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In the News, Society

The line of innocence and guilt in the media glare

It’s been a particularly trying time for justice in the past few weeks here in Britain, with the Meredith Kercher murder inquiry reaching boiling point in re-trials, as well as the start of the Jo Yeates murder/manslaughter court proceedings in Bristol. What both of these cases have challenged with their various suspects is the notion of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, and it’s something that I’m keen to explore. Whether you admit it or not, you often make judgements on the prosecution’s targets in these high-profile proceedings, finding the evidence for or against them to be mounting up, and scrutinising their behaviour in quotes and pictures.

The death of Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, is clearly a tragedy, but it becomes even more upsetting to see her family being sidelined in favour of Amanda ‘Foxy Knoxy’ Knox, who has spent several years in prison on the charge of killing her flatmate. Knox has a powerful army of American supporters (aside from worldwide followers) and a strong legal team behind her, whilst the British Kercher family could not all afford to travel to Italy for the recent appeal by the accused and her co-accused, Raffaele Sollecito. When the news finally broke on 3rd October that both had been freed and their convictions overturned, many still struggled to adjust to the idea of them being wholly innocent, with a lot of focus being placed on Knox’s behaviour shortly after Meredith’s death. Whilst the plain and bespectacled Sollecito has been largely forgotten, Knox has barely been out of the media since 2007 as journalists focus on her looks, sexual appetite and creative writing. Now she is free there is endless speculation over her next move, with talk of a tell-all book, a high-profile interview and a film, all of which would essentially be capitalising on the loss of her friend, however much they choose to highlight Knox’s own plight.

Although I still find it difficult to determine exactly who is guilty of killing Meredith, whether murder or manslaughter, I believe that anyone who benefits from this sad event financially should stop and think about whether this is right. The lure of the media with a massive cheque is obviously tempting, but it shouldn’t be Knox’s first option if she wants to remain innocent of profiting from her friend’s demise. The best course of action is dignified silence and a slow rebuilding of some semblance of normal life. I know this will not be easy, but the baying mob will eventually subside if she doesn’t court their attention; there will be other crimes and scandals, and people will move on. The Kerchers are the ones who really will struggle to get by, especially knowing that only one man (Rudy Guede) is in prison for a crime that many experts have argued is probably the work of at least two people. For the sake of their wellbeing, Knox should not put herself in a position where the Kerchers have to see her on their morning paper or gracing their local cinema screens. I hope that Knox will not become guilty of reaping rewards from poor Meredith’s death.

The second murder trial rocking Britain is that of Jo Yeates, a landscape architect who was found strangled three miles from her Bristol flat on Christmas Day. Like most of the nation, I was captivated by the media portrayal of the first suspect, Christopher Jefferies, whose physical appearance and bachelor status was quickly manipulated by journalists into the profile of a killer. Shamefully, I took one look at the awkward photo of him, with wild hair and a curious expression, and thought, “Well, he certainly seems suspicious enough,” and I entirely based that assumption on the articles, reportage and images that I was exposed to at the time. It was unfortunate for Jefferies that his unconventional self-presentation made it all too easy for the media machine to play on our stereotypical mental picture of ‘the oddball’, whereas if he had been fashionably dressed with 2.4 children and a mumsy wife then we would not have been jumping to conclusions.

Brian Cathart interviewed Jefferies for the Financial Times Magazine last weekend and found him to be a pleasant and intelligent, but clearly wounded, man. Jefferies feels that he has been the victim of ‘journalistic lazy thinking and the way in which people are encoraged to think in cliches’. Eight newspapers which include the Mirror, the Sun and the Scotsman, were sued for the defamatory articles which they published – a typical example of the ridiculous claims that they recorded would be the Mirror’s finding that Jefferies had an A-Z map of Bristol in his car (hardly indicative of criminal intent in normal circumstances), which was written as: ‘Evidence… maps were on the back seat’. It’s easy to see how so many of us were duped by the twisted reporting of the tabloids. You could also argue that Amanda Knox has suffered a similar fate, but the problem with her case lies in the lack of definitive forensic evidence to suggest that she was not involved in Meredith Kercher’s death. Christopher Jefferies, meanwhile, is in no way tied to the death of Jo Yeates, whilst there are extensive DNA links and a verbal confession which prove that Vincent Tabak was the one to end Yeates’ short life.

In both of these situations there has been a media circus surrounding the murder suspects, and that has lead to massive amounts of speculation and many instances of reporters taking creative licence with shreds of information. What the public really needs is hard evidence, genuine investigative journalism and a reminder of the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mantra. Then maybe we can see things in a fairer light and really bring the killers of Meredith and Jo to justice.

 

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About Polly

I'm a journalist, based near Brighton. This blog, which is separate from my professional life, will document my reaction to current affairs, as well as some personal projects.

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