Were you to Google the name – which I’m not going to give you! – you would come up with results running to four figures. Each of those news items have been read hundreds if not thousands of times.
We need news, don’t we? Nay, it is our right to know what is going on in the world around us; a right that journalists fight to preserve. Sure they put a spin on every story, as I am doing now; but it is important that nothing is concealed from us.
When it comes to allegations of a sexual nature, the newspapers have an important role to play; they can publicise the names of people suspected of such offences and possibly bring forward other witnesses or victims to corroborate their case and ensure that a dangerous predator is put behind bars. That is arguably a ‘good’ thing.
‘Beth’ was 29 years old. An adult woman; admittedly not a particularly ambitious career girl, the newspapers soon found her Facebook page and drew inferences from her previous work as a cleaner, a supermarket shelf stacker, and an assistant in a care home. She still lived with her parents. Other members of her divided family disclosed that she was an exceptionally ‘large lady’.
A mental picture was being drawn to explain how it was that her family was unaware that ‘Beth’ was pregnant. Another factor that might have made her keep the information to herself – always supposing that she had realised her condition – was that her Father was a deeply religious man, a community ‘leader’. We may safely assume he would not have exactly welcomed this news.
Thus it was that in the early hours of a frosty November morning, Beth gave birth to a baby in the family bathroom. Paramedics were called who failed to breath life into the newborn child. The question was – had the infant ever drawn breath? Numerous post mortem were unable to establish a cause of death.
You can probably imagine the scene in that cold dawn bathroom – the raised voices, the hysteria, the recriminations, bustling paramedics and in the midst of that – a traumatised young woman who had just given birth.
Along, 12 hours later, with several policemen. Which is perfectly reasonable. If the medical experts cannot say whether someone has died of natural causes, there is always the possibility to be explored that a crime has been committed. ‘Beth’ and her Father were arrested and taken to be interviewed formally – on suspicion that they may have ‘helped’ the child on its way, and conspired to conceal the birth – though of course this is described as the far more newsworthy ‘murder’.
The very word ‘murder’ and the fact that these events occurred at a vicarage in a small village, ensured the bland police statement ‘a 65 year old man and a 29 year old woman’ didn’t take long to turn into click-bait in the national news. Busy journalists found ‘Beth’s’ social media account; tracked down neighbours willing to discuss her physical appearance, her father’s rigid religious outlook.
Police cars and vans then came and went from the house, at the end of a secluded lane next to a farm, throughout last week.
Asked how long people had known of police activity at the vicar’s house, one local replied: “This is a village. Nano-seconds.”
More police activity continued at the house on Thursday as a van arrived with half a dozen officers, who carried a large toolbox into the house.
Did this do anything to assist the case in hand – establishing whether this child was ‘stillborn’ or not? Still, journalists must be free to bring us all the news, right?
A few days later, the stress had got to ‘Beth’s’ father, and he failed to appear to conduct a funeral, allegedly leaving behind instructions which appeared to be for his own funeral. ‘Beth’, it seems, was not willing to disclose who the Father was. It is not the first time in history that a young woman had declined to tell her angry Father who was ‘responsible’. The police carried out DNA tests on the child’s body whilst they still could. Who knows, ‘Beth’ might not have felt ready to disclose an allegation of rape by some local youth yet? Perfectly reasonable action on the part of the police.
This did, of course, allow the media to run headlines such as ‘DNA paternity tests carried out on dead new born as police continue to question vicar’.
Nothing like a good missing vicar story with some sexual innuendo thrown in eh? Somehow, Beth’s Father found the strength to return to his parish a few days later and carry out the Christmas services.
The day before that headline was printed, the police had released an interesting nugget to the media – though for what reason, since it was released ex post facto I cannot imagine:
Lancashire Police later confirmed that [ ] and his daughter were no longer being questioned on suspicion of a sexual offence.
You can’t have a decent hint of sexual impropriety these days without:
It is also understood that police are studying the contents of the vicar’s computer, which was seized when they attended the vicarage.
‘Seized computer’; ‘Sexual Offence’; ‘Vicarage’; ‘DNA Paternity tests’ – this sad affair was turning into click-bait gold. The story was appearing in newspapers worldwide.
That all occurred seventeen months ago. This week the Police finally agreed that no charges would be brought against any one of the three people in that bathroom in November 2014.
Meanwhile ‘Beth’ has been exposed to prurient gossip and international media attention. Her Father has faced such vicious vilification that he has moved to another job – ipso, the family have had to move house. In the midst of this, the couple’s other daughter has died of cancer. It is impossible to comprehend the stress the family has been under.
It is right that the Police should fully investigate every aspect of an unexplained death; if they even suspect that a sexual offence has occurred, then it is right that computers should be seized, houses searched.
What is so very wrong, is that this private family tragedy should have been carried out in the relentless glare of international media attention for no better reason than that the actors formed useful click-bait.
A child was stillborn. End of story.
Not for the people involved, of course.