This country makes no sense

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The Independent Online

How long do you have to be out of the country before you can return to find a Britain that doesn't make any sense at all? The answer, it appears is about two-and-a half weeks, although it probably helps that certain aspects of the life of this nation baffle me at the best of times. I went on holiday on the day after Sarah Payne's body was found, and received my update on "the story" in the form of a copy of The Mirror kindly placed on my plane seat for the journey home.

How long do you have to be out of the country before you can return to find a Britain that doesn't make any sense at all? The answer, it appears is about two-and-a half weeks, although it probably helps that certain aspects of the life of this nation baffle me at the best of times. I went on holiday on the day after Sarah Payne's body was found, and received my update on "the story" in the form of a copy of The Mirror kindly placed on my plane seat for the journey home.

The front page of The Mirror informed me that the newspaper backed "Sarah's law", which as I'm sure all Independent readers are aware, is a version of Megan's Law in the US. Megan's Law came into effect after a little girl was raped and murdered by a paedophile who had become a neighbour of this child without the knowledge of her parents. Megan's Law now ensures that the police inform parents confidentially if a paedophile moves into the area, so that the parents can protect their child against them.

There has been much discussion in Britain about Megan's Law and whether it has been as effective as is sometimes claimed. The answer appears to be no. Not only has the law sometimes inspired vigilante action, in some cases against innocent people, but it also encourages paedophiles to go "underground".

Some commentators here have dared to note that all this may be irrelevant anyway, as no one actually knows whether Sarah's killer was in fact a paedophile with a record in the first place. But what strikes me about all of this debate is that no one seems to have spotted the supreme logical flaw in any ideas about the relevance to Sarah's case that such an action may or may not have.

So can I ask this question. How on earth would a system which warned parents that paedophiles lived near them have helped Sarah while she was playing near her grandparents house? She was not playing near her home. It is most unlikely that Sarah was killed by anyone from her own neighbourhood. Events have most bitterly confirmed that she was safer around the home of her parents, than she was away from the Payne family's own neighbourhood. No amount of information about known child abusers living in Hersham, Surrey, where the Paynes live, would have alerted them to the danger their daughter was in while playing in a cornfield near Worthing in Sussex.

Surely a law that is designed to prevent what happened to Sarah happening again would have to insist that anybody who ever has children visiting them must be told about paedophiles living in the area. Which essentially means that this must be public knowledge to everyone, and that logically, in terms of practical response to Sarah Payne's situation, the News of the World's "name and shame" policy is more correct than "Sarah's Law" if what we want as guardians of children is to know where danger may come from.

Except, of course, that the News of the World has itself done more to prove that the policy it advocates cannot be the right one than any amount of reasoned argument could ever achieve. The reason why decent caring parents cannot be told if there is a person living in their vicinity who may at some point have abused children is because many people would use this information wrongly, not to protect their children but to attack and harangue these poor, repulsive, cursed, creatures instead. It is those who claim the most virulent anger and display the most graphic need for vengeance against paedophiles who ensure that children such as Sarah cannot be sensibly protected from them. Again the logic of the mob is no logic.

And again the logic of the newspapers which feed off the logic of the mob is cynical and deranged. The News of the World, while trumpeting its "name and shame" policy, is rather more coy when it comes to reporting the consequences of these actions. Perhaps Mr Rupert Murdoch and Ms Rebekah Wade have enough instinct for self-preservation to understand that actually boasting about the mob violence they have incited is something some people believe would lead to their arrest for inciting public disorder.

Or perhaps they understand that too much focus on celebrating the law-breaking they have engineered would not sit well with their boast that finally, thanks to their tireless campaigning, these issues are being aired and the law is going to be changed for the better. This again is scuzzy logic, which taken to its twisted conclusion says this: if Sarah Payne had never been killed, these issues would never have been publicly discussed. Therefore, we have the person who abducted and murdered Sarah Payne to thank for this move to make the country a safer place. I don't think that's going to sell many newspapers, now is it?

On the day that Sarah Payne's body was found, so was the body of five-year-old Andrea Auriglitti. He had been playing in his back garden with his whippet dog when the dog jumped over the fence and escaped. Somehow, the child got over the fence to run after the dog. He was seen by witnesses on a bridge over the River Lee with some older children. The police were alerted to his disappearance at 7.15 in the evening By the next morning his body had been found, caught in a lock on the river.

He was the third child to have died in this stretch of the river in five years. But there has been no media-orchestrated outpouring of public sympathy and anger over this child's death. Do Andrea's mother and father not feel grief and loss and confusion, just like the very many, many parents who lose their children due to freakishly unlucky chains of events every year? A campaign to have a railing erected along this stretch of the river would probably save more lives than "Sarah's Law" ever could. But shots of Charlie Dimmock's nipples straining against her T-shirt are far more suitable media fodder than dull campaigns about how many children die by drowning in this country every year.

Likewise, as the papers run their campaigns for elaborate systems to better protect the fewer than 10 children who have been killed by strangers each year since the middle of the 18th century, they also campaign tirelessly for the tax on fuel to be lowered. But the children killed in car accidents each year run into thousands, while those maimed by cars run into many thousands more.

Might the News of the World start naming and shaming drivers who park on the street, thus obscuring other drivers' views of small people standing waiting to cross the road? Might they name and shame those who speed, who drink-drive, who do not secure their children with child restraints when travelling? No, instead they campaign for the rights of the motorist to travel cheaply, and pollute indiscriminately

The News Of The World has now turned its hand to blackmail, suggesting that if there is not progress made on the reframing of sex offenders laws that meet with the paper's approval, it will consider resuming its policy of "naming and shaming". I may not have been named by the News of the World, but I certainly feel ashamed. I'm ashamed of how the Sarah Payne abduction was conducted by the media from the start. It made a good story to collude for couple of weeks with Sarah's mother in the delusion that the child was alive. And now it makes a good story to pretend that only sinisterly stubborn forces bent on protecting paedophiles stand between the media and an assurance that such a horrific tragedy need never happen again.

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