer steps forward and smartly smashes the passenger window to distract him from whatever he might be reaching for……other officers open the drivers door and pull the pair of them out of the vehicle – none too gracefully. On searching the vehicle they find £2,000 in cash, which just happens to equal two thirds of the money they expected to find on apprehending two of the three young men in white t-shirts – with polish accents, no less – who had just brutally robbed an old man.
‘Credible evidence’ you might conclude that they had been right to stop them, and ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect that these were violent criminals who had resisted demands to stop and then rammed a police car.
Perhaps you would rather join the other ‘team’ – the one supporting police officers who have to make split second decisions as to just how dangerous are the men in the car that has just rammed their vehicle – was that a gun he was reaching for? You have ‘credible evidence’ after all.
The proven ‘facts’ – for, as I say, this has been through judicial court, not the court of Twitter opinion, is that the truth was somewhere between the two, with the Police version winning in the end since legally they only require ‘reasonable grounds’ to act as they did.
The two Polish builders, not plumbers as it happens, were utterly innocent; had acted with the best of intentions to get out of the way of a speeding police vehicle that they had absolutely no reason to believe was trying to stop them. They had just been rewarded with £2,000 for their honest labour. They weren’t even ‘in their 40s’ as per the original description, although whether they were ‘stockily built’ was a matter of opinion. They just had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time with all the wrong attributes – and reacted in the wrong way.
That is why we have a judicial system that says ‘innocent until proven guilty’.
‘Credible evidence’ is a two edged sword – and you need to hear both side’s ‘credible evidence’ before making a decision that you are absolutely convinced that one particular piece of ‘credible evidence’ is the truth and a proven fact.
Which is why you shouldn’t be lining up in support – or condemnation – of a man who has never had the chance to put forward his own ‘credible evidence’.