London Metropolitan Police Commissioner 'Sir' Ian Blair has been taking some flack for his comments on the Soham murders (the murder by Ian Huntley of ten-year-old Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, a small town in Cambridgeshire, England, on August 4, 2002.).
He was quickly forced to apologise for saying that "almost nobody" could understand why the Soham murders became "the biggest story in Britain". His assertion was that the media is institutionally racist, and generally gives far greater coverage to murders involving white victims.
Excluding a couple of celebrated cases, he was absolutely correct. But I think the coverage of the Soham murders was based in something a little different.
I understand exactly why the story gained the profile it did. There is a dark and well-fed hunger for stories of sexual violence and sex crimes, especially involving minors or young girls, in the UK (as I'd imagine, in most other places). It dresses itself as well-meaning concern and outrage, but it's based in a prurience which is unhealthily voyeuristic.
It's quite clear that one question runs through many minds - what would it be like to do that, if they were less conventianal, less scared of consequences. So they dress up in an anger and outrage which is commonly fed by the very same pages that give them near-naked teenage girls to ogle, and it all blends and festers in the darker corners of their being.
Sometimes it bursts out into acts violence, not usually the acts they secretly and furtively turn over in their minds - sometimes in acts of violence against family, sometimes against outsiders. And sometimes in the very lynch mobs invoked by the media, where they find an opportunity to demonstrate publicly their moral rectitude. And sometimes merely in the assertion of violent opinions (castrate them, hang them etc) on the subject.
Occasionally it erupts into the act itself. I know police professionals are well aware of this transitional moment. Which is why I find Blair's professed puzzlement unbelievable, and don't understand his reluctance to continue the argument.
So he's left the field open to the most appalling examples of what I'm talking about - these people demonstrating their moral rectitude and outrage. But underneath, something dark slithers.