Opinion from Lord Digby Jones

Whatever happened to the forthright, very public exercise of common sense?

Published Tuesday 11 April, 2017

It's two o'clock in the morning. Kenneth Hugill, an 83 year-old farmer in Wilberfoss, East Yorkshire, whose isolated farm has been plagued by crime, wakes up and hears a car nearby. He gets up, looks out and sees a vehicle approaching without its lights on. So leaving his 78 year old wife Sheila in bed, "straight up, the brave little fella, without a morsel of fear....." doesn't take " 'is stick with 'is 'orse's 'ead 'andle" (with apologies to Stanley Holloway) but his shotgun, and he goes outside. 

The car revs its engine and speeds towards him. In Ken's own words "I pulled the trigger because I thought the car was going to kill me". This from an old man who has had two hip replacements and a heart by-pass operation!

The car was being driven by 44 year-old Richard Stables, a convicted burglar on a rural crime watch list. He said he had driven the Land Rover on to the farm after getting lost during a night out with his mate Adrian Baron who was also in the car. He said he was planning to go hunting by lamplight with a lurcher. 

Ken shot at the Land Rover and hit Mr Stables! 

Mr Baron took Mr Stables to hospital where the latter gave medical staff three different explanations for how he had been shot. 

And, guess what happened next? Yes, you've guessed it; Kenneth Hugill was charged and stood trial for causing grievous bodily harm, which upon conviction carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison!  

Sixteen worrying months and thirty grand's worth of legal bills later, the Hull Crown Court jury took just 24 minutes to find 83 year old Public Enemy Number One not guilty and free to leave and go back to living with Sheila on their Yorkshire farm. 

Gerry Wareham, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Yorkshire and Humberside, (whose wages remember are paid for by thee and me of course, as are those of all the Court officials and the Judge) said that he was satisfied that there had been sufficient evidence to warrant bringing the case to court, that "it was in the public interest to do so. The jury has now returned their verdict and" ...... wait for it! ......."we respect their decision"! 

Armed thug, 83 year-old Ken Hugill said he was very pleased with the jury's verdict. "I thought I should not have been prosecuted right from the start. I don't shock easily. I didn't feel it was justified". 

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David Moyes, the Manager of Premiership Football Club Sunderland and erstwhile Boss at Everton and Manchester United, said a while ago to a female BBC reporter after a particularly testy, "in your face" post-match interview: - "You were just getting a wee bit naughty at the end there, so just watch yourself. You still might get a slap even though you're a woman." 

The Manager realised almost at once that his comments were out of order, sincerely and personally apologised to the journalist and moved on. The female journalist gracefully accepted the apology and moved on. End of story. Ah! Not quite Dear Reader. A video of the clumsy post-interview remarks, made under stress, was "leaked" to The Daily Star and ......... wham!

Calls for the Manager to be sacked (as if being Manager of the Premiership's bottom club didn't lay him open to those every day anyway!) were moderate by way of the reaction by the mob on social media. He evidently needed to be "re-educated"; he has been "forever tarnished". Politicians and "social commentators" think Moyes is beyond the pale and one branded him " a mysoginist". Labour MP Stella Creasy used twitter to assert that tolerating Moyes' words would "normalise violence towards women".

The feeding frenzy on social media was disgraceful and there was a real prospect that David Moyes might be fired over this. Thankfully the Sunderland Board held firm and supported their contrite manager but the whole episode is evidence that, as Matthew Syed put it so well in The Times, "natural justice - that precious value - is under severe threat in the social media age. This is dangerous not just for football, but for all of us." 

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Modern, radical feminism went berserk and took to the 21st Century equivalent of the ducking stool, the stocks and the pillory all rolled into one......Social Media......to castigate a female judge who opined that, whilst in no way excusing the actions of men taking advantage of the situation, women who walk down high streets late at night completely slammed out of their brains are putting themselves at risk of attack, sexual or otherwise. 

Germaine Greer, that well-known mysoginisitc and reactionary sexist, when referring to the authenticity of transgender women, said that dressing up and behaving as a woman no more made a man a woman than nailing a pair of long floppy ears to her head made her a "f**king cocker spaniel"! You can let your imagination run riot on what was the Twitter reaction from a certain sort of person (I use the term loosely) to that one, and you would probably not cover it all! The result has been that there have been various attempts to ban her from several university campuses, presumably because many of those who attend those institutions are offended by her remarks and only want to allow speakers onto campus with whom they agree. 

Surely Universities are there, in part, to develop open minds, to encourage students to become receptive to wide-ranging and diverse opinions (many of which they won't agree with) and to be inculcated with a sense of freedom of expression, the appreciation that there are always two sides to every story and the value of tolerance that will hopefully last a lifetime? Ms Greer is not alone in her fate; the poor little sensitive souls at our major seats of learning are banning speakers with whom they disagree all over the Country. They will form a snowflake generation: when they take their blinkered view of the World out into the rough and tumble of that thing that hits us now and again called Life, they will melt away, crushed, like yesterday's flake of snow. Being prepared for 21st Century globalised, competitive living they are surely not.

These accurate stories take us slap bang into the overwhelming urge to indulge in a Victor Meldrewesque cry of "I cannot believe it!" What we are experiencing is an appalling loss of sight by many of the wood because of a blind fanatical hunt for the trees. 

It's always been a truth universally acknowledged (hasn't it, Jane Austen?) that common sense is not all that common. 

The irresponsible, unaccountable, selfish, often hypocritical use of social media is to blame for a lot of this. But the bullying and often disgusting unilateral communication of the tweeting mob only succeeds if those in charge of making the subsequent decisions don't exercise common sense and pathetically cave in to baying pressure groups. 

Whatever happened to the forthright, very public exercise of common sense? Why was an 84 year-old man put through hell and prosecuted for what "the man on the Clapham Omnibus" would have recognised from a thousand paces was something most of us would have done, or wished we had the courage to do? What a waste of money, time, effort and what a strain on an old chap who'd had enough.

When there is now an industry where people earn a living regularly checking up on the accuracy of individual Wikipedia entries because of intentional falsehoods being entered and then taken by the public as fact, it is time for a fightback. It is time the Googles, Facebooks and Twitters were brought to task and treated as any ordinary newspaper would be. You can't print in a paper defamatory material (or worse) no matter who said it so why should they be allowed to do so on Social Media? Why shouldn't these 21st Century Power Barons be made to pay for substantial checks on what goes onto websites and the like? Oh! and why shouldn't they be taxed like any other Business? 

But we also need to start chalking up some loud and very public victories for Common Sense. The vociferous, vicious, blinkered minority energised by their new toy, Social Media, must not be allowed to inhibit freedom, polarise opinion and destroy so much that we cherish. 

And to those whose blinkers, whose insularity and disconnect from the "real world out there" are preventing the implementation of a good cold shower of Common Sense I would remind them of what one of the 20th Century's funniest men observed. Eric Morecambe once said that the trouble with Sigmund Freud was that "he never had to play Second House at the Glasgow Empire on a Saturday Night".