Artillery Row

Funny old priorities

Why did Sarah Hussein’s death not attract anything like the interest in Sarah Everard?

“Tribute to Bury woman found on fire in street,” reports the BBC. Found on fire? What happened? Was she making chips or did she fall asleep while smoking a cigarette? Read on and one learns that Sarah Hussein died from her injuries and that “three men, aged 24, 26 and 34, who were arrested have been bailed pending further inquiries.” Oh.

In the local press one finds a few more details. Hussein’s family live in Pakistan and say she was a “very nice, kind, polite person who worked hard every day to support us all.” Neighbours report hearing her screams and ingeniously using a wet duvet on her burns. But what happened before? No one will tell us.

Well, the press can only report what they know. One’s imagination leaps to murder when a woman is found burned to death and three men are arrested but reporters trade in facts and not in educated guesses. “Woman burns to death and by God it looks like somebody killed her” would not make for a responsible headline.

Apart from a smattering of bloodless reports on the BBC and elsewhere, GB News was the most attention she received

Still, it is a fact that three men were arrested. It is a fact that the police launched a murder investigation. Thus, I think “three men arrested as Bury woman dies in fire”, or something like it, would have reflected the nature of the case far more accurately. Is it possible that the three men were wrongfully accused? Of course. But it was possible that Wayne Couzens, the murderer of Sarah Everard, was wrongfully accused in March and no one held back from talking about it. 

I wonder why the mystery of Sarah Hussein’s demise has not attracted a fiftieth of the interest that the death of Sarah Everard did. Of course, it would be childish to treat this as a competition — and there were unique factors involved in Everard’s death, such as the time between her disappearance and the discovery of her fate — but the ease with which the story of a woman burning to death is passing through the media is strange and wrong. Scan social media, as well as the news, and it has barely registered.

It is strange but it is not especially surprising. Cases that should be of widespread interest often seem to evaporate somewhere within the news cycle. Last week, as Stephen Wigmore discussed in these pages, Hatun Tash, a Christian evangelist, was stabbed at Speaker’s Corner while wearing a t-shirt that read “Charlie Hebdo”. Thankfully, the victim survived and is recovering, but had the knife struck deeper that may not have been the case.

Ms Tash was invited onto GB News days afterwards but apart from a smattering of bloodless reports on the BBC website and elsewhere, that was the most attention she received. The BBC did not name her, or mention her activities, or point out that she had been escorted from Hyde Park in 2020 after threats had been made against her life. 

In the case of Ms Hussein one might at least be able to argue that journalists should give the police room in which to conduct their inquiries. In the case of Ms Tash, though, there are all kinds of questions that should be very obviously worthwhile to raise. What sort of environment has developed around Speaker’s Corner? How, at the heart of England’s capital city, has her attacker managed to evade detection? These questions are not being asked, never mind answered. What appears to be a savage attack on free expression, as well, more obviously, as a murderous assault in broad daylight is not deemed interesting enough to dwell on by the mainstream media, which spent countless hours obsessing over a handful of trolls being cruel to English football players.

Whatever the fate of poor Sarah Hussein, I hope that the police will make thorough and scrupulous inquiries

The death of Ms Everard encouraged the Reclaim These Streets movement — a noble initiative which led to candlelit vigils across the nation. In the cases of Hussein and Tash, though, violence against women — or at least, in the former case, what appears to be violence against a woman — are not being treated as especially significant. One has the unfortunate suspicion that there is a sense that they do not involve the right sort of victims and may not involve the right sort of perpetrators. They are not events it is considered valuable to pay a lot of attention to.

What is the point of attention? one might ask. It is not always absurd to do so. One voice saying that violence is bad may accomplish no less than a million voices saying the same. You can protest against evil but that does not mean that evil is obliged to care.

Still, the least that we deserve is balanced and accurate reporting of events. Awareness may not be a sufficient condition for change but it is necessary one, and when crimes of comparable gravity are treated with extremely different levels of attention we are being misinformed. When events of little consequence are being inflated by the media into national controversies, meanwhile, and significant events are being all but ignored, that is doubly true.

Whatever the fate of poor Sarah Hussein, I hope that the police will make thorough and scrupulous inquiries, and that the press will follow them every step of the way. Justice is the least that the poor woman deserves.

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