The 'deviant': guilty until proven innocent

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The Independent Online
I AGREE with Richard McNicol who wrote to this paper on Saturday. It is surely contrary to the spirit of the law for the police, when a trial has collapsed, effectively to 'give their own verdict by saying that they are not looking for anyone else'.

It is not that we expect them to shrug their shoulders and say let bygones be bygones. It is not that we expect them to slap the acquitted suspect on the back and say: well, I have to hand it to you, you put up a good fight. But they might at least desist from this particular brand of dumb insolence.

To say that the Rachel Nickell case remains open, but that they are not looking for anyone else and are not going to put any detectives on it - this is not a necessary statement. This is a formula for implying that they still believe they were pursuing the right man. They could simply say that they are going to have to think the whole matter through in the light of Mr Justice Ognall's remarks, and they could leave it at that.

The implied lack of respect for Colin Stagg's rights in this matter has extended through various parts of the press. Mr Stagg is photographed at the Waldorf Hotel, and this is held to be scandalous. Mr Stagg's possible compensation is thought to be an affront. Even the dogs' home that has been looking after Mr Stagg's dog, Brandy, for the last year expresses the desire to get rid of Brandy as soon as possible, as if the dog were a disgrace.

The Mail on Sunday carried a front-page story clearly designed to alert Mr Stagg to the possible consequences of seeking compensation by suing the police. They even dangled the possibility of his facing Sir George Carman in court. Inside, the same paper carried an attack by David Mellor on Sir Paul Condon, for having called off the investigation. Mr Mellor is Colin Stagg's MP, and he knows what it is like to have your private life the subject of massive press speculation. Did he have any sympathy for Mr Stagg?

No he did not: 'I don't feel in the least bit sorry for Stagg. A known deviant who regularly roamed the common, and had a conviction for indecent exposure there, he has only himself to blame that he was a suspect. That he thought he might get a lot of money either from a law suit against the police or from a newspaper sticks in my throat, as it will surely stick in yours. I hope he won't get a penny.'

This 'known deviant', Mr Stagg, when urged by the undercover detective 'Lizzie James' to come up with a spicy deviation to turn her on, thought long and hard and eventually admitted that, a dozen years before, at the age of 17, he had had

a homosexual encounter on Wimbledon Common, involving mutual masturbation. Is this the confession that forfeited him his MP's sympathy? As far as the conviction for indecent exposure goes, Mr Stagg has paid his 'debt to society'. It was set at pounds 200. The 13 months in prison comes, as it were, on a different account.

Of course the term 'known deviant' might refer to Mr Stagg's total lack of experience with women (according to the News of the World, he lost his virginity only last Thursday), in which case Mr Stagg comes to resemble Meursault in Camus's L'Etranger: a man condemned for having failed to behave normally. In Meursault's case, failed to weep at his mother's funeral. In Mr Stagg's case, failing to lose that dratted virginity, and therefore ending up as a murder suspect.

Conveyed in outline in Thursday's papers, the processes of police entrapment were startling enough. But the most shocking thing to me was to read the page of court transcript in yesterday's Independent on Sunday, and to see how pitilessly, how inexorably, the theory of the given psychosexual profile was pursued in the teeth of the evidence.

Even if Mr Stagg had turned out to resemble the type thought up, intuited, by Paul Britton, it would have been a travesty to condemn a man for sharing the same profile as an entirely hypothetical character. But it turns out that, try as they might, Mr Britton and Lizzie James could not get Mr Stagg to muster the faintest interest in, for instance, anal sex, which Mr Britton thought (apparently with good reason) to be part of the profile.

And this was only the beginning. They wanted him a sadist. He turned out to be a bit the other way. They thought that he would be turned on by the brutal domination of women. It seems from his comments yesterday that domination by women would have been more his scene, if he'd had one. He likes women in police uniform, for instance. He was dominated by the demands of Lizzie James, and came up with sadistic fantasies only in order to maintain his tenuous hold on her interest. The process is pathetic to behold.

But I do not share the view that the case undermines any claims of a 'science of the mind'. It does seem to come as a reminder that the mind, the psyche, is rather more complex than certain scientists will credit. The first deplorable quality of Mr Britton's approach is the hubris of its claims; the second is its implacability in the face of the facts.

Or is the criminal psyche that much more easy to read than the healthy or plain old neurotic one? Does its criminality simplify matters to such an extent that Mr Britton can predict how many weeks it will take for his suspect to start coming up with the evidence? And is Mr Britton so right that even when he is wrong he is still, somehow, right?

Does anyone in the force worry when Mr Britton predicts, as in one case, that the culprit will be an athlete, and he turns out to be out of shape and with only one leg?

Of course that kind of prediction is the least pernicious. The worst in this case in this pretentiously expert certainty that the character thought up by Mr Britton was of a type so rare that it was 'vanishingly' improbable that there could have been two people of precisely this type around on Wimbledon Common at the same time.

It turns out that there is no basis of professional agreement as to what this incredibly rare kind of character is. Not only did Mr Stagg not fit the profile (although he wanted to, in order to win the love of Lizzie James). The profile itself is no more than a matter of opinion.

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