We must all accept the same ground rules on violence and abusive words

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A 52-year-old builder, David Evans, hanged himself, an inquest heard this week, because he was sick with worry about a threatened prosecution for assault. His troubles began when some schoolboys started taunting him and a colleague on the building site where they worked. The situation escalated and the boys used foul-mouthed abuse and began throwing fruit, traffic cones and planks of wood.

A 52-year-old builder, David Evans, hanged himself, an inquest heard this week, because he was sick with worry about a threatened prosecution for assault. His troubles began when some schoolboys started taunting him and a colleague on the building site where they worked. The situation escalated and the boys used foul-mouthed abuse and began throwing fruit, traffic cones and planks of wood.

Mr Evans pursued them to a leisure centre they were attending with their school, and confronted them. The boys continued to abuse him until Mr Evans pushed two of them and tweaked the nose of a third. At this point the boys reported the incident to their head teacher, who called the police. They told Mr Evans that he faced being prosecuted for assault. This triggered worries in him that he would face a court appearance and lose his job.

It is fair to say that the reaction of Mr Evans was out of proportion to the situation, although we would never dare to say such a thing about a child who similarly overreacts. Yet, this awful case points up how ludicrous the high fence we imagine exists between adulthood and childhood really is.

The boys clearly thought that adults were fair game for abuse, and self-righteously believed that any small infringement of their own rights was a matter for the authorities to deal with. So apparently did their headmaster. They were at the same time keenly aware that they themselves were not considered similarly accountable.

The case of Mr Evans illustrates how very distorted those assumptions are. Most adults will admit, even in middle age, that they are still waiting for the great moment to arrive when they finally feel they way they imagined they would as all-powerful adult. Yet we ring-fence childhood as if it is some magical stage in life with special morals and rules of its own.

Instead, humans spend their whole lives growing up, and have to understand that throughout those lives the same ground rules must be respected. There are certain things that adults do that children do not - such as having sex, working, driving, occasionally even voting. But using abusive language and violence are wrong at any age. Why didn't the boys, Mr Evans, the headmaster or even the police appear to understand this?

Telling all concerned that their actions were a breach of the law and therefore arrestable offences would have been less traumatic for Mr Evans, a better lesson for the boys, and a more accurate reflection of the law anyway. Instead, the boys, their headmaster and the police all assumed that as a grown-up Mr Evans somehow could automatically handle their combined bullying tactics.

Funny foreign business

I'd long been under the impression that Stephen Fry was something of an intellectual, never more at home than when creating dazzling rococo patterns in the very air around him, these entrancing fireworks ignited by nothing more than the power of the word - when rolled round the voice box of a master.

Alas, another illusion has been dashed. Far from being the untrammelled renaissance man of my thoughts, Fry alas appears now to have revealed himself as nothing more than another Colonel Blimp, who, far from revelling in the rich, allusive thievery that adorns the English language, actually finds the simplest words of foreign origin to be a bit tricky.

In a new television advert for Twinings, Fry celebrates the arrival of their latest "all-day" blend. Not only is it a wonder of the tea-blender's art. Apparently it is also refreshing in its titular simplicity, as it eschews the "funny" words that other, more pretentious teas big themselves up with. What could these funny words be? Assam? Darjeeling? Lapsang souchong? It's enough to make you swear off association with such hard-to-pronounce words as "Twinings". And "Fry".

Pros and cons of scientific progress

This has been a wonderful week for medical science. It has seen not only a ruling by the Law Lords that modern reproductive techniques can be used to select "saviour siblings", but also a breakthrough in stem-cell technology that will result in many people regaining lost sight. The former decision had been challenged by Josephine Quintavalle, and her pressure group, Comment on Reproductive Ethics, which is also against using embryos to grow stem cells for medical treatment.

According to Ms Quintavalle, the ruling will mean that "social sex selection will be the next obvious thing". What she means is that people will start choosing which embryo to keep and which to lose, by gender selection. I must admit that I don't feel comfortable with the idea of choosing the sex of a baby in advance, since law and culture in so much of the world still favour boys over girls. But I can't go along with the idea that choosing children for cultural reasons will follow so hot on the heels of choosing children for medical reasons.

Nor am I naive enough to believe that noble scientific endeavours always have noble results. It was lovely to see Kaylee Davidson celebrating her 18th birthday as the recipient of a heart transplant. But it was sad that she continued to campaign so hard for people to carry donor cards when really the medical breakthrough ought to have heralded an era in which we have to carry cards only when we don't want our organs used.

Worldwide, the lack of donors has led to all sorts of unethical behaviour, including the gross practice of organ theft. Yet when the medical profession is found to have removed body parts without the permission of relatives from living people, the result is hysteria instead of informed debate. The truth is that science does not dictate the development of human morality, as Ms Quintavalle argues. Instead, the world would be a better place if it did.

One despairs of Naomi Campbell, the model who fought so hard to keep the press from photographing her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. I think she was right to take issue with this invasion into the privacy of her medical treatment. But it's hard to support someone who appears to have learnt so little from the group therapy she's supposed to admire so much.

She has a reputation as a short-tempered woman, and there have been allegations in the past that her bad moods can even develop into violence. So when I saw the latest adverts for Tesco's value clothes, I thought that the model called Naomi physically abusing people in it was an actress taking part in a cruel lampoon.

Imagine my surprise when I read in this very newspaper that the woman in question was indeed Naomi, and that some wag was spreading the rumour that even on this shoot her behaviour had been less than impeccable. The rumour is denied by both Campbell and Tesco. But what can't be denied is that her decision to exploit these allegations is in extremely bad taste.

Does Campbell think these continuing allegations are funny? It would seem that she does. No wonder young people think that using violence is legitimate with adults like her around making light of such extraordinary lapses in self-control and human respect.

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