On a slow news day, it's open season on Hooray Hewitt for media vultures

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The Independent Online

A brave new force is out on the mean streets of Notting Hill, fighting crime, protecting the decent folk, bringing villains to justice and generally cleaning up. His name is Dennis Gill, he's "completely against drugs" and he's the freelance photographer who on Thursday engineered and documented the arrest of James Hewitt and his companion, the television presenter Alison Bell.

A brave new force is out on the mean streets of Notting Hill, fighting crime, protecting the decent folk, bringing villains to justice and generally cleaning up. His name is Dennis Gill, he's "completely against drugs" and he's the freelance photographer who on Thursday engineered and documented the arrest of James Hewitt and his companion, the television presenter Alison Bell.

No one, surely, can doubt Mr Gill's heroic commitment to ridding London of wrongdoing. But while Mr Gill proved himself to be a zealously active citizen, the sad fact is that when he needed back-up, the police were reluctant to oblige.

"Gill did not hesitate to call 999," the Daily Mirror reported yesterday (although Gill clearly hesitated long enough to take a few possibly incriminating snaps). "However the photographer claimed that despite the call, and another to emergency services an hour later, officers did not respond."

How frustrating it must have been for Gill, as he sat around watching Hewitt's party drinking and allegedly going to the lavatory to take cocaine. Not until he called the local police did he prompt any action - satisfyingly, he eventually managed to alert "about six plain-clothed officers and two uniformed police".

Thank goodness for that, eh? For without the intervention of the rozzers, all Gill would have had to offer the press for his trouble would have been some pictures of Hewitt out on a bender. While the media may love to hate him, even they can't wring too big a story from that. As it is, Hewitt is silly-season magic, a media-classified non-person, for whom no humiliation is too great, handed over on a plate to his tormentors.

How this sad creature must yearn to understand what has become of his life. How he must struggle to comprehend why it is that none of the free-and-easy modern rules apply when it comes to him.

Why is it that James Hewitt must spend the rest of his life being vilified for attempting to sell his story to the press, when all around him others are making a quick buck out of exposing the self-same material? Why is it, more to the point, okay to stalk him for days and weeks because of his old connection with Diana Windsor, when it is broadly agreed that this sort of thing eventually led to the woman's untimely death?

No doubt Mr Hewitt cannot answer these questions, because he is not a man who seems either clever or subtle. Instead, he seems lost, an idiot out of his depth in a society he doesn't understand. The really awful thing is that this is probably the common experience that drew him and Diana together in this first place.

Of course it is Hewitt's own fault that he indulged in risky behaviour in public with another high-profile person. But the glee with which his childish, silly misdemeanours are splashed about as if they mean something, is foul. The idea that the emergency services should be ashamed that they didn't respond to a freelancer as he created a story about a drunk hooray being arrested for cocaine use, is laughable. The fact that no fewer than eight police officers eventually became available to oblige Mr Gill is the real shocker.

Mr Hewitt's story - of a former Gulf War soldier who cannot settle in any way to civilian life - is repeated to various degrees all over the country and all over the world. This story has been around as long as people have. James Hewitt is a tawdry specimen of humanity, to be sure. But the vultures waiting around to exploit this disaster-area of a man are far more despicable than he is.

¿ Can Hewitt really be blamed for the run of bad luck that his post-Diana life has become? You'd have to be a block of stone to be impervious to that kind of emotional fall-out. Or is even a block of stone no match for Diana's restless karma? And is this why her memorial fountain has managed to hospitalise three people in as many weeks?

¿ The Trade and Industry Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, the Solicitor General, Harriet Harman, and the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, are rumoured to be demanding an all-woman shortlist in the forthcoming Hartlepool by-election. The story is that the three women are furious that male candidates were selected to stand in both Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill, and have decided that enough is enough.

This is easy enough to believe, as they have never tried to hide the fact that they are unreconstructed feminists of the old school, who believe the only thing wrong with women is that they're not enough like men, and the only thing right with men is that they bear a small resemblance to women.

But what is harder to believe is that they're willing to insist that only a sister can experience the hell that will be the Hartlepool by-election. If Peter Mandelson's move to Europe stands for anything, it is how New Labour is perceived as being willing to manipulate any situation in order to get the result it wants. If an all-women shortlist comes in to play here, it will only confirm that the perception is not unwarranted.

Anyway, Mr Blair's closest colleague has abandoned his constituency for high office abroad because he proved twice that he could not conduct himself in a manner befitting a member of the Cabinet. How odd that these three female Cabinet ministers insist that only a woman should suffer the voter fallout from that.

¿ Good news for those sugar-pushing marketing executives at Sunny Delight, who have been a little worried that after all these years, they might have to start picking on someone their own size and seeking out a more adult audience.

Ofcom, the media regulator, has decided that all food and drink manufacturers can carry on targeting their advertising at children, even though the pester power this unleashes is cited by parents as one reason why the children of the nation are turning into a frightening huddle of sports-gear-clad behemoths.

The reason behind this decision is that the advertisements don't have a decisive effect on childhood obesity, whatever the parents say. Unhealthy eating and lack of exercise, says Ofcom, remain the actual culprits. The message is that we should all stop drinking Sunny Delight, then wait for the advertisements to dry up shortly afterwards. Counter-intuitive. But brilliant. No?

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