Innocent until proven guilty

March 11, 2004 ,

I OFTEN pass Paddington Green Police Station in London. Despite its name, it is a concrete building next to a bleak dual carriageway flyover.

All this week journalists and photographers have been camped outside, straining for a glimpse of the young men inside.

Meanwhile in Spain, a similar scene has been played out in La Manga.

In both cases young men from the Midlands were the object of this attention; but for very different reasons.

One group had just returned to Britain after spending 2 years in the American detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

They were held there without charge, having been apprehended by American forces in Afghanistan.

The young men in Spain are professional footballers from Leicester, accused of sexual assault.

The stories of these two groups tell us a lot about modern society in Britain.
The young Muslim men have been released without charge.
They had travelled to Afghanistan where a fundamentalist regime had harboured Osama Bin Laden.

But other young men from Britain have acted as suicide bombers in Israel, and been killed fighting in Chechnya.

The charges against the footballers follow a series of similar accusations of sexual assault.

These cases remind us of the dangers of a society which worships celebrity and gives the impression that the rich and famous can get away with anything; and also the dangerous influence of religious fundamentalism on the minds of young men with their hearts on fire.

But in both cases one of our society’s permanent values should be remembered particularly by the media pursuing these young men.
The accused should be presumed innocent until proven guilty is a right we should all defend.

Trial by media is no more reliable than the medieval practice of drowning witches; and just as unlikely to produce justice.