I discovered something this week that I didn’t know; hadn’t even occurred to me. When a big Lottery prize goes unclaimed, here in the UK “hundreds” of people step forward and claim to have purchased the winning ticket only to have lost it, had it stolen or had it damaged in the washing machine so that you can’t read it properly. The figure of hundreds comes from the Lottery proprietors, Camelot, and this week concerns a prize for £33 million, initially unclaimed. Since Camelot specified that the winning ticket had been bought in Worcester (population 100 000) then either a lot of people across the UK found a way of claiming they were in Worcester the day the ticket was sold or else Worcester itself is full of people willing to take their chances with wishful thinking or fraudulent claims. After all, £33 million is a lot of money for nothing, so much so that it feels to me a morally dubious amount for a game prize. Very few people could handle a sudden £33 million handout.
But the thought of those hundreds of claimants made me think of something else. In recent years, for reasons not entirely clear, several English police forces have extensively used mainstream media inviting victims of sex crimes attributed to named celebrities, either entertainers or politicians, to come forward. They have had quite a bit of success. Lots of people have come forward, sometimes assured in advance that they will be believed. But in the end, maybe half the cases pursued have come to nothing or have been lost when brought to Court. In these circumstances, it seems doubtful to me that all of the convictions achieved are sound and equally doubtful that all the abandonments or acquittals were justified. It's become a very murky area.
Some of the police forces involved have long histories of corrupt or dubious dealings with mainstream media. Individual officers get paid for tip-offs and stories. A few get offered well-paid media jobs on retirement from the police. Victims too can make money selling their stories to mainstream media and this fact is widely known. Not £33 million but maybe five figures for a really juicy story.
Throughout history, cultures of denunciation have existed where people are willing to accuse their neighbours of crimes which they have not committed. Sometimes it is enough that the person denounced is envied for their wealth or hated for their race or religion. Quite often, the authorities offer some reward for denunciations they particularly want to hear. In Nazi-occupied Europe there was always a reward for denouncing a hidden Jew. Here, there are rewards for denouncing celebrities. At the very least, it is all rather unsatisfactory, both to those unfairly accused and to those genuinely wronged.