Saturday 23 April 2011
Richard Ingrams: Campaigners need to be as obsessive as Ron Smith
How much simpler life would be, the historian A J P Taylor wrote, "if the victims of injustice were more attractive characters." He could well have been thinking of Ron Smith, who has died aged 83, but who has yet to be given the obituary he undoubtedly deserved.
Smith was, as he himself admitted, "a cantankerous bastard", a former policeman from Leeds who lived the last 30 years of his life obsessed by the death of his daughter Helen, a young nurse who died after apparently falling off a balcony in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 1979.
The Saudi police and the UK Foreign Office did everything possible to obstruct Mr Smith as he struggled to uncover the true facts about his daughter's death. But he persevered and eventually a full-scale inquest was held in Leeds, at which it was convincingly argued that Helen had been murdered, and her body dumped in the street.
Nonetheless, the jury returned an open verdict, and the truth of what happened will probably never be known.
Cantankerous and obsessive Smith may well have been, but his fight for justice should inspire others – people like Mrs Sheila Blanco, whose son Mark also "fell off a balcony" in December 2006 after a scrap with the rock singer Pete Doherty. That death, too, remains a mystery.
How much power does Eady think he has?
The legal expression contra mundum is a new one on me, and though my Latin is rusty I remember enough to be able to translate it as meaning "against the world".
The Latin tag has come to light as a result of one of Mr Justice Eady's recent orders preventing the publication of scandalous material in order to protect the privacy of an unknown but allegedly rich and famous claimant.
It will be news to many people, as it is to me, that a judge sitting in a British court thinks he is able to silence the press not only in this country but throughout the world.
Is it possible that the unseasonally hot weather we have been enjoying has resulted in the judge showing symptoms of mild cognitive impairment?
We have it on the authority of the great Beachcomber that justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be believed. What is extraordinary in this debate about a privacy law is the way the judges, like Eady, can do little to prevent the identities of those bringing superinjunctions from being bandied about all over the internet.
If you can be bothered you can quite quickly find the names of celebrities and read all kinds of nasty things about them.
If you don't sell books with love, you'll lose out
There will be plenty of excuses for the decline and fall of the bookshop chain of Waterstone's, which is now up for sale. The internet is to blame, some will say. Others will put it down to the coming of the Kindle, while predicting the eventual extinction of all books.
The truth is that, once again, monopoly has been shown to be an inefficient and in the end disastrous way of doing business.
There are Waterstone's bookshops on almost every high street in the country, and because of the company's monopoly position, it has been able to demand from publishers bigger and bigger discounts, making them pay large sums to have their books displayed in the shop windows. And yet in spite of all these advantages, it didn't work.
It didn't work for the simple reason that bookselling is not something that can be run by computers in a central room.
How is it that in spite of the competition from Waterstone's – its discounted prices and its three-for-two offers – small independent bookshops are still able to keep their heads above water?
The simple answer is that they are run by people who know about books and who know about their customers.
And the books in the window are there because the bookseller thinks the public might like to read them, not because the publisher has paid him to put them there.
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