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Red or Black?

This summer, Nathan Hageman caused a ‘public outcry’ when he won a million pounds on ITV game show Red or Black. The glitter had only just settled when it was revealed that Hageman had served a two and a half year prison sentence for assaulting his girlfriend. Cue ‘outcry’. Tabloid newspapers ran opinion pieces, asking what justice there was in the world. Simon Cowell was reportedly furious. Pubs across the land were, apparently, filled will angry discourse on the topic.

Now, assuming that this isn’t a media invention and that there were actually people who gave a shit, I have to say the reaction surprised me somewhat. It’s not that I question the seriousness of his crime – quite the opposite. If anything, I’m concerned that he served less time for beating his girlfriend than he would for failing to organise a riot on facebook. But whatever questions I have for the legal system, the fact of the matter is that this is a man that served his time, that committed a crime in the past and may, for all we know, have been rehabilitated.

I can feel the look of pity from here; you wonder, and I really that naive? The accepted wisdom seems to be that criminals are an ‘other’, a fundamentally different kind from the likes of you and me. It isn’t a case of what Nathan Hageman did, it’s what he is, what he will always be and what he must therefore always be punished for being. He is A Criminal.

I would find this easier to believe if it applied to all criminals, but it doesn’t seem to. It’s obvious that a man like Nathan Hageman should never be entitled to any kind of privilege, but there’s a question of whether top bankers should lose their jobs after costing thousands of people theirs. When it’s one of a shady underclass, in grubby urban clothes, it’s easy to distance yourself. It’s easy to call their crimes evil and dismiss them as a lost cause. But when it’s someone who looks like you, or someone you aspire to, or when, crucially, you can imagine yourself doing what they have done, then it’s a different story. We would never mug an old lady, but, if we’re honest, we might fiddle our expenses. Yeah, they’re criminals, but they’re not Criminals, you know? That’s why we’ll forgive those people, we’ll still buy their pulp fiction or vote for them on strictly come dancing or swallow, albeit it with a grumble, their massive redundancy payout.

I’m not saying I like Nigel Hageman – I’m not even saying the guy should, necessarily, have been allowed to participate in televised game shows. Perhaps there is good argument from excluding criminals from these sort of opportunities, I can’t say it ever occured to me before. But if we are going to let the entertainment industry act as an extension of the justice system and allow a life time of punishments to be attached to a criminal record, then it should at least be all criminals. Because for as long as we punish people and not their crimes we are going to be stuck with this ‘them and us’ culture, we’re going to widen the divide between criminals and the rest of society and we might as well give up on any hope of rehabilitating people or getting rid of the criminal culture. Sometimes, we have to accept that a person is not defined by a previous act.

And, for what it’s worth, I still accept that if I ever have inadvertently furthered the later careers of Jeffrey Archer or Christine Hamilton, I was wrong. And I’m sorry.

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Co-founder and contributor to Scarlett Nation.

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