Saturday, 13 June 2009

David Bain and the class divide

The Trial of the Century: David Bain's acquittal has provoked a storm of middle-class outrage.

HAVE YOU NOTICED that most of those who’ve come out against David Bain’s acquittal are middle class?

Quite why there should be such a glaring class divide over the verdict is puzzling. Is it simply a case of those with something to lose naturally reposing more faith in the institutional guardians of private property – the police and the courts?

Or perhaps the middle class is reacting to a rare New Zealand example of épater les bourgeoisie – skewering the middle class. Taking umbrage at the one-fingered proletarian salute from all those on the receiving end of bourgeois "justice", as they witnessed the spectacle of this strange, gangly jailbird finally making it over the cuckoo’s nest.

On the other hand, the explanation could come down to something as banal as journalistic jealousy. Unlike Arthur Allan Thomas and David Doughety, David Bain wasn’t freed by the professional skills of a tenacious and courageous journalist, but by the dogged determination of the surly ex-All-Black businessman, Joe Karam.

Openly scornful of what he regarded as the news media’s inexcusable failure to recognise a blatant miscarriage of justice, Bain’s swarthy champion made few friends on the press bench. It is in the nature of journalists to simplify and dramatise. If Karam was in David’s corner – they would be in the Crown’s.

But to blame in on the journalists doesn’t get rid of the class issue, it merely pushes it back a few steps. Journalism is very much a bourgeois trade – especially in its upper reaches. Only someone with the gift for translating the subtle, and not-so-subtle, nuances of class interaction can write a truly great tabloid headline.

Never forgetting, of course, the New Zealand journalist’s infatuation with authority and "official sources". When the Court of Appeal rejected Bain’s bid for a re-trial, few – if any – of this country’s editors were willing to second-guess the judges. Karam’s persistence in the face of the Court’s rejection was interpreted as the behaviour of a crank; someone who didn’t know when to quit.

We can only imagine their consternation when the Privy Council ordered a re-trial of the Bain case. Implicity, the British Law Lords were criticising the entire New Zealand Establishment; telling them in no uncertain terms that they were a bunch of provincial buffoons who couldn’t recognise the most rank injustice (and police incompetence) even when a layman like Karam had made sure it was staring them in the face.

No wonder they wanted Bain to be found guilty a second time. An acquittal could only be seen as vindication of every accusation Karam had ever levelled at the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand legal system – as well as a serious indictment of its news media.

So, when, last Friday, that Christchurch jury found David Bain "Not Guilty" of murdering all five members of his family, it turned out to be much more than a victory for the Defendant, Karam and their supporters. It was also a victory for the potent democratic impulse our Anglo-Saxon ancestors enshrined in the practice of judging an accused person by a jury of his or her peers. Not by the Police; not by lawyers and judges; and certainly not by editors and journalists: but by twelve ordinary men and women.

The almost obscene delight the news media has taken in revealing the highly prejudicial "secret evidence" which had been, quite rightly, suppressed by the courts prior to Bain’s trial, speaks volumes about the vigilante temperament of so many of our editors and journalists. And, it only gets worse. Because, not content with helping to defame Bain, these same middle-class journalists are now calling into question the whole institution of trial by jury.

The vindictiveness and fury of the middle-class, when robbed of its prey, is truly terrifying to behold.

So, God bless that Christchurch jury! Because, in freeing David Bain, they were, in effect, freeing us all. Not, as far too many of my journalistic colleagues seem to think, from the responsibility we all have to uphold the law, but from the oppressive power of a wayward State which, having failed in its duty to administer the law without fear or favour, persisted in that failure regardless of contradictory evidence, and heedless of the fact that it had imprisoned an innocent man for 13 years.

Ruling classes do not enjoy being told they got it wrong. But just as the Tree of Liberty must occasionally be watered by the blood of patriots, so must the keenness of Justice’s blade every now-and-again be tested on the bone-hard prejudices of the bourgeoisie.


rouppe said...

I could not see how the jury could find any other way.

All the expert witnesses around the forensics of the firearm contradicted each other. In essence, anything could have happened there, so they all have to be put aside.

Then the Police obviously did such a hatchet job on the scene examination that very little could be trusted about that evidence. Was the spectacle here - or there? Was particular evidence moved or not? What a mess.

Lastly it is incredibly difficult to understand the destruction of evidence that could have been subsequently DNA tested. They kept it for Tamihere, why not Bain? Very weird.

In the end, there just wasn't anything compelling enough

Fatal Paradox said...

Not sure that I totally agree with your analysis here Chris - from what I have seen the public reaction has split along political or personality rather than class lines, with liberals and leftists tending to welcome the Bain acquittal (or at least be agnostic on the question of guilt or innocence) while more conservative-authoritarian types insist he's still guilty as sin.

If you look a bit wider than Karam at the rest of the Bain supporters a lot of them are middle class Quaker/liberal Anglican types (not that I'm saying there's necessarily anything wrong with that!). Meanwhile in the other camp you have a real mix ranging from the likes of David Farrar to the red-neck but blue-collar constituency of talkback radio.

I think the key question here is not class but your "gut feeling" or attitude towards the police and courts system - what we might call the repressive appartus of the state, to use some Marxist terminology.

For some the figures of authority in society (whether state or parental) can do no wrong and act as our impartial moral guardians, while to others such as myself they seem every bit as biased and lacking in objectivity as the proverbial man-in-the-street - if not more so!

Chris Trotter said...

Hey, "WAKE UP", read the Bowalley Road Rules and learn how to contribute sensibly to this blog. Crude abuse (which is all you have sent us so far) has been, and will continue to be, rejected by the Moderator.

Anonymous said...

All the evidence I have read points to David Bain. There is nothing but hearsay evidence against the father. I question why knowing all this evidence for all these year that Joe Karam could have stood by this David Bain and when told of the view he expressed about wanting to rape a woman and use his paper round as an alibi, Karam dismissed this in words it was like a crush any 17 year old might have - unbelievable!

Anonymous said...

Chris, if you are going to make such a substantial assertion about the 'class divide' over David Bain, a bit more factual evidence would be in order.
I think the latest 'I shot the prick' is probably nonsense, but I'm unable to do the mental/ideological/ dinner party conversation tryhard contortion that it takes to see David's lucky escape as a watering can for the tree roots of the proletariat.
For the first and probably only time in my life I agree with Michael Laws, Greg O'Conner and the various right wing bloggers.

WAKE UP said...

Chris, you haven't met me before, and thus you've misread me - I was probably too brief. What I meant was, Who cares which social "class" is not happy with the Bain verdict?

One of our abiding problems is the insistence that we see ourselves, or be seen, as belonging to a particular class or social stratum, be it unionist or aristocrat, soldier or star, doctor or delivery boy, etc etc ad absurdum. And indeed, this seems to underpin most of your writing.
But I see that tension as a perfect vehicle for social exploitation by the manipulative and evilly-intended, and prefer to remain, myself, an equal-opportunity gadfly, opining as a free individual (indeed, you may even find me on "your side" occasionally - though I have to say that hasn't happened yet :).

Personally, I'm absolutely against the convenient labelling of Bain's opponents/supporters as any particular
group (our lazy, shallow, short-cutting, amateur, under-resourced media do that kind of thing all the time). Let every individual make up his own individual mind without "peer" pressure (whether direct or induced by vicarious media meddling), and without being labelled, except as he/she may wish to be). It's called democracy.

For the record, I've thought Bain was innocent from the day the story broke, and I'm as "middle-class" as they come (except for some individual achievements and idiosyncrasies that are mine alone). And I'm speaking for nobody but myself.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Chris but this opinion piece is a nonsense. From my observations the opinion divide mostly breaks along intelligence rather than class lines. People who can dispassionately follow the evidence (and use Occam's Razor) tend to believe David Bain is guilty.

I personally am not a fan of the police. They don't always get it right.I believe Peter Ellis is probably innocent and Steven Wallace was unlawfully shot by the police. I would put myself well to the left of the polical spectrum and don't think I have ever agreed with Farrar, Laws et al before but I am in total agreement with them this time. We just let out and made a celebrity of a mass murderer. Shame on us.

I have always been interested in your opinion and respected your views but you are disappointing me recently. It seems to me you have taken to bringing everything back to class struggles when in reality things are often more complicated than that.

Pete said...

That is some contortion, Chris.

This has nothing to do with class. This has everything to do with people's ability, or lack thereof, to weigh probability.

Nick said...

Its natural in a way that the case would divide people in such a manner. I think you will find that those who are saying he is 'innocent' have read very little, if anything of the actual evidence and instead are heavily swayed by the emotional side of things and a natural bias against the 'system'. You could pick that up in Micheals Reeds closing address when he stressed what a 'nice' guy David was and I mean we all know murderers are openly evil nasty people now right ergo he must be innocent.

To believe David is innocent you have to believe that Robin did it, to believe Robin did it you have to accept such a riduclous, implausible and virtually impossible scenario that can only be a result of entrenched bias against the 'system' and a very gullible swallowing of Karams creation of the D.Bain persona and his character assasination and defamation of a dead man who can't talk back.

I would suggest before you spout about Davids innocence and the injustice of it all that you might take just a few minutes to learn a bit about the case and the evidence, in particular the findings of Justice Thorpe (who incidentally despite finding many miscarriages of justice in his research emphatically stated that David Bain wasn't one of them).

Have a read

Chris Trotter said...

I followed the case very closely Nick. The presence of "reasonable doubt" was clear from the moment the defence began to challenge the Crown's so-called "evidence". No other verdict was possible - or desirable. The day we start incarcerating people on the basis of probability, is the day we abandon any pretence of protecting individual liberty.

Nick said...

All verdicts are based on the probablity of the Defendants guilt, hence why we have a standard of doubt rather than one of beyond any doubt.

The probablity of David committing the killings is high based on the physical evidence towards him alone, his fingerprints on the gun, his gloves, the blood of the victims on his shorts, his washing of the clothes, his hearing Laniet gurgling etc etc. And when coupled with the sheer implausiblity of Robin Bain committing the killings ,the probablity becomes overwhelming.

I would be interested on hearing your views on the Thorpe report.

Anonymous said...

I also question the fact of Joe Karam receiving $300,000 in legal aid. He's not a lawyer and so how did he qualify? Imagine what his hourly rate must have been. I've known many deserving people who have outside assistance in fighting litigation against them, but they don't qualify for legal aid, in fact some find it difficult to get even basic legal aid. There are people out of work on a benefit and sickness beneficiaries who are given a hard time when they are cases of genuine need and yet $300,000 can be doled out without questions being asked. Mr Trotter are you questioning that?

Anonymous said...

Chris, I'm afraid I completely disagree with almost your entire piece. This is not a victory for which would should all be grateful for being "freed". It is in fact a demonstration of how a biased and ill informed media can pervert public opinion. David Bain on the balance of probabilities is guilty in my opinion, and even beyond reasonable doubt in my opinion.

The fact that our trials are nothing more than a two team debate that allows ridiculous and even claims by defence, to discredit the crown case, go unchallenged. As an example the defence Urologist informed the jury that a 2 or 3 litre bladder capacity is quite normal, this went unchallenged. In truth capacity is 400 - 600ml, and at 1.5L surgical catheterisation is required. Similar arguments are available for much of the defence counter-claims that you are suggesting shot down "the crowns so called evidence". Which leaves me wondering, exactly which challenges to the crowns evidence it is that you now appear to have decided the case on.

There is so much ill sentiment regarding the Bain jury that there have been calls for a review of our system. There is even a documentary this weekend featuring the topic.

For some of us who followed the case it was about finding justice for the five victims.

Anonymous said...

Totally disagree with you Chris Trotter. As previous poster stated, and it is my experience also, that the divide is broadly along the line of intelligence and thorough research of the known facts as opposed to that collected from a couple of published books and/or a brief soundbite daily on the evening television news. You say you followed the case closely, so I take your word for that. You did not however, in my opinion, read the judgement of the Privy Council closely. I can find no criticism by their Lorships of the police, only of the two decisions made by our court of appeal. I assure you I do not feel in the least freed by the decision made in the High Court in Christchurch on June 5th. I felt and still feel that when this, and other jury decisions, is what is likely to be delivered, it is time the jury system of justice is abolished. I have served on a jury and was appalled by the experience. There are better alternatives.

Anonymous said...

Chris, not sure if you wrote this from the peak of Everest, where ever it was it must have been starving your brain of oxygen.

I could have nearly swallowed the argument of the reactions of NZ'ers being tied to their personality type, eg Myers-Briggs classification. But this nonsense of it being linked to "class" is complete BS.

As clearly to date the response demonstrates that there is a percentage of the population who has scientific/deductive reasoning and can see through the media circus and Joe Karem mask of David Bain.

If you followed the case so well, then read the above, particularly the evidence of Dr Pryde unfortunately decesaed before 2nd trial) and
Thomas Samuel. There was no need for the suppressed evidence to convince "middle class" NZ'ers that David Bain was guilty.

Joe Karem has done as good a job as Joseph Goebbels in blindig a nation to murder.

Anonymous said...

Chris It has got nothing whatsoever to do with whether you are middle class etc. What I have noticed is if you are well informed about this complicated case and you have done plenty of homework and spent a bit of time studying the evidence etc then without doubt in general you are going to be in the Bain is guilty camp, but if you are easily swayed by a nice smile and are a little naive and are sucked in by Davids acting skills then you are going to think David is innocent its that simple, the evidence implicating David in this crime is overwhelming and the lack of evidence implicating Robin is astonishing there has truly been a travesty of justice Robin Bain is innocent.

Anonymous said...

What BS! I've lived in Sth Auckland 20 yrs, am married to a Samoan and I totally believe David Bain is guilty of this terrible crime.
I must admit when I saw his beaming smile when he was first released, I had difficulty believing he was capable of mass murder. But the evidence all points to him.

Anonymous said...

Hullo Chris.I was just looking up Karam legal aid and googled your blog[if that is what it is called,I am new to computers].There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Christchurch jury saw reasonable doubt where there was none.They could not have deliberated over 53 days of evidence as it took them only five hours to reach a verdict.In my view,they have brought the jury system into disrepute,and you can rest assured that when submissions are called regarding the upgrade of the jury system next year,I, amongst many others,will be making suggestions,specially regarding long trials,particularly murder trials.You will most certainly have read the now acclaimed piece by Martin Van Beynen of The Press.Unlike you,he sat through almost every minute of the trial ,and he had absolutely no doubt as to who the guilty party was.