Humanity – and the lack of it

Thirty years ago this week I was working in the Autosport office in Teddington, when I received a phone call informing me that my family home had been attacked and robbed, my sister raped, my father and my sister’s boyfriend beaten unconscious with a cricket bat. I went quietly to see the editor, the great Quentin Spurring, told him that I had to leave. He was brilliant, of course. Q was, and remains, a class act, who formed many of the great F1 journalists of today.

In the days that followed I became the head of a troubled family and had to deal not only with an awful situation, but also with Fleet Street’s finest. I learned a lot that week about humankind and about the media and how they can operate.

It was a famous case in its day and my sister eventually decided to campaign for rape victims and to inspire other women to tell their stories and to report things that happened to them. It has been her mission and she is still fighting the fight. I think she deserves a medal.

The reason I tell you this is not to garner sympathy, nor to shock, but because I was reminded of it yesterday by a comment sent to this blog. I didn’t publish it. It was in response to something unpleasant that someone had written and it said: “I haven’t laughed that hard since I read about your sister being raped”.

I read it with a sense of awe that there are people in this world capable of such thoughts. I know that there are, but you don’t see it close up very often. I haven’t met many serial killers (or at least I don’t think I have). I get insulted a fair bit in the comments. It is the price one pays for trying to engage with the F1 public and having opinions, based on 33 years in the business. People get upset about things and are rude, but they are never vicious. For all its pomp and blather, Formula 1 is just a game and it has limited value to the world. Up to now, no wars have been fought over motorsport. In general terms, it is supposed to be fun and uplifting; it is meant to bring happiness and to brighten the lives of the fans. It’s a niche, but a world of great passion. In truth, it doesn’t do much more than that. Many of the people involved are exceptional individuals, brilliant thinkers and great innovators. The technology is useful, but we are not curing cancer here; we’re not stopping wars nor fighting injustice. Given some of the governments we associate with, we’re probably aiding and abetting the bad guys to some small amount. If global war begins tomorrow, motor racing stops and the brilliant people will go off to make guns or to be heroes. It was ever thus, but thankfully we don’t do that any longer, although there is a trend to extremism in the world at the moment which, as a historian, I find disquieting.

Anyway, in all the years I have been writing and doing this blog, I’ve never had anything as vicious as this comment. The internet is a place where cowards can feel like lions, a dehumanised world. The person who wrote it wanted to hurt, wanted a reaction. So here is my reaction: if one uses someone else’s moniker, a false email address and a fake IP address, one is clearly not cut out to be a hero nor a heroine. I’m not angry, I’m not wishing violence on the person. I’m not hurt. I’m simply curious to know what kind of a person could say so foul a thing. I’d like to look them in the face and ask them to repeat it. I know they would crumble.

Thirty years is a long time and the people who were responsible for the crimes mentioned above went to jail, even if many thought the sentences were insufficient.

So, Perp, whoever you may be, you failed. May I suggest that you look at yourself in the mirror and ask: “Am I proud of this?” If the answer is yes, I suggest you seek help from humankind.

For those who responded to my inquiry about how to track down IP addresses, thank you for your humanity.

I don’t wish for comments on this post.