I have spent the morning trying to talk myself out of writing this post. I am never keen on wading into an issue that only affects me peripherally… and I get frustrated when I read a ranty post from a blogger and it seems like they are just jumping on an already crowded bandwagon.
And yet, today, I feel myself genuinely angry and upset at something in the news. And I don’t know how else to process it other than by writing about it.
A fortnight ago, a 16 year old boy in the Western Isles was reported missing. Last week, his body was found in a derelict building, and this week the investigation was upgraded to a murder investigation.
I don’t know Liam Aitchison. I’d never heard the lad’s name until two weeks ago. But I too am from the Western Isles. Members of my family did know him. He went to school with my niece. Over the past two weeks I have been following the story on news websites, on Facebook, and through text messages with people who called Liam as a friend. They have been hurting in a way I can’t even begin to imagine.
On yesterday’s Matthew Wright show, on Channel 5, a cutting about Liam’s death was included in a panel chat about the day’s newspapers. “There’s been another murder,” growled Wright in a fake Scottish accent. “The first in the Western Isles for forty years.” And then Charlie Baker chips in: “That’s the longest ever episode of Taggart… with a lot of down time.” The panel laughs as a headline about Liam is shown on screen, and then they start asking each other what you can do in the Western Isles. “Can you go fishing? What can you fish for in the Western Isles?”
Wow. Way to trivialise an incident that has devastated a family and a community.
That island community – the likes of which I have never encountered elsewhere – came together yesterday and last night, and responded strongly. Nearly 700 people have joined a Facebook group called Report the Wright Stuff to Ofcom. The local press have run articles calling for an apology, and now even the local Council, MP and MSP have got involved.
This morning, Matthew Wright apologised for causing offence, but immediately followed that apology with a call for those people who had reported the show to Ofcom to ‘grow up’, which renders it pretty meaningless, in my view.
I am sure that Matthew Wright and Charlie Baker are not monsters. I am sure they are both pretty decent people, who don’t actually find it funny that a teenager has been murdered. But that begs the question of why they were idiotic enough to include the piece on their show.
Here, I think, is why it has been troubling me. It was disrespectful. Deeply, deeply disrespectful; to a boy who lost his life; to the grieving family who have had to go through the horror of identifying his body, and to a community in absolute shock.
Wright and Baker may only see the Western Isles as a place where you go for fishing holidays. But for thousands of people it is home. It is a place where the community is tight-knit; where everyone knows everyone else (and their Granny), and where young children are safe to wander the streets in the evenings because it’s so safe.
The fact that there has been no-one brought to trial for murder on the islands in forty years is something to be proud of, not something to mock. And the fact that the forty year spell has now been broken is something to mourn, not to crack jokes about.
God knows, islanders can laugh at themselves. We are well used to having others laugh at us too; for our strange accents, our signposts in Gaelic, and our quaint observance of the Sabbath that means all those tourists on their fishing holidays can’t get a pint or a paper on Sundays. That is all fine. We’ll have a chuckle along with you.
But when you get it wrong, and laugh at us in a way that hurts, don’t tell us to grow up. Don’t disrespect us. Just say sorry, and leave it at that.