Friday, 9 December 2011

canoes trains and the glamorization of crime

This week, John Darwen, the man who faked his own death by pretending to have drowned in a canoeing accident has been fairly prominent in the press/in radio interviews. He claims he has been giving interviews in order to set the record straight about what really happened, and to challenge some of the things that have previously been printed about him in the press.

This concept of interviewing/giving convicted criminals airtime just seems odd to me. After all, is it right that someone who has committed a crime then go on to game publicity for said crime? There are certain criminals to whom we would never give the time of day, and yet for certain others they and their crimes almost seem to have been glamorized in the eyes of the public and the media, even though those crimes are fairly unpleasant.

Train robber Ronnie Biggs has for instance often been described as a loveable rogue, even though he was part of a gang that were responsible for the great train robbery, and instead of serving a legitimate sentence, fled to Brazil where he lived on the proceeds of his crimes until he returned to Britain, not to give himself up, but because his health had deteriorated and he wanted to use the health service here.

Even the Cray twins while fairly notorious criminals who were ultimately responsible for armed robbery, torture, and even murder, are viewed almost with a level of hero worship by some. The view expressed by many is that as the people they killed were part of gangs and therefore not necessarily very pleasant individuals anyway, no-one really got hurt. As if that somehow justifies and even glamorizes murder.

And now I wonder whether John Darwen will eventually be thought of in the same way by some. It seems there is something quite glamorous about faking your own death, especially for the insurance money, and then living in the spare room of your eighteen bedroom house, going out for walks disguised as a man with a walking stick, while your friends and family mourn your passing. But there is almost certainly nothing glamorous about allowing your children and parents and other friends and family to believe you have died, to attend your funeral, and to then steal the identity of a dead baby in order to leave the country to start a new life.

Having listened to John Darwen on the radio this morning I actually found him quite repulsive. He shows no remorse for what he has done, believes his sentence was too long (even though he was released after serving only half of it), and although he says that with hindsight he wishes he hadn’t gone through with faking his own death, admits that it was very easy to do, the hard part is coming back from the dead. Well it would be, wouldn’t it? And he spoke rather bitterly about those family members who have chosen to have nothing more to do with him, even to the extent that they have taken out injunctions to prevent him talking about them.

While admittedly John Darwen’s wife Anne was complicit in his crimes and served a similar prison sentence, at least she isn’t justifying what she did in the media or through publication of a book as John Darwen is.

While I think we are all fascinated by certain crime and by the people who commit those crimes, I think there’s a fine line between fascination and glamorization and that especially the media need to be careful not to go down the route of glamorization, or forgetting that other real people are personally affected by the crimes that we can remain fascinated by, because we view them only from a distance.

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