Yesterday they found a dead body in the supermarket car park approximately two minutes’ walk away from my house. It was spotted around 3AM, when a dog handler on patrol saw a fire and alerted the appropriate authorities. Upon dousing the flames, a badly burned corpse was found — so badly burned that it was impossible to immediately identify it as male or female.
I am curiously unfazed by this knowledge. It’s a horrible thing to happen and I can’t help feeling I should be more unnerved than I am by the fact that it happened not far from my doorstep. But I’m not. And that’s not what I’d particularly like to talk about in relation to this incident.
I’d instead like to talk about the reporting of the incident in the newspapers and online.
Most outlets did a decent job of reporting the known facts, which I outlined in the first paragraph. Nothing more was known, and nothing more would be known until 1) the police had completed their investigations at the scene and 2) the body had been examined.
The ever-resourceful Daily Mail, however, decided to just make some shit up to make it a better story. “CHIPPENHAM TRAMP SET ON FIRE AND KILLED BY 3 THUGS AS HE SLEPT IN SAINSBURY’S CAR PARK” proclaimed the headline. (For comparison, the Daily Telegraph went with “Chippenham fire: body discovered in Sainsbury’s car park”.) They then proceeded to explain that an attack was “caught on CCTV” (later changed to “thought to be caught on CCTV”) and that “sources” had seen “three men” filling up jerry cans at Sainsbury’s petrol station shortly before the blaze was found. (Sainsbury’s petrol station isn’t open at that time in the morning, which should give you a rough idea of how true the rest of it is.)
This went on for several paragraphs, explaining that the fire had been caused by this gang of three men dousing a homeless man in petrol and then setting fire to him. A horrible crime, I’m sure you’ll agree, but a fictional one.
How do I know this? Because the body was confirmed as female today, not male, and the original Mail article describing these “facts” has mysteriously disappeared, to be replaced with this rather similar, but much more vague account that more accurately reports the facts. Moreover, there has been no further mention of this supposed “attack” that was caught on CCTV, just an appeal from police for people who were seen in the area to come forward and assist them with their enquiries.
Now, for all I know, the story about the victim being a homeless person could end up being true, but the fact is, the Daily Mail were guilty of some incredibly irresponsible reporting on this incident. They presented their theory as fact without providing any evidence whatsoever — who were these “sources,” for example, and how did they see what happened while apparently no-one else did? — and thought that this was somehow okay. It’s another example of the Daily Mail just not giving a shit about… well, anything really. It’s beyond parody. It’s just pathetic. And yet somehow it still continues to exist. How? And why? How has no-one stepped in to shut this crap down yet? Does the Mail’s questionable “comedy value” outstrip its obligations as a news outlet?
Apparently so. And I think it’s too late to do anything about it now.