Our front page story last week – the court case of Gavin Whalley – has provoked strong reaction from all sides.
Mr Whalley admitted an offence of begging in a public place and was fined – a fairly commonplace event in magistrates’ courts throughout the country... and throughout history.
What made this case unusual was the revelation the police are seeking a Criminal Anti-Social Behaviour Order (CRASBO) to prevent Mr Whalley begging again, or entering the Ribble Valley.
This led his solicitor – who said he would oppose the CRASBO – to suggest: “It would appear the police perception is that people in the Ribble Valley are too posh to have tramps”.
We used part of that statement – made in defence of Mr Whalley – in our headline, as a quote and in speech marks.
Judging by some comments we’ve received, some readers believe we are out to persecute Mr Whalley.
We are not. Nor are we saying this area does not want him.
That was his own solicitor suggesting the police might have the view a “tramp” is not welcome in the relatively affluent Ribble Valley.
He could be implying Mr Whalley would be more readily tolerated in other places where homelessness is a more obvious problem, or it could just have been a throwaway courtroom remark.
Whatever the case, it has set the proverbial cat among the pigeons.
Many sprang to Mr Whalley’s defence, saying he has never harmed anyone, is never aggressive and always “pleasant” and “polite”. But breaking the law politely is still breaking the law, and Mr Whalley did plead guilty.
He made the mistake of asking for charity from an off-duty police officer. Some have suggested the officer was overzealous in arresting him, that a warning would have sufficed. But are we really suggesting our police officers should discriminately turn a blind eye to offences committed under their noses?
Perhaps it is the pursuit of a CRASBO which some think heavyhanded, but Mr Whalley does have previous convictions for begging. If a CRASBO is granted then further begging would put him in breach of it – a more serious offence than the begging itself.
Some argue we should not have printed the article at all, let alone on the front page, given the distress caused to Mr Whalley and his family.
Let’s be clear on this – newspapers and other media do print and broadcast court cases. Justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done.
Whether or not you think this was justice is a decision for you, but would you rather it happened without you knowing? And yes, regrettably there is inevitable distress to those involved and those connected to them, but again, is that a reason to keep things concealed?
One thing is clear; Mr Whalley was a talking point in Clitheroe long before his court case appeared on our front page, which is another reason why it did. And it seems the issues raised by that case will continue to generate fierce debate.