On Not Being Maxine Carr
A TV programme last night (Channel 4) showed the worst of human nature in all its stupidity and viciousness.
Maxine Carr, the partner of Ian Huntley, the Soham murderer, served a short sentence for lying to the police. On her release she was given a new identity and became the first non-murderer to be given what is called a 'Mary Bell order' that prevents the media reporting on her.
Since then, women all over Britain have been mistaken for her and subjected to harassment, abuse and violence. One woman tried to kill herself. This programme told their stories.
Two things contributed to this witch-hunt. Firstly, Huntley and Carr were tried together, quite unnecessarily. Huntley had murdered two schoolgirls. Carr was 100 miles away at the time. She gave him a false alibi but nobody but Carr will ever know whether she suspected that he could have been the murderer so we have to give her the benefit of the doubt on that.
Secondly, the media tried to turn Carr into a Myra Hindley figure (Hindley having recently died). The two cases had nothing in common since Hindley, unlike Carr, had been actively involved in Ian Brady's murders.
The women who found themselves under siege to rampaging mobs bore little resemblance to Carr. What they did have in common was that they were outsiders, having recently moved into communities from another part of the country.
Some of their abusers were interviewed and were unshakeable in their belief that Carr had been living in their street. What was fascinating was the circular reasoning which made the parallels with historical witch-hunts so strong. We all know that suspected witches were put under water: if they drowned, they were innocent; if they survived, they were witches and put to death.
In this case, mobs threw bricks through the women's windows. The police came to the street to protect them. 'Aha!', people said, 'she's getting police protection so she must be Maxine Carr.'
A police officer went door-to-door telling people she wasn't Maxine Carr. 'Of course she's not', they said, 'because she's been given a new identity'.
One woman showed the baying mob her passport and birth certificate. To no avail, of course, because the real Maxine Carr would have been given new proofs of identity under a new name.
There was never a more graphic illustration of how difficult it is to prove a negative. Nor a more frightening example of how small a part reason plays in most people's lives.