UK Politics

Assuming Guilt

25 Feb 2013 at 13:12

We live in a society where we automatically assume guilt. Yes, we hear the caveat “innocent until proven guilty”, but how many of us really believe it? We all assume that Cardinal Keith O’Brien is guilty of acting inappropriately with four young men because our overall impression is that they’re all at it in the Catholic Church. Most people no doubt take it for granted that despite his denials Chris Rennard is guilty as charged. There’s more than one woman so it must be true. But the fact is that in both cases, we don’t actually know. But all the talking heads speak with a certainty which is misplaced. Rennard’s denials are repeated by media commentators in a tone of voice which implies “well he would say that, wouldn’t he”.

It may well be that both men are guilty as charged, but don’t they both deserve a fair hearing? Believe me, the nastier part of me hopes that O’Brien gets all that’s coming to him after his terrible comments about homosexuality, and latterly gay marriage. That’s my heart speaking. But my head tells me things may not be as simple as they seem. In the Rennard case, because I know him, and because I like him, my heart wants him to be innocent of the charges laid against him. My head says the facts, as they have been presented to us, look pretty damning.

I think back to the Cash for Peerages scandal a few years ago. That was another case where many of us assumed that there was no smoke without fire and that Lord Levy, Ruth (can’t remember her surname) and various others must be guilty. We assumed guilt without knowing the facts. The trouble was that the facts, in the end, didn’t stack up and no charges were laid. But even so, many still believed those who weren’t charged to be guilty. Nothing will dissuade them that there was an establishment stitch-up.

So I am not going to assume Cardinal O’Brien is guilty, any more than I automatically assume Lord Rennard actually did what he is alleged to have done. So if I tweet anything that indicates the opposite, feel free to call me a hypocrite. Let’s see what the facts tell us.

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