Notes From the Margins…

The Daily Mail: turning tragedy into bigotry

  • January 28, 2012
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I know I’ve written on this subject before, but it needs to be repeated again and again: the Daily Mail  is a toxic pool of xenophobia, racism and rancid little-Englandism, and the fact that it attracts six million readers every week is a huge indictment of the British newspaper-reading public.

Today Paul Dacre’s ghastly rag has demonstrated once again  that are no depths that it will leave unexplored,  with Sue Reid’s pseudo-investigation into the tragic case of Alisa Dmitijeva, the Latvian teenager whose remains were found in the Queen’s estate at Sandringham on New Year’s Day.

Reid has a long history of writing anti-immigrant stories,  and today’s piece about ‘Drugs, the teenager found murdered on the Queen’s estate and how the Baltic Mafia is terrorising one of Britain’s oldest market towns’ belongs firmly within  the same body of work.

The article is ostensibly devoted to the ‘pretty Latvian teenager’  whose decomposed remains were found at Sandringham – a sobriquet illustrated with two photos of Dmitijeva striking a provocative pose in a short skirt and heels to provide Mail  readers with another dose of sleaze – and titillation, in its portrait of  ‘an unedifying tale of how her life spiralled out of control as she turned into a drug-addicted wild child’.

This cliché pretty much sums up the quality of Reid’s equally unedifying exposé.  For Dmitijeva’s tragic and brutal death is essentially a pretext for the Mail‘s evocation of another corner of Olde Englande violated and defiled by imported foreign sleaze and criminality.  Thus we learn that

The end of Alisa’s life was tragic but her death offers a terrifying window into a far wider problem — that of the sinister Eastern European drug and crime rings nicknamed “the Baltic Mafia” with which she became embroiled.  These gangs are taking over the English Fenland towns, terrifying local residents and ensnaring teenage girls such as Alisa.

So far neither the Mail nor the police know whether Dmitijeva was ‘ensnared’, since the crime has not been solved and its motivations are not known.  Reid doesn’t offer any convincing evidence that Baltic gangs are ‘taking over’ English Fenland towns.   But her evocation of sinister foreign criminal gangs protected by a ‘wall of silence’ from within their communities relies less on facts than it does on painting pictures to its readers – or rather reproducing pictures that many Mail readers already carry in their heads, such as the following:

Wisbech is a once-glorious and wealthy town boasting the oldest grammar school in the country, overlooking the banks of the River Nene.  However, drug dealers operate among the Georgian terraces, the cobbled streets, and in the grounds of the magnificent early Norman St Peter and St Paul”s Church.  Even in daylight, drunks lie among the church”s tombstones, and the churchyard is littered with empty beer cans covered in Slavic brand names.

Grammar schools, Georgian houses, magnificent churches, drunks who don’t even respect the English dead – about the only things missing from this imagery are cricket matches on the green, warm beer and John Major’s ‘old maids cycling in the morning mist’.   Anyone would think that Wisbech was ‘glorious and wealthy’ right up to the point when local farmers and canning factories began recruiting East European workers from 2004 onwards, and created a town with a population of 20,000 Eastern European migrants,  where ‘ in the streets you hear a cacophony of foreign tongues.’

This ‘cacophony’ is bad enough, but  Reid claims that the Mail only visited Wisbech ‘after a flurry of letters from local residents in which they complained about a spate of murders, sex attacks and stabbings.’    One can only  admire this  characteristic willingness  to stand up for the common man – and woman –  who has been abandoned to the migrant hordes, according to one local resident, since ‘no politician will confront the issue for fear of being branded a racist’.

Such cowardice, Reid suggests,  has left the locals in a ‘desperate situation’, besieged by drunken migrant yobs who urinate in the streets, take drugs and terrorise the locals, since ‘We spoke to many other town residents with countless stories of how the East European migrant influx had brought with it a culture of crime and anti-social behaviour’.

One suspects that these stories were not ‘countless’ but could probably have been easily numbered in any reporter’s notebook.  But never mind, put it down to poetic license.   Are there any English drunks?  Are there English teenagers in Wisbech who take ketamine, crystal meth or heroin, as they do in many other ‘once-glorious’ market towns where there are no Eastern Europeans at all?   Do Fenland youths commit crimes or engage in anti-social behaviour?

Reid does not ask, and leaves her readers to assume that the 67,000 people who make up the rest of Wisbech’s population are all going to the town’s magnificent churches or studying Norman history in their Georgian houses, before ending her tale by squeezing one more fat crocodile tear onto her keyboard:

In one haunting shot, Alisa has puffy eyes and is wearing a white swimsuit as she lies on the grass in the sunshine. She is smiling at the camera, but in her grubby left hand is a lighted cannabis joint.  What a terrible end for the teenager who had hoped for such a bright future in a new country — but whose life has become a symbol for how East European migration has fundamentally changed once-proud Fenland towns such as Wisbech.

Whatever the causes of Dmitijeva’s murder, it does not symbolise any such thing.  And the Mail‘s utterly scurrilous and shameful willingness to use the death of a disturbed and fragile teenager to feed its readers with another dose of hatred, is worthy only of contempt.

But that’s not what you get it in the comments section, with its calls to join the BNP and UKIP, its bitter rantings against ‘Labour’s open door policy’, Blair’s ‘treason’, ‘mass immigration, the EU, the Human Rights Act and all the other things that Mail readers love to hate.    Comments like ‘Oh my England, what have they done to you?’ and ‘ I cry for the England I once knew’,  give an indication of the general tone.

And that, one cannot help thinking,  is exactly what this shocker of an article was intended to achieve.

 

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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