Caroline Flack and Lewis Burton - Who's to blame for the death of Caroline Flack? by Charles Harris

Who’s to blame for the death of Caroline Flack?

If you believe the tabloids, it’s the police or the Crime Prosecution Service (CPS). If you believe the CPS, it’s the media.

And if you believe the serious newspapers, it’s us. Yes, you and me. (More about our role in this later).

Caroline Flack (9 November 1979 – 15 February 2020)

First, for those outside the UK, who’s Caroline Flack?

The bare facts are that she is, or now sadly was, a British television and radio presenter, in particular in reality TV.

She won Strictly Come Dancing in 2014 and more recently co-presented the reality TV show Love Island. She left Love Island in December 2019 after her arrest for allegedly assaulting her boyfriend, tennis player Lewis Burton.

Then on 15 February 2020, with the court case looming, she appears to have committed suicide. (As I write this, the inquest has not yet taken place).

The blame game

Of course, everybody weighed in with their opinions of why. Certainly, a key factor seems to have been the pressure of the case, due to start on March 4th.

Her management and boyfriend pointed out that the CPS pressed ahead, despite Burton refusing to testify against her. They called it a “show trial”. She was on bail on condition she didn’t see him and had already threatened to kill herself, it seems.

So far, so clear-cut. Certainly as far as the tabloids are concerned. It’s all the fault of the CPS for not dropping a case against a woman who was clearly vulnerable.

No matter that – vulnerable or not – they happily trashed Flack’s reputation from the moment the alleged assault took place.

Headlines such as “Caroline ‘Whack’ and photos of a blood-stained bed were just the beginning. Remember, these are the same people who justify invading private lives by saying “privacy is for paedos,” as a News of the World journo told a government inquiry.

Intelligent thugs?

Unlike the newspapers, the CPS proposed a trial in which Flack would have had a chance to defend herself. One in which she was innocent unless proved guilty…

…While the tabloids subjected her to a trial by media, in which she was guilty until proved innocent. They effectively hounded her – and nobody (innocent or guilty) should have to face that.

Now, of course, they cry foul and accuse the judicial process of driving her to suicide. But I wonder what they’d have said if a man had been let off a charge of attacking his girlfriend on the basis of emotional vulnerability. (And bear in mind that suicide is the biggest killer of young men in this country).

It was my horror at such journalism that inspired me to write my political satire The Breaking of Liam Glass.

It would be almost reassuring to believe that these writers are somehow thuggish and different from us. However, when I met them, I found them to be mostly highly intelligent, well-educated, apparently decent human beings.

How, I wanted to explore in my book, did seemingly intelligent people get to write such stuff? And how did they live with themselves? And to do it through a strong story and dark humour.

The over-inclusive we

Meanwhile, it strikes me that the CPS are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. While the journalists set themselves up as judge and jury.

Which brings me, as promised, to our role in the proceedings. Because it’s often said that “we” are to blame for reading these stories. If “we” didn’t buy the newspapers, they wouldn’t print them.

As Richard Seymour says at the end of a recent Guardian article, “We also need to take seriously our pleasure in, and fascination with, personal destruction.”

But do “we” all take such pleasure? Or is this an insidious example of what I call the “over-inclusive we”. I rather resent being included in that “we” – and I suspect many others would as well.

I, personally, didn’t ask for the tabloids to savage Caroline Flack. I didn’t read the articles and therefore took no pleasure in them.

And maybe the next time journalists sanctimoniously try to include “us” in their inner circle of Hell, maybe “we” should answer “Not in our name.”

Read more

BBC: Caroline Flack press petition delivered to government

The Guardian: Caroline Flack: scale of negative media coverage before death revealed

More articles on the tabloids