What will you do when you become the suspect? Every word you’ve ever said and was ever said about you will be proof that you are evil.
We live in the True Crime world. It is a place where podcasts dedicated to recounting the brutal murders of women — it’s usually women as female bodies being mutilated is fun for all the family — are some of the most successful series ever made. And in that world, in the narrative environment where you are guilty until presumed innocent, guiltier than guilty, devilish even, you should not be so smug. One bad day in your life and you could be the main character in a newspaper drama that details every plot point from your previously quiet life and retools them in turn to present a person you don’t recognise — a villain wearing your face.
In Britain, one of the most powerful news narratives right now focuses on the death by shooting of a police officer inside a police custody centre. The identity of the alleged killer, himself now in hospital, is all over the newspapers and, because he is young, a product of the Instagram-era, his social media posts and school yearbooks have been scoured for clues. It turns out he quite likes swords and has boasted about being on the dark web before. He was also subject to the government’s deradicalisation scheme Prevent. That he comes from a middle-class family is a subject of much comment. That he is autistic less so, though it is referred to in every news story.
The aim of these stories is not to inform readers; it is to establish and strengthen a narrative: Good policeman killed by a bad kid. Only, the facts of this case remain murky. Here’s a paragraph from The Times’ latest report on the incident:
[The man] is suspected of shooting Sergeant Ratana in the chest, despite having his hands cuffed behind his back, and then shooting himself in the neck. He has not been arrested in connection with Sergeant Ratana’s death.
You do not need to be a suspicious journalist, like me, or Sherlock Holmes-like in your deductionary skills to see that the scenario described there is unlikely. It is noteworthy that the man, who is named in all the reports along with the names of his family, is yet to be arrested in connection with the death. Is what we are told happened actually an accurate explanation of the events?
We will have to wait for further information to be released. But during that time it is frightening that the alleged killer — not even charged with the crime — is being reconstructed in the press, with lighthearted comments about him being “good with weapons” written in his school yearbook by friends used as a means of framing him as some kind of ninja assassin.
Think of the things you like, the things you have said, the things you have done and then think of how any of them would look if you were the suspect. No one is innocent in the eyes of the tabloid press.