This was on “This Morning”, a chat show that goes out on weekday mornings on ITV1, earlier today (Wednesday): Carol Malone, a tabloid newspaper columnist, gave her judgement on the family of which six children were murdered last Friday in a fire started by pouring petrol through their letterbox. The family had been featured on TV in 2007 when the father, Mick Philpott, had appealed to the local council for a bigger house to accommodate his wife, girlfriend and 14 children. It appeared the girlfriend moved out recently and may have been arrested as a suspect, but reports over the weekend said that a man and a woman had been released without charge.
So, well before this government came to power, the Philpotts were being presented as an example of a benefits culture gone to extremes, and Malone made much of this when she said that they had “became a target a couple of years ago” and “had many enemies … and probably upset a lot of people at the time”. She also said that the family’s situation was “an accident waiting to happen; there’s a lot of resentment out there for families exactly like this, especially now when the country’s in the state it’s in and there’s not much money; I think people have seen families like this one to be taking advantage”. When the presenter pointed out that when someone pours accelerant through the letterbox and causes a fatal fire, it’s not an accident, it’s murder, she replied, “I kind of mean about the culture of the family and that they consistently did interviews about their situation, they bring attention to themselves, and the tragedy, this is what’s happened”.
It’s really only speculation that the murder of these children was in any way connected to their media appearances which were five years ago, not “a couple” of years ago as Malone said, but her tone really suggests that they brought it on themselves by being such a bunch of dole-scrounging wasters which, in light of the fact that someone has massacred the children, is rather poor taste. We have absolutely no idea why the arsonist started that fire, and we are unlikely to know until we know who did it — it could be for reasons entirely unrelated to that. Of course, with his lifestyle he is bound to have attracted some public hostility, but it would in no way justify anyone setting his house on fire while he and his children are asleep in it. If it turns out to have had anything to do with anger over his lifestyle, it might be asked what influence the repeated newspaper stories about “scroungers” had on the perpetrators.
This is a new kind of victim-blaming — normally, it consists of people blaming someone for an act of violence perpetrated against them, because of behaviour of some sort that did not hurt the attacker. This time, they blame him for someone else’s murder of his children. It’s disgusting. This was not a bit of name-calling in the street. It was a multiple murder.
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