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Killing a gay man is no worse than killing a disc jockey

Does the legal concept of ‘hate crime’ reflect a consensus?

21 June 2006

1:30 PM

21 June 2006

1:30 PM

Sarah Porter may turn out to be Britain’s most prolific serial killer of recent years. Right now, she is behind bars. Porter contracted HIV from a lover and, when she discovered her predicament, set about passing on the virus to as many men as she could, by ‘encouraging’ them to have unprotected sex with her. When caught by the police she refused to co-operate, naming no names. The police believe that the number of men it is known for a fact that she tried to infect — four — is ‘only the tip of the iceberg’. The life expectancy for someone with HIV/Aids is, mercifully, much improved on what it once was. But to be told that you are infected is nonetheless to be told that your life will be much shorter than would otherwise have been the case. Porter knew she was infected, was angry that she had been infected and almost certainly sought to pass the virus on as a warped means of revenge.

So now she is serving a jail term of two years and eight months — which, interestingly, is almost exactly half the maximum tariff she would have received for the undoubted wickedness of transmitting a computer virus. She may be back on the loose within a year or so. You may wonder about the apparent levity of this sentence. You may suspect that our courts are possessed of a certain sexual prejudice; men who have casual sex with women are asking for it, one way or another, whether it be through the avenging angel of the Child Support Agency or a retrovirus. And Ms Porter was undoubtedly a victim herself, wasn’t she? So instead of a life sentence, which is what serial killers usually get, she will probably be banged up for a year.

Meanwhile, two thugs who murdered a barman because they knew he was a homosexual have been sentenced to much more than the normal tariff of a life sentence (‘middle-starting point’, as the legal profession puts it, is 12 years) because of their motivation for the murder. It was something called a ‘hate crime’ and therefore deserving of an impressive 28 years in prison. Hate crimes refer only to gender, sexual orientation and race. If someone murdered you out of hatred because you were an estate agent or a lawyer, they would be eligible only for the normal tariff. Hating homosexuals is, in the eyes of the law, far more serious than hating lawyers. One suspects that if the killers had been gay and the victim a member of the oppressive heterosexual hegemony, the sentence would have been well below average. If the murderers had been women, exacting an exciting Thelma and Louise-style revenge upon predatory heterosexual men, they’d probably be out in time for the Ashes and set up with a weekly column in the Guardian.

Here’s another irony. All of Ms Porter’s victims were black and it is believed that the man who infected her was black. Ms Porter is white. The suspicion is that Ms Porter went hunting for lovers ‘similar’ to the man who infected her in order to exact her revenge, i.e., black men. This, to my mind, epitomises the term ‘hate crime’. Luckily for Ms Porter, the racial element was not made much of in court, otherwise I reckon she’d be banged up for 20 years or so. She usually targeted DJs, but you don’t get an extra tariff for hating disc jockeys so much that you would, if you could, kill them. It’s OK to hate disc jockeys.

Most people in the country, I suspect, would view these discrepancies as politically correct nonsense — and terribly unjust to boot. Killing someone because you hate the fact that he is gay is not really any worse than killing someone because you hate the football team he supports, or the suit he is wearing, or the social class from which he originates. They are all acts which are pretty much equal in their quotient of evil. But somehow we have got ourselves into a position where these ludicrous, politically motivated judgments are made all the time and we have become so inured to the whole business that we do not complain. One reason this should be the case came in a recent edition of Question Time, from Sheffield, which was remarkable in that the three politicians (Lord Faulkner, Theresa May and Mark Oaten) on the panel agreed with each other — in an incalculably earnest and terribly concerned manner — about absolutely everything. And, more remarkable still, the studio audience agreed with the politicians. It was an agreeably calm ocean of nodding heads and polite applause and political consensus.

And yet my guess is that the overwhelming majority of people in the country would have disagreed with almost all that the politicians and the audience had to say. For example, the panel and the audience were pretty much in agreement that Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, should not be held to account for the erroneous shooting of an innocent Muslim resident of Forest Gate and the subsequent lies which issued forth from the Met press office; but that the police had to be extremely sensitive and consensual when dealing with Muslim communities in general, and tread very carefully. I reckon most ordinary people think the precise opposite: that Sir Ian should be held to account because he, or his men, got it badly wrong again — but that this should not stop the police investigating Muslim communities with great rigour.

Similarly, when it came to the popular ‘light’ question at the end of the programme, the audience and panel were united in their opinion that Heather Mills McCartney had been appallingly badly treated by the press and that there should some form of redress. Once again, my guess is that the general public thinks Ms Mills McCartney unspeakably awful and deserving of pretty much everything she gets. This supposition is based largely upon anecdotal evidence, but also upon the fervour with which the Fleet Street red-tops have stuck the boot in to the woman: they know their audience.

There is an enormous dichotomy between the views of the general public as evidenced in opinion polls and those of our elected politicians (local or national), the broadcast media, the judiciary and the sorts of people who wish to spend a Thursday evening in a studio watching Question Time. It is a fundamental split which, it seems, grows wider by the week. There are certain things which you simply will not find a Question Time panellist — or audience member — daring to utter. For example: that the sentence imposed upon the two thugs who killed the barman was unjust unless every sentence for unprovoked murder carries a tariff of 28 years. That we should have little sympathy for a woman who, whatever her plight, out of hatred visits a death sentence upon a succession of disparate men.

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