Anorak News | Talk Of The Town: A Tabloid Guide To Dewsbury

Talk Of The Town: A Tabloid Guide To Dewsbury

by | 14th, April 2008

dewsbury-1.jpg“IT HAS BECOME the town that dare not speak its name,” announces the Daily Mirror.

“People outside must shudder at the thought of living in or even visiting Dewsbury in West Yorkshire. It has become a byword for everything that is bad about Britain – the Dewsbury bomber, the veil row, the toddler who nearly died after being strung up from a tree, the story of a man crucified… and now the Shannon Matthews saga.”

Strong words. But what of those who live there. Do they shudder too?

Being a good, reliable newspaper, the Mirror has tracked down an (anonymous) Dewsbury resident….

“A barman said yesterday: ‘I’m ashamed to say I’m from Dewsbury. Now, I say I’m from Leeds instead. It’s horrible living here.'”

OK, so he’s not happy. But take another look at that first paragraph. In particular, take a look at the bit that says people “must shudder”. Is that an opinion or an order?

A bit of both, it seems. The Mirror seems to have reached an opinion, and now it’s ordering us to follow its lead.

But what of the incidents from which the paper has constructed its case against Dewsbury?

Yes, Mohammed Sidique Khan was one of the London bombers. But as far as we at Anorak are aware, every other bomber (of whatever persuasion) throughout British history has come from outside Dewsbury.

siddique_khan_.jpg Yes, there was controversy at Headfield Church of England Junior School, concerning a pupil who was banned from wearing the veil at school. But there have been equally high-profile veil controversies raised by MPs representing Keighley (Ann Cryer) and Blackburn (Jack Straw) and by the Mayor of London, to name but a few.

Yes, the toddler “who nearly died after being strung up from a tree” was from Dewsbury. But did he nearly die? And was he strung up from a tree? Anorak’s brief investigation yielded the following, from The Times’s report of the case in 2005:

“The boy gave the police confusing and bizarre accounts of what had happened, saying that he had been strung up and beaten with sticks and nettles. In another interview, the boy said he thought he was in the jungle with monkeys surrounding him. He was cut down with a pair of scissors, he said.

“Mehran Nassiri, prosecuting, said the boy and girl gave conflicting accounts of what had happened in the woods. She at first blamed other children and gave the police four names.

[…] The girl at first claimed that the boy had followed her. She was with friends who put the rope around his neck and pulled him up while she just watched. But eventually she said that she was the only one present in the woods and was responsible for the attack.

“She was at first accused of grievous bodily harm but this was reduced to actual bodily harm. She told police: ‘I didn’t ask him to come with me. I was angry with him. I put a rope around him and put it around a tree.’ The boy was found in the early evening by his cousin, out searching for him when his worried mother raised the alarm.

“He was found outside a chip shop, ‘scared and crying’, and told his cousin that ‘some boys and girls’ put a rope around his neck and tied him to a tree.”

Strung up and “cut down with scissors”? Or tied to a tree? The story has since been repeated ad nauseum as a near-lynching, but where is the evidence?

Then there is the “story of a man crucified”. Again, story seems to be the operative word.
There were indeed reports of a man nailed to a piece of wood during the Shannon Matthews hunt – the clear suggestion being that this was some sort of mob retribution.

But reports at the time also said that police denied any link to the Shannon Matthews case, that the incident was “minor” and that no one had been arrested.

Police quoted in the Yorkshire Post said: “We are investigating an assault on a 43-year-old man which came in just after 11pm on Sunday. He was not believed to have been seriously injured.”

And finally we come to what the Mirror calls “the Sharron Matthews saga”. The case, in other words, of a handful of people in a population of 54,341 (2001 census figures). Hardly indicative of a deep-seated moral crisis, but no matter. It’s no longer not enough to turn personal tragedies into public entertainment. Not when you can condemn a whole community into the bargain.

To quote an old newspaper saying, why let the facts get in the way of a good story? Or better still, “saga”?

Posted: 14th, April 2008 | In: Madeleine McCann, Reviews, Tabloids Comments (4) | TrackBack | Permalink