Thursday 11 December 2014

Christopher Jefferies and the mob

During a New Year's Eve party at the beginning of 2011, a peculiarly irritating fellow guest offered his ill-informed opinion to the others: "Well, I think it was obviously the landlord who did it."

He was talking about the murder of Jo Yeates, and the landlord was then in custody, largely it seems on the grounds that he was a little unusual.  I was horrified by the remark because it seemed to me to be, very quietly, an echo of the mob.  More than a downer on new year's eve.

It is a strange thing when your English teacher, of some decades ago, becomes a household name and gets mini-series about himself.  I haven't seen Christopher Jefferies since I was at university, but the first part of the series last night - which I watched rather guiltily - brought him back in a dramatic and emotional way.

The actor who took the part, Jason Watkins, was not imitating Jefferies, and was actually very different from how I remember him, but he got something of his manner and his humour - and his seriousness.

A say guiltily because, like so many others who had been stretched and inspired by his English teaching, I wrestled with my practical conscience.  It was clearly a gross injustice that he was in custody.  Those who spoke to the press - and I seemed to have known nearly all of them - had their words twisted to suit the agenda, almost whatever their intention.  With one notable exception, they made things worse.  I kept quiet, wondering rather pointlessly what someone like me could do.

But the series, which ends tonight, was moving and subtle and I was very glad I had watched it, though there is an added horror in the way Jo Yeates herself died somehow in the background.  There is a chilling moment as Jefferies was brought into the police station as someone in the background says: "Yeay, they got the landlord!".  I took the following from the first half:

First, I know something from my own experience long ago of finding yourself innocently in a police cell, and the series did communicate some of the extreme alienation this brings.

Second, I personally owe a huge amount to Christopher Jefferies and his colleagues, who taught me about literature three decades ago - and exist in that sense in my inner life - and have taught me enough about how to live that it has lasted me ever since.  As I wrote at the time, those values seemed to have been directly attacked by the press.

Third, the drama show just how much the police were responding to the mob, and the sense that this was a man rather out of the ordinary.  By so doing they wasted resources and wasted time.

The two events of 2011, the arrest of Christopher Jefferies and the riots later in the summer, have begun to intertwine in my head.  It was about what happens when the mob take over.  The police managed eventually to get the looters under control later that year, but I'm not sure they weren't on the wrong side in the Jefferies affair.

When we start arresting people on the grounds that they are different, life becomes not just uncertain - but institutions like the police start working extremely ineffectively.

1 comment:

asquith said...

Remarkable that you knew him! I've never set eyes on him, but it was obvious to me that he was innocent. That person you spoke to, his kind made me an outcast in the "community" I grew up with him, so I felt solidarity with him. As I did with Bijam Ebrahimi, who would make even "better" viewing for the sort of person who needs to be jolted out of complacency.

That is how I knew it to be a hideous miscarriage of justice. I am filled with rage at the thought that it'll happen to some other poor sod.

I don't even know what to do to spare other people further suffering.