Deborah Orr: Savage scenes outside a courthouse offend the dignity of the justice system

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The Independent Online

The bodies of two young girls, missing for many years, have been found at the former home in Margate of Peter Tobin, who was this week charged with the murder of 15-year-old Vicky Hamilton in 1991. But terrible as it must have been for the child's family, the sights and sounds of her relatives, as they made their presence felt outside Linlithgow Sheriff Court on Wednesday, were distressing and disquieting also.

It is not fashionable to be critical of the conduct of those who are victims of crimes (unless they are the McCanns). On the contrary, the current belief is that the victims of crimes are too little considered in the judicial system in the great rush to provide the perpetrators of misery with fair treatment. A gathering of interested parties offering rough-hewn emotion outside a courtroom is widely read as simply the product of that frustration.

I wish I found it as easy to excuse such behaviour. God knows how terrible it must be to have to cope with the loss of a family member under such circumstances, and maybe hanging around and yelling at the man who is charged with her murder is something that should be tolerated.

But I really find that such behaviour offends against the dignity of justice, and brings a touch of savagery to a process that is designed to protect us from savagery. What is it that the little outbursts of "emotion" that are recorded and reported without much comment really add to any proceedings?

We all understand that people react to being in the centre of ghastly events in different ways. But there is a creeping consensus that suggests that those who prefer not to reveal their emotions in public simply cannot have them.

The reporting of another distressing case this week, in which a nurse injected a friend's baby with insulin and nearly killed him, made much of the family's disappointment at the three-year non-custodial sentence given to Veronica Duncan. She was given a strict probation order, the mitigating circumstances being that her own 16-month-old child had recently died, and that she had suffered an abnormality of grief that amounted to insanity. Her sentence ensures psychiatric treatment and bans her from having unsupervised contact with children under seven. It seems to be a humane response to a complex crime.

Yet much was made in reports of the sentencing of the fact that members of the baby's family were crying with frustration and outrage against the sentence. Would the sentence have been a wiser one if the family were not there, or if the family had not cried? Of course not. These are matters of life and death, too serious for cheap emotionalism. The belief that such events are best mediated through shouts or for crying fits is deeply misguided. But is it challenged less and less.

Wanna be in our gang?

I have no idea who Janice Dickinson is, and still less who her plastic surgeon is. I have no idea how I came to be watching I'm a Celebrity... this week either. It's oddly agreeable to sit around watching a bunch of people sitting around watching the American former model of 53 doing her utmost to look and behave like a spoilt 15-year-old.

There's something quite courageous in Dickinson's Tourettic obnoxiousness, a compulsive honesty that almost has you rooting for her, even though she's clearly "got some issues". Which is code for "off her bleeding head". I loved her comment about the gruesome, bossy PR Lynne Franks. "You know what the women do to the other women in Papua New Guinea? They wait till they're asleep, then they stab them." No, that's not very sisterly, but neither is Franks. She bangs on and on about women's equality, then tries to persuade everyone to be in her gang, not Janice's.

Poor Janice, left, doesn't have a gang, of course, any more than Lynne does. All the halfway normal women are too busy wondering how Marc Bannerman, this year's former EastEnder, managed to get through life thus far without having met a blonde. How did he? It's astonishing.

Road to a new future – or nowhere?

A new road is a rare thing in Scotland, and the new road in Lanarkshire has therefore been christened by common consent as "the new road". The new road is a revelation, because it is the first thing that has been built on the site since the Ravenscraig Steelworks – at one point the largest in the world – was shut down under Thatcher.

As you travel along the new road, you see a number of billboards proclaiming the other new stuff to come – the new site of the Motherwell College campus, a new estate of 892 homes, a new retail development comprising however many units, a new leisure centre – and so on. But that isn't the primary interest, for the locals. What's strange is being in this huge chunk of land that was once peopled only by those who worked there. You could see the Craig sometimes – the top of one hill, ascended by car, would offer a breathtakingly dystopian view of a landscape entirely monochrome apart from the occasional flame of burn-off.

But mainly it was experienced as a hulking great absence. You were hardly aware that it was there, because it was so much a parallel world that you just went round it, without even questioning what it was you were skirting. Now that you can gain access to the land, you see that the whole town is a different shape to the shape you thought it was, a ribbon development curving round the side of this 40-square-mile behemoth that was. It's not comfortable, this feeling, because you see very clearly, before your eyes, how the town grew around the industry, and how the town is expanding now without its own purpose.

It would be wrong to say that people are nostalgic for the past in this part of Scotland, on the whole. But all the family and friends I've travelled over this land with do seem simply awestruck by the transformation, and aware that big as the alterations seem to this part of the world, they are part of something much larger.

* I met the late Norman Mailer, once, which was plenty, and I can relate that for someone who was quite grand anyway, he really did harbour quite dizzying delusions of grandeur. I was heavily pregnant when we were introduced, and somewhat taken aback when he raised his arms above my unborn baby and me, like Christ himself, then offered a booming: "Blessings upon your child. Blessings upon your child." I made my excuses.

The very next day I went into a nightmarish four-day labour, finally delivering a silent sky-blue son with the cord round his neck, who was revived by some of the 40 or so medics my unusual case had by this time attracted.

A less cynical woman, under such circumstances, might have called into question the quality of the blessings. But I'd already decided the only blessing was that that creepy man hadn't actually touched my bump. Weirdo.

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