The Lynch Mob Culture Sweeping the Land Now Threatens All We Hold Dear

Daily Mail (London), November 9, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Lynch Mob Culture Sweeping the Land Now Threatens All We Hold Dear


Byline: Max Hastings

UNTIL the Fifties, the lynch mob was one of the ugliest aspects of American life.

In segregated Southern states, whites seized victims -- almost invariably black men accused of raping or merely behaving disrespectfully towards white women -- and hanged them.

The supposed offenders, who early in the last century were numbered in hundreds, were often later found to be innocent. But by then they were dead, and, anyway, only a few liberal do-gooders cared.

Today, in Britain, we are in danger of reviving that repugnant culture.

Almost daily we see terrible charges laid against both the living and the dead, broadcast through social media, inflicting grievous pain on a host of people, some of whom have done nothing wrong at all, while others have done nothing so base as to deserve public branding.

It happens in flagrant defiance of libel and slander law, without obligation to produce a shred of proof. This week, a senior Labour politician killed himself, having been suspended by the Welsh government following unspecified allegations of sexual harassment. Carl Sargeant, 49, had told friends that, since the nature of the charges had not been disclosed to him, he felt unable to offer any defence.

I know nothing of the misdeeds Sargeant may, or may not, have committed. But it seems profoundly shocking that he should have been driven to take his own life, without the allegations being revealed. His family say they concerned 'unwanted attention, touching and groping'.

It is only the most dramatic of a long succession of brutal claims: people -- including children -- are daily sentenced to public embarrassment or outright disgrace, without examination of evidence, or a jury's verdict.

In 2012, Lord McAlpine, a former Tory treasurer, was falsely alleged by BBC2's Newsnight -- though at first not named -- to be a child abuser. The Commons Speaker's wife, Sally Bercow, had to pay PS15,000 damages for joining the odious persecution of McAlpine which went viral on social media.

Hounding McAlpine gave the money to the Chelsea Pensioners, shortly before his 2014 death, which friends said had been hastened by this wicked libel.

Meanwhile, BBC presenter Mark Lawson, a fine broadcaster, was summarily dismissed in 2014 from a longserving role on Radio 4's Front Row arts programme for alleged 'bullying' of colleagues, after which he suffered a nervous breakdown.

People who should have known better, some seemingly motivated by personal grudges, joined a witch-hunt against him on Twitter and Facebook.

I have written about the appalling treatment of Field-Marshal Lord Bramall and the late Edward Heath. It seems extraordinary that former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe should recently have been granted a peerage, given his role in hounding Bramall -- an investigation worthy of East Germany's Stasi.

It is even more appalling that Wiltshire's chief constable, Mike Veale, is said to be planning a handsomely pensioned retirement, after smearing the long-deceased Edward Heath.

Mr Veale brought public disgust upon himself by announcing that, had Heath still been alive, he would have been interviewed under caution, despite his force's inquiry having failed to find a wisp of plausible evidence of wrongdoing.

What is happening to us, as a society? How can people -- never mind the police -- treat fellow citizens, living or dead, with such cruelty? Do we no longer care for the great principle of 'innocent until proven guilty'? Social media bears a huge responsibility -- it makes possible the propagation of outrageous charges, without accusers being identified or needing to justify themselves, far less of the laws of slander or libel being invoked.

Some years ago, I received a letter from a man with whom I was at Charterhouse School, then serving a prison sentence for sexual offences. …

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