Tuesday, July 08, 2003

IT'S NICE TO STAND UP FOR YOUR MATES: Sure, Roger Daltrey sticking up for Pete Townshend is a fine and noble gesture of one friend for another, but who does the salmon farmer blame for Pete's troubles? Us, of course. It's not Pete's fault that he subscribed to a kiddie porn site, it's ours: "If this was the Sixties, more people would see this witch hunt for what it is and start a protest. It's about having some control over our lives and not letting the police do whatever they want. He was treated as though he was guilty of the worst crimes and crucified without a trial by people with no accountability. It's a disgrace. Everything they did to him was appalling." Now, there are arguments that are worth having over the heavy-handedness of the police on this issue, and the quality of information that they're working with. But let's just take a moment, shall we, to consider Pete's particular case?

'Not letting the police do whatever they want' - coupled with a reference to the sixties, this is a clever clarion call to suggest we're dealing with a major human rights abuse here. But are we? If we're going to take more control over the way the police handle their investigations into child porn, shouldn't we perhaps be doing the same with people who decide "Y'know, I'll do some of that investigation myself - I'll buy some pictures off the web and investigate them." Like, erm, Peter claims he was doing. Roger's right, we shouldn't let the "I'm doing a public investigation, let me through" defence to rest unchecked, should we?

'He was treated as though he was guilty of the worst crimes and crucified without a trial by people with no accountability... everything they did to him was appalling.' But the reason why he was treated as though he was guilty was because he held a little press conference to admit he'd subscribed to the sites, and while he didn't have a trial as such, he was given an awful lot of space to put his side of the story, and to explain his actions. The media were incredibly fair to Townshend; a lot fairer than they are to others accused of the same crime. And as for being "treated appallingly", they questioned him and gave him a mild ticking off. They could have done much, much worse to him - they could have proceeded with a prosecution, dragging his hard disk into the public domain, making a high-profile example of him. If convicted, they could have sent him to prison - and you don't need to be told what that could have meant. As it was, they accepted his explanation and treated him lightly. There's a further point here - Daltrey whines about how Townshend was 'convicted' "without a trial"; if he'd really wanted his day in court, he could have simply refused the police caution and got his wish.

Pete Townshend isn't Gary Glitter. But let's not pretend he's a latter-day Nelson Mandela, either.

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