Implied presumption

I always find this sort of news story interesting:

Police searching for a missing East Sussex pensioner in West Africa have said they have found a body.  

William West, 76, of St Helen’s Park in Hastings, had been with his wife Kate, 26, at their holiday home in Gambia.

The couple were on a day trip to Senegal when he disappeared after going into a shop on his own on 3 July.

Sussex Police said Gambian police had contacted them after a body was found. Four people are helping authorities abroad with their inquiries.

A spokesman for the Sussex force said the four people were a 26-year-old woman and three men.

With the information released and the tone of the reporting, we are led to believe, as readers, that the wife has bumped off her husband in an African country. Our imagination takes us on to the notion that she might have done it for the insurance money or to escape an unhappy marriage of convenience. Perhaps she chose an African country in the belief that the criminal investigation system there might not reach her. Already, we’ve bounded to the conclusion that she is guilty – we have been conditioned to do so by years of this sort of reporting and our own prejudices.

The truth, of course, could be vastly different. He may well have been the victim of a random attack. He could have died from some entirely non-violent cause. She may be as innocent as a newborn lamb, truly distraught at the loss of her husband. In fairness, we can not say because we are not party to all of the facts and won’t be until the trial (if there is one) is reported in due course.

Tabloid journalism has a lot to answer for. We assume guilt too often.

4 Replies to “Implied presumption”

  1. I thought “76 – 26″ – what’s the story there?” And I double-checked her name. ‘Kate’ seems very English. D’you think she might be Thai?

  2. my comment is this according to thew reports she and her husband went on a daytrip to senegal . she loses her husband doesnt bother to report his dissapearance to local gambian police before leaving the country without her husband.flys home then doesnt bother to report him missing for another two days. iam sorry but this makes me beleive she knows where her husband is and has realised she probably needs a cover story. innocent very unlikely. also what property will be gained from mr wests dissapearance. i myself am very suspicious after losing my own father in the gambia in similar circumstances [murder trial still ongoing 4 years later]. i would be more convinced of kates innocence had she reported his dissapearance before leaving the country. mind you all phone records available will no doubt be checked and any communication with any of the other suspects will only convince me more of her guilt. my view is this is a planned murder and i hope i will be proved wrong. yours sincerely ronald ford son of ronald stanley ford murdered in gambia 28th sept 2002

  3. Last night’s news had a piece about her being charged with her husband’s murder by the Gambian police.

  4. Yes, I saw that she’d been charged – and, apparently, she led the police to the body, so she doesn’t seem to have a leg to stand on.

    My point was that the original news item implied a presumption of guilt in the way that it was written, either because the author had access to information that we were not (at the time) privy to or (as I suspect) because the general style of journalism these days always tends to suggest in this type of case that the wife (or husband, as appropriate) is guilty. There have been several well-publicised cases where this has proven not to be the case although, in this case, the reported facts do rather point the finger of blame in only one direction.

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