It's a time-honoured tale, rehashed in various configurations ever since the conviction of charming Middle England pin-up Tony Martin, for bravely shooting an unarmed 16-year-old intruder in the spine as he tried to run away all those years ago. Today's version concerns the tale of Malcolm White, a homeowner who, finding himself beset by intruders, took the ultimate action to protect his property, and by extension himself and his family, by allegedly shooting an alleged intruder. The Express, never big fans of moral ambiguity, or indeed facts, has picked a side pretty early on here, and I don't think it will be a terrible surprise which side. The story of the 'hero dad' firmly plants the Express in White's camp thusly;
Neighbours of Mr White, who is 60 and described as a pillar of the local community in Whitbourne, Herefordshire, were furious after discovering that he had been arrested.Mr White is a retired clockmaker. Quaint, right? It's like Midsomer. We get to hear much about his good deeds over the course of the story. If this guy was auditioning for X-Factor, Coldplay's 'The Scientist' would be kicking in right about now over a montage, as we learn of White's recent ill health, and that he generously fixes the church clocks. He's 60, 'gentle-natured', and 'a very nice bloke'. He's just a guy in his £420,000 house trying to enjoy his life with his wife and his £50,000 car, and trying to make it as a pop star. Wait, not that last bit. But still, an all-round Good Egg, dragged into doing something desperate because of Broken Britain. But wait, what's this? If you go to the Express' site at the time of writing, the front page appears to have changed. Malcolm White's story is no longer front-page news. Wayne Rooney's dad remains a hot topic, but now the most pressing issue facing us is how the cuts to the bloated BBC that bloody well needed cutting down to size may lead to a few extra hours of sickening REPEATS which we all hate...
Now, I'm sure the BBC repeats issue is vexing to Express readers, being as they are the kind of people who can simultaneously want licence fee freezes AND dramatic improvements in quantities of original output. But it's a tad harsh on good old Malcolm White, no? I wonder if, perhaps, it could have anything at all to do with this extra little facet to the story, that emerged after the initial front page was released? Shock over drug farm after shooting.
Villagers have spoken of their shock after detectives investigating the shooting of a suspected burglar found a "well-organised and large-scale" cannabis farm during forensic searches. West Mercia Police said a 60-year-old man, named by neighbours as Malcolm White, was still being questioned on suspicion of attempted murder and of cultivating controlled drugs after the shooting incident late on Wednesday. Meanwhile, officers investigating the alleged break-in at White's home in Whitbourne, Herefordshire, have arrested a second man on suspicion of burglary.I should make several things clear at this point. I do not know if Malcolm White is a drug farmer or drug dealer. I do not know if he was acting in reasonable self-defence when he seemingly shot his intruder. He may well be, and if he was I hope justice is done and no charges are brought against him. Those are things for courts, rather than jumped-up snarky media bloggers, to decide. But I would like to go on record as stating that, if Malcolm White does indeed turn out to be a massive weed dealer protecting his homegrown stash (as well as being a charming elderly clockmaker), I will laugh my fucking tits right off.
Because if he does turn out to be less than whiter-than-white (if you'll excuse the pun), the Express have put themselves in an awkward position. And in withdrawing the front page as soon as it turned out he might not be the type of man they like, they would have shown themselves to be moralising cowards whose sympathy for human beings is threadbare and conditional. I love this story because, if all the elements I've presented here turn out to be true, it shows that we're not simply a world of Good Guys and Bad Guys, nasty burglars and gentlemanly 'pillar(s) of the community', as White was described in the Express' story. We're human beings with shades of grey, capable of heroism and evil and good old-fashioned moral ambiguity. As I've said, I don't know. But if Malcolm White acted in self-defence then he has my sympathy whatever he may or may not have been cultivating, and for whatever purpose. Does he still have the Express' sympathy?
(Hat-tips for this story to Richard Peppiat and Five Chinese Crackers)