Gary Glitter Freed – Moral Panic Resumes

I’m sure I’m not the only one to watch the release of Gary Glitter from jail in Vietnam on child molestation grounds, and the government’s reaction to it, with alarm. Glitter was memorably jailed in 1999 for having inexplicably gone to a PC World to get his computer repaired, only to get caught for having 4000 underage sexual images on it. More recently he was imprisoned in Vietnam after having had repeated sexual contact with 10 and 11 year old girls, although rumours persist that they were paid off to make their allegations. Not to understate things too severely, but whatever the truth of the claims in Vietnam, the man has a problem, and is a problem the likes of which we as a society haven’t yet decided what to do with. And my alarm doesn’t so much come from him, but the instantaneous knee-jerk response by the government and media to his reappearance.

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Gary Glitter is now being used as a pawn and I find it disgraceful. I find it disgraceful that a huge fuss is being made over just one man who has done his time. But rather than initiating procedures or making resources available to actually help him, Britain instead is contorting in a renewed moral panic. ‘That foul paedophile’ eh? Not to diminish the severity of his proven crime in the UK, but how seriously can you take a government who uses this man’s reappearance as a distraction from their own incompetence? They’re destroying all of our civil liberties, robbing the poor to pay off the middle class, breaking their own anti-poverty and environmental targets, but at least they can say they’re strengthening the control order regime against those guilty of child sex offences (which is already incredibly tight). Is it genuinely not possible to get any perspective here? Jacqui Smith, not one known for human qualities, even had the gall to announce this on Talk Sport radio, as if she weren’t shamelessly populist already!

Boris Johnson has a sager perspective on the situation. Writing in 2006 he complained:

I mean, come off it, folks. How many paedophiles can there be? Are we really saying that any time an adult male finds himself sitting next to someone under 16, he must expect to be hustled from his seat before the suspicious eyes of the entire cabin?

What about adult females? Every week there is some new tale of what a saucy French mistress is deemed to have done with her adolescent charges behind the bicycle sheds; and, disgraceful though these episodes may be, I don’t hear anyone saying that children should be shielded from adult women. Do you? Or maybe I’m wrong — maybe all adults will have to carry personal cardboard partitions with them on every plane or train, just in case they find themselves sitting next to under-16s.

Even as I write, I can imagine the lip-pursing of some of my lovely high-minded readers. How would you like it, they will say, if some weird chap was plonked next to your kids? And they are right that I would worry about some strange adult sitting next to my children, chiefly because I wouldn’t want the poor fellow to come to any harm.

To all those who worry about the paedophile plague, I would say that they not only have a very imperfect understanding of probability; but also that they fail to understand the terrible damage that is done by this system of presuming guilt in the entire male population just because of the tendencies of a tiny minority.

And make no mistake, the papers are ‘off on one again’, and will be seeking to drag public opinion with them, whatever the balance you see in the video. Paul Gadd meanwhile has just been denied entry to Hong Kong, having been denied entry into Thailand, after refusing to return to Jacqui Smith and the Home Office’s kiss of death. I’m exaggerating you say? David Wilson believes not:

We also know what makes sex offenders generally, and paedophiles specifically, re-offend when they return to the community after a prison sentence. In short, they are more likely to re-offend when they are “named and shamed”, hounded from pillar to post, demonised, scapegoated and pilloried because when that happens they calculate that they may as well commit more crimes because, well, they have nothing left to lose. Sadly, an unnamed police officer quoted in the Sun doesn’t seem to be aware of this fact and claimed that when Gadd returned he would get a “Hell of a tough time … we’ll unleash the hounds”.

We don’t have the right to dehumanise anyone. The police don’t have the inherent authority to pre-criminalise anyone (although you try to tell them that) and Jacqui Smith certainly doesn’t have the right to say:

Ms Smith today announced tighter controls on the movement of paedophiles but she dismissed a suggestion that the Government had wanted a “celebrity paedophile” to promote the crackdown and had found it “embarrassing” that Glitter had not come home.

“No paedophile is a celebrity, every paedophile needs to be controlled,” she said.

She told GMTV Glitter was “despicable” and said it was “pretty hard to imagine it would be legitimate for him to travel abroad again”.

So says the thoroughly despicable woman who believes that sending gay asylum seekers back to Iran is perfectly safe as long as they’re discreet. Glitter’s current failure to return to the UK is an egg in the face for a government more concerned with spin and blunt instruments than good policy. Try making parents responsible for their children’s welfare once again, try the old (and successful) system of teaching children to risk assess their relationships with older people and strangers, try helping people who demonstrably have problems, and what about ending this ridiculous campaign (and charade) of controlling people in order to save a mythical, threatened majority. Governments mustn’t be allowed to get away with such shameless diversionary tactics, certainly not at the cost of individuals, particularly the vulnerable ones, hidden away from the full glare of a greedy and compassion-free media.


8 responses to “Gary Glitter Freed – Moral Panic Resumes

  1. Actually mate, you can tell me that we can’t pre-criminalise people. I won’t mind. is an interesting interview.

    The crime (if committed) is despicable. Having media on his plane seems utterly wrong, mind you.

  2. Thanks very much indeed for that. He comes across in the interview as horribly in denial at worst, monstrously stupid at best. Yet David Wilson’s point is the one I keep coming back to – if he comes back to the UK the existing regime is already more than enough to deal with him. For the government to link its new proposals to the timing of his release is cynical and inappropriate beyond words, and for the Home Secretary to make character assassinations is of no good to anyone and is probably very harmful to vulnerable people on both sides of the protection equation.

    As for the police source, that’s not what I understand that profession to be about.

  3. Little was made of Glitter while he was locked up but there is a media frenzy once he has served his time. I find this nuts. Let him be, hopefully he has repented and will make some more great music.

  4. He has become a cheap means of newspaper circulation, and an even cheaper vehicle for justifying increasing Home Office extremism. If he ends up forced back to the UK after all and Jacqui Smith tries to restrict his freedom to travel forever, as she claims, I wonder whether the European Court of Human Rights will agree with the legitimacy of such an action.

  5. Another good article Jason.

    I did a meme on my blog this morning and one of the questions was to sum up this story in one paragraph.

    I wrote..

    Why is someone like Glitter more dangerous than, say, a murderer, who once they’ve served their sentence, wouldn’t face the possibility of having their passports removed indefinitely or be subjected to continual monitoring? This witch hunt has left me particularly incensed because an 18 year old boy was kicked to death by homophobes two weeks again in Liverpool yet the two men charged with his murder have been bailed and are free to walk the streets. Why aren’t the press hounding them? Clearly if I had the choice of someone touching my penis or kicking me in the face until I die, I’d definitely feel that being kicked in the face is miles worse, but this government does not agree.

    I certainly agree with you on this point as well..

    “He has become a cheap means of newspaper circulation, and an even cheaper vehicle for justifying increasing Home Office extremism”

  6. Oh I think that’s an extremely good point, and one I sincerely hope others pick up on. Michael Causer, 18, was murdered for being gay, and his killers remain inexplicably free. The government has nothing to say about that, despite it being an expression of something truly rotten at the core of our society, and something which needs urgent addressing. Yet the moment Paul Gadd is released from prison in a foreign country he’s considered such a national security risk that the papers are mobilised and briefings galore are launched against him. As James rightly points out – look at the comparison and let’s get a sense of proportion here about who really needs to be controlled for the greatest good and who genuinely needs to be hounded by the media.

    Campaigner Shy Keenan said: “He is an infamous, dangerous, predatory paedophile. Children all over the world are in danger.”

    Not remotely out of proportion, no.

  7. Shy Keenan was abused as a child but in her quest to get even she is ironically doing millions and millions of kids a vile disservice. She’s part of this paranoia industry which is intent on making a whole generation have a deep fear of each other.

  8. Pingback: Gary Glitter Back in the UK « Cosmodaddy

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