The media driven furore over the decision of an asylum and immigration tribunal to rule out the deportation of Learco Chindamo on his eventual release from a 12 year sentence for the murder of Philip Lawrence, predictably, continues apace with the locus of the story having shifted from Lawrence’s widow to the publication by The Times of the tribunal’s full ruling.
As might be expected to press have chosen to lead on the Home Office’s contention that Chindamo continues to constitute a clear and present threat to public safety, this being the main substantive argument advanced by the Home Office during the course of the hearing. The line that both the Times and the Daily Mail chosen to follow is clearly evident in their choice of headline that these latest developments in the story; The Times leads with, “Secret papers disclose threat posed by killer.”, while the Daily Mail makes a more obvious play public anxiety with, “Lawrence killer ‘free in months’ – but Home Office says he is a serious threat to public.”
Both articles make extensive use of material taken directly from the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal’s written ruling, which sets out the Home Office’s core arguments in favour of Chindamo’s deportation but with, in the case of the Daily Mail’s coverage of the story, one very significant omission – a rather inconvenient fact that the Mail would much prefer that its readers did not see.
We are told for example, that:-
The tribunal’s ruling on Chindamo notes concerns from the Home Office that his crime “is of such severity that he will always continue to be a threat to the community such that his release on licence would be on the basis that he might be recalled to prison at any moment for any breach of his conditions”.
It adds that a risk assessment by prison and probation staff highlighted fears over how Chindamo “over-reacted to situations” and that there are “severe concerns with finding him appropriate accommodation on release”.
The Home Office told the tribunal that “as a consequence it was considered that he posed a continuing risk to the public and that his offences were so serious that he represents a genuine and present and sufficiently serious threat to the public in principle such as to justify his deportation”.
…all of which does indeed appear in the evidence submitted by the Home Office to the tribunal. What the Daily Mail has published is, not unexpectedly, something less than a full account of the contents of the relevant section.
We are not told, for example, that the Home Office’s revised reasons for deportation letter, dated March 7, 2007, explicitly notes that it is unlikely that the appellant – Chindamo – is unlikely to reoffend all that he has accepted responsibility for his actions and has undertaken anger management courses while in prison. Instead the Mail states that “Learco Chindamo was said to be still volatile and likely to reoffend”.
Moreover, if one looks at the complete text of the section from which the quotations given by the Mail are taken then the manner in which it has quite conscious manipulated the original text to suit it’s own agenda – what follows is the full text of the relevant section of the ruling, in which the Mail’s omissions are indicated in italics.
In the revised reasons for deportation letter it is noted that it is unlikely that the appellant will reoffend, and that he accepts his responsibility for his offences and has undertaken courses for anger management. It notes however that his current behaviour and actions and day-to-day life are very closely monitored. There is reference there to one escorted visit, though we accept that the evidence is in fact that he has been on two escorted visits and three unescorted visits. The point is also made in the refusal letter that the court has deemed that the appellant’s crime is of such severity that he will always continue to be a threat to the community such that his release on licence would be on the basis that he might be recalled to prison at any moment for any breach of his conditions. The point is made that he has been assessed and that he is subject to the highest level of multi-agency public protection arrangements (Mappa) (Level 3). In this regard though we must bear in mind the point to which we were referred by Mr Scannell that that assessment was not made on account of the appellant being a threat to the public but because of the likelihood of media scrutiny and/or public interest. The letter does note that risk factors might increase because of media and public scrutiny that the appellant might receive. It also comments that the OAsys report notes that there are occasions where the appellant has overacted to situations and there are severe concerns with finding him appropriate accommodation on release if allowed to remain in the United Kingdom. He would need to be excluded from certain parts of the country, community integration would be a problem on release and he might suffer a backlash. The letter states that the appellant’s notoriety might make him feel excluded from society as he had been before and there was a significant risk that his previous disregard for authority and the law might resurface and result in him coming to adverse attention. As a consequence it was considered that he posed a continuing risk to the public and that his offences were so serious that he represents a genuine and present and sufficiently serious threat to the public in principle such as to justify his deportation.
What the Daily Mail has chosen to conceal from its readers, is simply that the risks identified by the Home Office in its submission to the tribunal predicated entirely on the possibility that Chindamo may react in an adverse fashion towards harassment from both the media and from the fine upstanding citizens whose views it purports to represent. So far as arguments go, what the Home Office put forward the tribunal amounts to little more than the admission that the one thing it cannot guarantee on Chindamo’s release from prison is that he will be permitted to rebuild his life in peace, and that the most significant factor in that assessment is the notoriety of the original case, which was itself generated by the press and which the press continues to exploit for every last sale it can wring out of the story.
As an argument in favour of deportation, this is little short of reprehensible. What the Home Office is saying in effect, is that we should deport Chindamo to Italy simply because the system, such as it is, cannot protect Chindamo from unwarranted and unhelpful media intrusion or from harassment, abuse, or maybe even worse, instituted by the selfsame “concerned citizens” that currently infest the comment system at the Daily Mail and the Sun’s online forum with their demands that Chindamo be shipped out of the country immediately on his release, that the real risk in releasing Chindamo stems from the likelihood that he will be subjected to provocation of a kind that his personal history has rendered him ill-equipped to deal with.
All things being equal, the evidence put to the tribunal suggests that Chindamo has every chance of rebuilding his life and going on to become a useful and productive member of society, if only he is permitted to go about that task without further harassment, and without being subjected to the depredations of the lidless eye of the media voyeurism. That there is a significant risk that he may be unable to do so is not the indictment on Chindamo’s personal character or his background and upbringing but the Daily Mail would have its readers believe it to be, but rather a damning commentary on the prurient obsessions of the tabloid press and their wholesale disregard for basic ethical standards, not to mention simple common decency.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of this current moral panic is the given the gilt-edged opportunity to challenge the arrogant presumption of the tabloid press simply by pointing out, as is obvious to any reasonable person, that in this case it is the tribunal that has arrived at the correct decision, the political elite of this country – Labour and Conservative – has chosen instead to indulge in one of its favourite pastimes, that of engaging in the same old pissing contest, one in which the star prize amounts to nothing more than the privilege of scraping out Paul Dacre’s colon with their tongue.
In all, the treatment meted out to Chindamo of the last couple of days, reminds one of nothing more or less than the scene in Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange” in which the newly released Alex has the living shit kicked out of him by his former droogs having been rendered incapable of fighting back by the use in prison of Ludovico’s technique.