Death sentence is alive and well in the media

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Photo by Graham Holliday

So Rebecca Leighton has been released without charge regarding the saline tampering investigation at Stepping Hill hospital (or ‘has gotten away with it’ if you believe the media scrutiny surrounding her). You may think this is a good thing, a vindication of her good name, but she is just as trapped by these accusations now as she would have been had she been charged and found guilty. She is a victim of a two-pronged attack from both the media and the legal system itself.

Admittedly these two assailants of integrity make strange bedfellows, yet they have worked seemingly in unison to find this nurse guilty long before a case was prepared. On the 20th of July she was arrested in her flat on suspicion of committing multiple murders. Her name, age, address and the now iconic picture of her with a drink in her hand were splashed around tabloids and broadsheets alike. The public, myself included, were all but convinced of her guilt; I mean after all, if her information had been released to the media then it was a done deal, right? Wrong.

As it transpired, Rebecca Leighton was arrested, charged and incarcerated for six weeks (while on the outside a veritable maelstrom of media and public hate swirled around her family) on the assumption that given more time enough evidence would come to light to ensure a conviction. When no such evidence came to light, she was released on grounds of “insufficient evidence,” i.e. ‘we still think she’s guilty but we can’t quite prove it.’ What kind of inhumane, totalitarian flouting is that for the pillars of justice that we hold so dearly?

The press too had a heavy hand in damning Rebecca Leighton without trial; pouncing on her penchant for alcohol and using it as a clear indicator for criminal behaviour. Friends and acquaintances were dredged seemingly from nowhere to offer an insight into the mind of a mass murderer. Over the summer a very unpleasant picture was painted of Rebecca Leighton, a picture she might struggle to shed.

I wish I could say this was the only time that overeager journalists and overconfident police officers have ruined the life of an innocent person, but this is far from true. Lest us forget the media frenzy over the murder of Bristolian Joanna Yeates at the start of the year. Landlord Chris Jeffries was arrested and subsequently sentenced to trial by tabloid hate campaign; characters from his past were dredged up to testify he had always been a strange man in his days as a schoolteacher and the only picture ever to find itself splurged across a front page was of him looking, for lack of a better word, shifty.

Now, having only just realised the irony of me writing this to go into a newspaper, I urge you to reserve judgement on those the media declare guilty and the police declare ‘under suspicion’ until the dust has settled. It might be tomorrow’s chipshop paper but the dirt within can stick for a lifetime.

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