Ian O'Doherty

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Why don't we just criminalise bad taste?

Ian O'Doherty

Published 12/05/2014 | 02:30

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LEEDS, ENGLAND - APRIL 29:  Tributes to teacher Anne Maguire adorn the school fence at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Neville Road on April 29, 2014 in Leeds, England. A fifteen-year-old male student has been arrested in connection with the death of teacher Anne Maguire who was fatally stabbed yesterday during lessons at Corpus Christi Catholic College.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
LEEDS, ENGLAND - APRIL 29: Tributes to teacher Anne Maguire adorn the school fence at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Neville Road on April 29, 2014 in Leeds, England. A fifteen-year-old male student has been arrested in connection with the death of teacher Anne Maguire who was fatally stabbed yesterday during lessons at Corpus Christi Catholic College. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Trolls were out for murdered teacher Ann Maguire
Jordanian journalists should have taken it outside

The killing of Leeds teacher Ann Maguire last month by a student was one of the most shocking things any of us have heard this year.

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By all accounts, she was a genuinely lovely woman who was truly mourned, not just by the pupils who were in the school when she was stabbed by a 15-year-old student, but also by the numerous past pupils who returned to the school to pay their respects to a beloved teacher.

And, as is now the standard response to any sickening incident, the jokes and the trolls were quick out of the blocks.

One Twidiot, in particular, comes straight from central casting – 42-year-old unemployed former junkie Robert Riley, who was described by his own legal team as being a rather sad loser leading 'a reclusive life' and who was sentenced to eight weeks in prison last Thursday by a court in Swansea.

There's no doubting that Riley seems a rather vile and pathetic man. After all, anyone who tweets that if he had been in the school he would have "killed all the bastard teachers" is unlikely to be one of life's charmers.

So, obnoxious, classless and stupid, yes. But a criminal deserving of a custodial sentence? What do you think?

Well, if you think that sending a sad, socially inadequate failure to jail for the crime of being an obnoxious jerk is reasonable then you must have a very strange sense of justice. As it turned out, our hero had previously made jokes about Auschwitz being a 'health spa for Jews' and, when I'd finished wiping the tears of mirth from my eyes at that zinger, I found myself doubled up with laughter as I also read his hilarious comments about the Korean Ferry disaster, the Malaysian flight, dead Muslim babies and Serena Williams.

All of them were crass and stupid and unpleasant and in very bad taste. All of them merited a slap if any relatives of those he mocked ever got their hands on him. And all of them were the subject of jokes in recent times.

According to the chairman of the bench in the court: "The offensive messages had completely outraged the public. You had complete disregard for the tragic death of Ann Maguire. Besides this, countless other vile messages were left by you. The bench finds these were racially and religiously aggravated. The offences are so serious that only a period in custody can be justified."

Well, that's off-colour humour off the menu, then.

I was particularly taken by the comment that his remarks had "outraged the public" because this raises more questions than it answers. For starters, how many actual members of the public were actually outraged? How many followers did he have? 10? 100? 1,000? Compare that to how many people are now aware of these comments – innocent people who are now in jeopardy of being outraged by something they would never have otherwise known about?

A judicial sentiment like that should terrify every single one of us – the idea that causing "outrage" to members of the public can now be used as an excuse to jail someone is one that can, and will, be misused in ways we haven't even thought about.

Yes, yes. I know it was a Welsh court and not an Irish one, but the principles remain the same. The principle at work here is one which thinks that people should be incarcerated for expressing a stupid and obnoxious opinion.

Because who is to decide what next 'outrages' the public?

Nobody wants to make someone as pathetic and unpleasant as Riley a poster boy for freedom of speech, but not all posters get to have George Clooney on them. After all, it's easy to support Pussy Riot when it suits you – that's a handy and convenient and trendy cause to get behind. Why, you can even look at the likes of Madonna and Beyoncé and Sinead O'Connor and all the others who have shown support for those most tedious Russian troublemakers and you, too, can feel that you are doing your bit to protect freedom of expression. You're not, of course. And you know you're not doing anything of the sort, but it makes you feel a bit better about yourself.

But do you want to support this icky little man who likes to crack wise about Auschwitz and dead kids and missing planes and capsized ferries? I mean, how gross, right?

That's the thing about freedom of speech, you see.

Sometimes you're not gonna like the speech that you're defending – but that's the price of living in a free society.

MAYBE I'M MISSING THE POINT, BUT...

It turns out that nagging a man can actually take years off his life. Frankly, I would have thought that nagging is the only way the bins are ever going to be put out on time but boffins have suddenly realised that constant nagging can lead to stress which can lead to health complications.

Now, far be it from me to be seen to be on the side of the sisterhood on this one, but I would have thought that nagging is simply a part of the daily conversation, designed to ensure that blokes don't end up living in a pile of their own dirty socks while rubbish piles up in the kitchen.

The survey then goes on to point out that "women have a larger social network than men" and that is where I draw the line – I have considerably more followers on Twitter than Mrs iSpy, so what social network are they referring to?

Or maybe I'm missing the point.

Ape shall not kill ape – and hack shall not hit hack

A couple of Jordanian journalists caused ructions late last week when they started thumping the heads off each other on a live TV show.

This is obviously a thoroughly unacceptable state of affairs. Every professional journalist worth their salt knows that if they want to fight during a TV show they should wait until it's over and then take it outside where they can batter each other to their hearts content. I mean, you could sell tickets into TV3's car park after the average episode of Vincent Browne. Like bloody Madison Square Garden, so it is...

Irish Independent

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