The seventh circle of Dewsbury

Abductors, bombers, kids hanged from trees, crucified men... apparently Dewsbury has them all. Or is the media just making it up?

Ed Barrett

Topics Politics

‘It has become the town that dare not speak its name’, announced the UK Daily Mirror amidst the unfurling of the details around the abduction of nine-year-old Shannon Matthews. ‘People outside must shudder at the thought of living in or even visiting Dewsbury in West Yorkshire. It has become a byword for everything that is bad about Britain – the Dewsbury bomber, the veil row, the toddler who nearly died after being strung up from a tree, the story of a man crucified… and now the Shannon Matthews saga.’

Strong words. But what of those who live in Dewsbury, England – do they shudder, too? The Mirror has tracked down one (anonymous) resident. ‘I’m ashamed to say I’m from Dewsbury’, he told the paper. ‘Now, I say I’m from Leeds instead. It’s horrible living here.’

He’s not happy, then. Fair enough. But take another look at that first paragraph of the Mirror‘s story. In particular, the bit that says people ‘must shudder’. Is that an opinion or an order? A bit of both, it seems. The Mirror appears to have reached an opinion, and now it is ordering us to follow its lead.

So what is the basis of the case against Dewsbury? What are we to make of the list of charges that sum up ‘everything that is bad about Britain’?

It’s true that Dewsbury resident Mohammed Sidique Khan was one of the four suicide bombers who attacked London on 7 July 2005. As far as I am aware, though, he is the only bomber in history to hail from the town.

It’s also true that there was a well-publicised controversy involving Headfield Church of England Junior School, which banned a Muslim pupil from wearing the veil at school. But there have been other equally high-profile veil controversies involving – to name but a few – Ann Cryer, MP for Keighley, Jack Straw, MP for Blackburn, and Ken Livingstone, mayor of London. There is no reason to single out Dewsbury for sparking controversies involving Muslims when dozens of other towns have hit the headlines for similar reasons in our Islam-obsessed times.

Next up is the case of the Dewsbury toddler ‘who nearly died after being strung up from a tree’ – a legend right up there with the monkey hanged has a French spy. In 2005, a Times (London) report spoke of a Dewsbury boy’s ‘confusing and bizarre accounts of what had happened’ to him. He originally said that he had been strung up and beaten with sticks and nettles. In another interview, the boy said he had thought he was in the jungle with monkeys surrounding him. He said he was cut down with a pair of scissors.Police arrested five children on suspicion of abducting the boy and hanging him from a tree. They pressed for charges of attempted murder, and the newspapers were full of lurid stories.

It eventually transpired that a 12-year-old girl had acted alone, and that a lynching would therefore have been practically impossible. The girl had not abducted the toddler; she had tied him to a tree with a piece of wire around his neck to stop him following her. The girl was convicted of causing actual bodily harm, and of attempting to pervert the course of justice. The court, however, ruled that she should not be detained. Yet that was not the end of the matter as far as the media were concerned. As Mick Hume wrote on spiked at the time: ‘Even when the case finally finished… many reports still talked about a hanging.’ (See Why do we believe these anti-human horror stories?, by Mick Hume.)

Three years later, it seems reports are talking about it still – as ‘evidence’ of how horrible Dewsbury is.

What, then, of the ‘story of a man crucified’? The operative word is ‘story’. There were indeed reports of a man nailed to a piece of wood during the Shannon Matthews hunt – the implication clearly being that this was some sort of mob retribution. But police explicitly denied any link to the case. They described the incident as ‘minor’ and said no one had been arrested. ‘We are investigating an assault on a 43-year-old man which came in just after 11pm on Sunday’, a spokesman told the Yorkshire Post. ‘He was not believed to have been seriously injured.’

The Mirror does, admittedly, refer to this case as a ‘story’. Given the context, however, this is not so much a qualification as a weasel word. It is employed, not to alert us to the fact that it refers to a rumour, but to downplay this very fact, and thus allow the tale to be repeated once again – it gives the impression that this is a news story.

Finally, there’s ‘the Shannon Matthews saga’ (a saga that the Mirror has of course done nothing to worsen or inflame). What exactly has this got to do with Dewsbury, apart from geographical coincidence? What do the actions of a handful of people involved in this case have to do with the 50,000-plus other residents in the town?

Not a lot, one might think. But apparently the link is significant enough for the Daily Mirror. For the Mirror, it’s not enough to turn personal tragedies into public entertainment. Not when you can condemn a whole community into the bargain.

The Mirror, it is worth remembering, likes nothing better than to talk up its tradition as the tabloid with integrity and strong news values. It’s hard to see how the paper can carry on paying lip service to this self-serving myth while it continues to ladle out this kind of slop.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, the cynics used to say. Nowadays, many journalists don’t even seem to be acquainted with the facts in the first place. Judging by the rubbish that passes for reporting in the Mirror, and elsewhere in the media as reporters have rushed to condemn Dewsbury following the Shannon saga, the average hack wouldn’t know the truth if it poked him in the eye and nailed him to a cross.

Ed Barrett writes for Anorak.

Previously on spiked

Tim Black compared the media coverage of the Madeleine McCann and Shannon Matthews cases. Mick Hume said the Shannon Matthews case has been turned into a public exhibition of prole porn. He wondered why we seem so ready to believe the worst of others these days. Josie Appleton looked into what was behind the battle of Lozells Or read more at spiked issue Modern Life.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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