People have been trying to hunt down Colin Stagg for years.
The Mail, the Sun... regardless of the facts, they went after him, preying on the details of his unorthodox lifestyle and slavishly sucking the dicks of the coppers who'd tip them the wink on the side that he was a wrongun, never once questioning the non-existent case against him.
But as Boris Johnson pointed out a year ago, when the forensics at last caught up with what everyone really knew all along, it was yet again a case of backwards policing. Come to a conclusion, find someone to fit it and then shoe-horn the evidence in to fit the theory, leaving all those other nagging truths to one side and getting a few tabloid papers on side to do your dirty work for you. It was trial by tabloids and it was an utter disgrace. As Johnson said:
There being no forensic evidence, they were forced to look for likely suspects, and in Colin Stagg they found a man who ideally suited the tabloid agenda. He was runtish and rat-like, and yet also into body-building. He lived on his own. He was given to wearing dodgy-looking singlets and he was a devotee of the ancient pagan religion called Wicca. He had a picture of the Cerne Abbas giant inscribed on a black-painted wall in his flat.
That was enough. The police had found someone who fitted the profile so they went about finding a way to trap him. A woman officer wrote to him undercover, and offered to give him everything he wanted... she only wanted one thing in return. For him to join in with fantasies about knives, and to imagine what it might have been like to kill Rachel Nickell - moreover, if he wasn't that sort of person, she said she couldn't feel close to him. She later fell victim to stress, or what I might like to call 'an attack of conscience'.
Even if Stagg had committed the crime, it would have been appalling. That the trap was used against someone who was completely innocent was reprehensible. But as usual, the tabloids hounded the victim rather than the perpetrators. The police got away with it, the psychologist got away with it, everyone got away with it... including the real killer. As Nick Cohen pointed out, instead of trying to be journalists, the gutter press decided to go and traumatise not only Stagg, by accusing him of guilt, but using the dead woman's relatives to do it.
They haven't learned. They're still out there trying to find a victim, maybe someone who doesn't quite fit into society the same as everyone else - someone to nail. No-one's learned anything. Least of all us as readers.
The hunt of Robert Murat is like the hunt of Colin Stagg. It's like the fitting-up of Barry George and Michael Stone - injustices that would be almost unthinkable without the tabloids acting as willing accomplices, deciding there's nothing wrong with an innocent man being convicted of a crime he didn't do if he's a bit of a weirdo anyway. It's appalling. It's not civilisation. It's targeting the weak people at the fringes of society, often those with mental illness, and telling lies about them to shift a few papers - off the news-stands and off coppers' desks. Anyone who writes these shit-showers for the tabs can't consider themselves a journalist of any description. They should be disgusted by themselves and, rather than acting like kapos and pretending there's nothing they can do, they should challenge those who make the orders. Newspapers don't exist to fit up innocent men.
We get the tabloids we deserve. If people really stopped buying these shit-rags when they told lie after lie after lie, when they protected the greedy and attacked the vulnerable, when they ignored the truth in search of a good story, then maybe the market forces so beloved of their proprietors might make them actually check their facts and give a shit about the fact they're ruining people's lives. Until then, there will be another Colin Stagg. And another. And another. And another. And forensics won't always be there to get them off the hook.