I don't want to pick on the Mail. Oh, who am I kidding? Why shouldn't I pick on the Mail? They pick on everyone else.
In fact, there's a very good reason for picking on the Mail: compassion-vacuum Mail hack Allison Pearson said this week, in a shamefully self-aggrandising blob of glibness, said that it was important to be judgmental; more than that, that if we're not judgmental enough, then tragedies will happen. Pearson's argument was that, unless we're judgmental about people and slag them off, then bad things will happen. A highly convenient conclusion to reach for someone who spends their career slagging people off, you might point out, but nevertheless, let's take it at face value.
Let's see if a judgmental attitude towards the now deceased TV presenter Mark Speight helped him in his hour of grief and misery, or whether it might have made him feel worse. Needless to say I won't prejudge any inquest, unlike the tabs, who have the facts of this incident all sewn up - as far as they're concerned - thanks to a nod and a wink from a friendly copper in exchange for a few quid.
When Speight's fiancee Natasha Collins was found dead at their home, the Mail was quick to bury his career:
Speight's career is in tatters with little chance of him returning to the BBC, insiders said yesterday.
Even if the CBBC star is cleared of any wrongdoing over the death from an apparent cocaine overdose of his girlfriend Natasha Collins, he is unlikely to work as a presenter again.
Thanks to an 'insider' for the info there. A knowledgeable 'insider' who really knew, or just an unnamed BBC source who wasn't aware of any decisions which had been made so that the Mail would have a quote to bulk out the story? What effect might reading something like that have on Speight himself, if he had been unfortunate enough to have picked up the Daily Mail, particularly if he had been told no such thing by his BBC bosses?
The Mail certainly didn't know what had killed Collins, at one point quoting a bonkers theory that she had died as a result of an allergic reaction to medicine - yes, they were prejudging the verdict of an inquest, as they frequently do. What they did know was that drugs were involved, and there was therefore blood in the water. They were happy to pap Speight for no reason whatsoever, intruding in his private life at a time of grief and misery for him and his family.
The inquest revealed what actually happened - Collins had taken a large amount of cocaine, alcohol and a sleeping pill and had fallen asleep in a scalding bath. A verdict of misadventure was recorded. Speight was papped outside court with pictures the Mail happily paid for, and then it let loose its readers to deliver their own stinging verdict:
Hopefully this will end the career of the drug-taking piece of garbage!
- Andy L, St Helens, Lancashire, UK
When are we going to see people who indulge in illegal drug taking charged with drug offences? Their joint "activities" directly lead to this woman's death.
- Tony, London
Why did the BBC have a couple of junkies presenting childrens' tv programmes? Aren't these people vetted?
- Rose, Co Cork, Ireland
What sad young people who feel the need to conduct their lives in this destructive way. I feel sorry for the family. Let's hope this puts pay to Mark's drug habit.
- Victoria, Leeds, UK
I am amazed that the mother of this tragic young woman wants anything to do with her fiancé. While he was cleared of deliberately causing her death, it was the empty, druggy lifestyle they shared together that led to her terrible death in a scalding hot bath. When will people learn there is nothing glamorous about cocaine? It is the drug of choice for media types, but it is every bit as squalid and dangerous as heroin.
- Lisa, London
The Mailites didn't show a great deal of sympathy at this time when the family were going through enormous grief. How would it have felt for Speight, or Collins's family, to have read these comments? Is it just OK to have this kind of bullying, nasty comments aimed at the recently deceased and people who are going through a terrible tragedy? Is that what reader interaction is all about - giving a platform for witless loons to spout forth on subjects that are intensely painful and miserable for those human beings involved? Is there any compassion at all, or is it just the case that we should hang these people out to dry because they're in the public eye? There are dozens of inquests every week up and down the country; most aren't covered by the press at all. Why must the relatives of famous people have to suffer all this intrusion when their loved ones have died? Whose needs does it serve? How does it benefit anyone at all?
Think those comments couldn't get any nastier or self-righteous? Think again...
Why are these junkies paid so much to 'entertain' our kids?
How is it that they are all above the law?
This country persists in locking up little old ladies protesting about exorbitant council tax increases and yet these people break the law with complete impunity.
- Colin Camper, Blackpool
Death by stupidity.
- Eric, UK
I bet they both smoked cannabis earlier in their lives. These stupid people never learn they do not realise how dangerous these drugs are. Try to talk sense to them all they say that "you are so square". I know I have tried to, with no avail. They tell you that they just it for recreation and are not addicted. Bosh!. Suddenly it's too late.
- Jean Kaye, Boynton Beach, Florida, U.S.A.
Idiot! That applies to them both. Wonder if he now thinks twice before getting out of his skull. Somehow I doubt it. Really does make me pity those people whose lives are so pathetic that they have to take drugs to enhance it. Sad.
- Welsh Woman, Wales
Rose is quite right. Pity that Natasha died, but do we really want people like this presenting programmes to our children?
- Nicholas Lee, Windsor, UK
The evils of drugs take no prisoners in this society - anyone that dabbles or is addicted runs the risk of losing the ultimate gift - their life! It's a high price to pay for a few hours of so-called pleasure! Lessons should be learnt from this and every tragedy to do with drugs and drink!
- Helen Dickinson, Deddington Oxfordshire
I cant feel sorry for this young woman. Very silly girl who paid with her life. When will these youngsters learn?
- Jean, Bucks
I am amazed that there are people who still think it is nothing to destroy your life because of taking drugs. To some of you some of us do not think we have to take drugs to enjoy life. I would not want to be of the mindset where I would think it is a bit of a laugh a bit of fun and no concern of anyone else whether or not I take drugs. My God what a generation of wasters.
- Anne, Calgary, Canada
I have no sympathy.
- Lynsey, York
Natasha Collins' life was not "cut short" - she cut it short.
Our lives are our own from which to learn. The rest is up to God.
- Jesse, USA
Read that and tell me how you might feel if you were Speight or one of Collins's relatives. All these self-appointed sanctimonious experts getting a free hit at you.
The Mail was, however, given an interview with Collins's mother, who had taken in Mark Speight after the death of her daughter. Tastefully in such a sensitive story, Collins didn't even have a name in the headline: she was just 'BBC drugs death girl'.
Was there an agenda at work, even in that piece? Was it an agenda against drugs?
To this day nobody knows how much cocaine Natasha took or how often. Nor can anyone say how her life would have turned out had she not suffered such a serious road accident.
At the inquest it was revealed that Natasha had a hole in her septum about half-an-inch long – a sign of prolonged drug abuse – although while she was in intensive care she was fed via a tube through her nose which may also have caused the damage.
One thing, however, is certain and it is the devastation that her death has caused.
Carmen says: "Natasha lost her life, I lost a beautiful daughter, Kirsty and Jason a beautiful sister, her aunts and uncles their lovely niece. And Mark has lost his fiancee – and his future – so it's a lesson. Don't do drugs, don't even dabble. It's just too much of a risk."
Of course, drugs were the cause of her death: if she hadn't taken them, she would still be alive. But, as with any death, there are always ifs and buts. If things had gone differently on that night, she would still be alive, despite having taken a considerable amount of drugs. That's the story you never read about - all those thousands of people who take drugs of every kind every day, and carry on as normal. What you read about is drugs are bad, mmkay; taking them and living life is not possible. The moralising newspapers must make this clear to you whenever they can.
Something to remember from this article, which I'll bring up again a bit later:
Further tragedy struck the following summer. Natasha won her first big break with a major role in the Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks. That night she had been out celebrating when a car hit her as she crossed the Seven Sisters Road in North London. The driver had not been drinking but was thought to be speeding. He admitted he should have seen Natasha but didn't. Carmen arrived at the Whittington Hospital in London to find her daughter in intensive care. It must have been a particularly harrowing experience for Carmen – she had already lost a son, Shane, in a road accident when he was just two. He and his mother were knocked over while walking across a zebra crossing.
Incidentally, that article came out on April 7. That was the same day Mark Speight went missing. The Mail mentioned his disappearance and, of course, even though a 'vulnerable' man was missing and distraught, didn't think twice about allowing the numpties off the internet to give him both barrels:
Police have described Mark Speight as "vulnerable". I understand he has been through a terrible ordeal, but lets not forget it WAS self-inflicted.
- A. M., Dorset, UK
Ouch. Remember, this is a missing man, vulnerable and therefore at risk of possibly doing harm to himself. Is it OK to just allow internet comments pontificating about such a person's lifestyle? Is that all right? If they then go and do harm to themselves, can we just say, well, the PCC doesn't say we can't, therefore we will? Does that mean we've done nothing wrong? Does that mean we're blameless?
Many commenters did attack 'AM' of Dorset for his views. And a majority wished him well and hoped he would be back safely. But do depressed and distressed people look at things objectively and with balance, or seek out negative messages? What might Speight have thought if he had seen these messages?
Let this be an example for all those youngsters and celebrities who think taking drugs is fun and recreational. It is NOT and many people suffer including the families left behind.
- Pam, chard
I do have sympathy for Mark Speight and more particularly for Natasha Collins' family, however I can't help thinking; what did he expect? Those strong drugs are lethally dangerous and any grown person has to be aware of that. I hope he turns up and makes a good recovery, he owes it to Natasha's memory.
- Rose, Co Cork, Ireland
This is so sad. I grew up watching Mark Speight, and never imagined that this would end up happening. I really feel for Mark and Natasha's family, and hope that he is found safe and well. Being a teenager myself, I know people who think drugs are acceptable. I just hope they see these cases and realise that NO drugs are acceptable or "cool."
- Rachel, Romford, Essex
I sincerely hope he is safe and recovers from all of this but I can't help my pity being tinged with anger. My children know these two through the TV, what an example. All this tragedy and upset is awful, the families must be suffering greatly. Let's hope lessons are learnt.
- Mandy, Sheffield, UK
When drugs come in the door - common sense flies out the window!
- Skippy, England
I agree with A.M. No one forced either Mark or Natasha to take "recreational" drugs. To play with fire and not expect to get seriously burnt is naive. Life's actions have consequences, especially when they are reckless. My sympathy lies with the families - no further. Hopefully, a few people will learn a lesson here and either seek treatment or not get started on this downward spiral to hell to begin with.
- Sandi, Edinburgh
Oh silly man, many of us have gone through the same problem, and pulled ourselves up and got on with life. Stop being selfish.
- Karen, USA
People have to live by their own actions - Mark Speight included. They both knew the dangers of taking drugs but chose to ignore these - instead enjoyed a 'fun' evening.
Wise after the event - but obviously not before.
- Jan, North Oxfordshire
There is no redemption here. No happy endings.
- Simon, Dawlish
This is a great tragedy and this man must be full of remorse. But why oh why, do young people think that drugs are 'cool' for heaven's sake? It's not as if they didn't know the dangers!
- Anon, Haywards Heath, W.Sussex
I have a feeling he wont be found alive. He's too depressed and he just seems to be getting worse. My heart goes out to the poor guy and both of the families involved.
- Jules, Birmingham
Lessons will be learned from this. We all know the dangers of drink and drugs. They are no different to other celebrities who choose to take these substances and never get caught. I pray Mark returns and has the strength to move forward.
- Helen, Newcastle., Newcastle Upon Tyne
I find the comment about 'I have a feeling he won't be found alive' particularly disgusting. But here are people doing what Allison Pearson said was so right and so correct: they're being judgmental. 'Skippy' also imagines that Mark Speight may have left the country 'to avoid media intrusion', while contributing to that intrusion himself. This brave new world of citizen journalism needs a bit of fine-tuning, doesn't it? Or is this all right? Is it fair to slag someone off when they're mentally unstable and possibly going to harm themselves? Is that all right, if you're some bloke off the internet without command of the facts? Must we just allow everyone to say everything they want, regardless of the impact it might have? Is that all right? Is that OK? Is that acceptable?
Then came the news of Speight's death - the Mail of course want to get in first, before an inquest, just as they did with Collins, and assume they know what the cause of death was. Of course, there were features ready to go in the event of Speight's body being found, and here's one of them:
How ultimately cocaine killed Mark Speight, just as it killed Natasha Collins
It ends like this:
The sad truth is that Natasha's was an altogether ordinary death.
Just another depressing statistic emanating from the explosion of cocaine use blighting Britain.
The numbers do not lie: In 1993, when records began, there were 11 deaths from cocaine in England and Wales. By 2006 - the most recent year for which figures are available - that number had risen to 190.
When the next batch of statistics is compiled, Speight's death will not be registered as drug related.
But as Carmen Collins has learned through bitter experience, in the end it was cocaine which killed him, just as surely as it claimed the life of her beloved daughter.
There's the agenda again: drugs are bad, mmkay. Now, earlier on I flagged up a bit in the previous Mail article about road accidents: Natasha Collins's brother was killed in a road accident, and she suffered a particularly bad road accident which made her feel she couldn't continue working, and may have led to her taking drugs in the first place. So you could easily write 'it was a road accident that killed her, just as it killed her brother'.
And those statistics? 190 people died in 2006 from cocaine. From road accidents? 3,172. Yet which appears to be the greater danger if you read the Mail? But then, the Mail runs adverts for companies who help you when you've been caught speeding, offer you radar detectors or give you a 'dodge speed cameras' guide. So I guess it's a no-brainer as to which one's the bogeyman.
What a sad, sad business. Does being judgmental make the slightest bit of difference? Does it stop a tragedy from happening? If someone had slagged off these two people for taking cocaine, would it have changed these terrible events or stopped them from happening? Yet they were subject to vitriol for their drug use; Natasha Collins after she had died, and had no way of answering back, and Mark Speight, when he was in a vulnerable and miserable state of mind. What a horrible, horrible last few weeks he must have had. My only hope is that he didn't read a newspaper or visit a news website. Not that any of those shits could care less.