Monday, June 27, 2011

How can anyone support Hearts FC now?

A few years ago, then Scots Tory leader David McLetchie had to resign  effectively for taking a few taxis he shouldn't. Ultimately, he's a decent bloke, and losing his job was probably a bit severe. In the volatile world of politics, though, his position was untenable. I wouldn't condone what McLetchie did, but it was an easily made and easily rectified mistake.

And then we have Craig Thomson, the Hearts defender, who has recently been convicted of sending lewd photographs of himself to girls of 12 and 14. He has walked away with a £4000 fine and has been put on the sex offenders' register. Has he lost his job? No. He's walked back into his high profile job with a premier league club. That seems wrong to me.

He issued an apology, one which really worries me on two grounds. Firstly, he apologises to everyone except the two girls concerned. Then he talks about how the Club has shown "full understanding into every aspect of my situation." That sounds to me that a part of him, in his own mind, has justified what he did. I don't think there is any excuse for it. The Scotsman today reports an interview with the 12 year old's mother who states that he was fully aware of her age. If he'd said, actually, there's no excuse, I'm really sorry, and I'll be taking steps in my own life to address my lack of responsibility and judgement I might be prepared to think differently, but as things stand, I don't believe he should continue in his role at Hearts.


Simply because it sends the wrong message to children to keep a footballer who is in a high profile position, as a role model to children, on their team in circumstances such as this. I agree with the charity Children 1st, who have called for Hearts to reconsider his position. Their policy officer Kate Higgins, better known to us as The Burd was on the news yesterday and she said:

"We believe that Hearts football club needs to look again at this situation, not taking action to protect children from the risk of sexual harm is unacceptable.
"Allowing convicted sex offenders to continue working where they will have direct and indirect contact with children is wrong."

Part of the reason that I'm writing this post now and not two hours ago is that I've become involved in a debate on Twitter about this. Good liberals, people I respect, take the opposite view. One thing I think is quite good is that in the main (apart from the person who called me a right wing vigilante) had a civilised debate about a highly emotive issue. My respect for the people concerned did make me question my initial instinct, but I haven't changed my mind. However, I do want to qualify what I mean.

I don't believe that everyone on the sex offenders' register should lose their job. That seems to me to be completely counter productive and against every instinct of the rehabilitative and restorative justice that I believe so passionately in. It may well lead to re-offending or more serious first time offending if that were the case. These people, if they are not being locked up to protect the public, need to be able to earn money and have a life of quality. There are some jobs, though, which they shouldn't be allowed to do. Allowing close contact and responsibility for those they've been convicted of abusing is wrong.

Craig Thomson has implied that there are some mitigating circumstances which justify his conduct towards a child whose age he actually knew. Footballers, whether we like it or not, are role models to young people. Always have been, before the trashy celebrity driven media. By keeping him in post, Hearts are sending out a message to young men that they will support an adult male who has behaved inappropriately towards a child. Young girls who may be experiencing that sort of abuse, they see a man who has done this suffering very few consequences.  Can that be right?

It may well be that I'm reacting particularly strongly to this because I have a 12 year old daughter myself. She's growing up, and she's emotionally mature for her age, but she's still very much a child.

I do wonder whether the way the law deals with these crimes is right. A fine, and being put on a list. That's not rehabilitative. I just think he should have had access to some sort of facility where he could talk through this and be encouraged to see for himself, in a non threatening environment, why what he did was totally, inexcusably wrong. And taught strategies to cope with any issues which surround his conduct.

Back in the day, Richard Bacon, then a 22 year old Blue Peter presenter, was sprung by a Sunday tabloid doing Cocaine. He was immediately sacked. No questions asked. He hadn't even been convicted of a crime. He did, though, take full responsibility for what he'd done. He spoke very honestly to the Guardian many years later about how it felt at that time, being at the eye of that particular storm. His sacking wasn't the end of his life, and he's built a successful broadcasting career since, but he did have to take the consequences of his foolishness.

I'm not saying that Craig Thomson shouldn't have a job. I just think that a high profile role at a premier league football club is not appropriate at this time, especially not while he still thinks there is an excuse for what he did.

It's clear that not all is well in the judgement department at Hearts at the moment, as this bizarre statement from owner Vladimir Romanov, accusing outside Mafia forces, indistinguishable from paedophiles, of interfering with the club's fortunes.

James, from Better Nation, a fan of the club since he was a wee boy, writes about why he can no longer support them. I really can't see why anybody would after the events of the last week.


Douglas McLellan said...

My main problem is that, in calling for him to be sacked, the issue is moving away from where the law stands.

Kate has all but accused Hearts of facilitating child abuse in the future if they all Thomson to stay buy saying "not taking action to protect children from the risk of sexual harm is unacceptable". Hearts will have the correct procedures in place to protect children and prevent abuse. He will not have access to kids as Kate thinks.

The entire child protection system has worked and will continue to work whilst he is on the register. Looking back at the evidence given to the Scottish Parliament by bodies such as Children 1st I cant see where ethereal issues such as fame, privilege or role model where deemed important in child protection structures. The reason is of course these things are not important to child protection.

This call for action beyond was is required by law concerns me greatly. Where and why does extra judicial action start and end?

Oh, and the comparison with McLetchie doesn't quite stack up. He had portrayed himself as whiter than white when attacking the expenses and finances of FM Henry McLeish. Hubris, more than taxis, caused his resignation.

Anonymous said...

"This call for action beyond was is required by law concerns me greatly."

So it appears you don't feel morality comes into it?

Presumably there are kids who looked up to this nasty little piece of s--t as a role model. Some role model.

Noting that Hearts have now suspended him - is that in response to fans' feelings or to being ditched by a sponsor?


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