Opinion: The depressing reality of the Paris Brown case

After an extraordinarily brutal last few days, 17 year old Youth Police Commissioner Paris Brown resigned from her post at Kent Police. In her resignation statement, she said that she was ‘quitting in the interests of the young people of Kent’ after supposed racist and homophobic tweets dating back a number of years had been found by Daily Mail journalists and ran with by several other major news organisations.

There is no doubting that the tweets themselves were offensive. At no point is it acceptable to engage in homophobic or racist behaviour and the comments should not be made by someone attempting to represent young people in a £15,000 a year job as Youth Police Commissioner. However, what the material arguments over the content of Brown’s tweets mask is a more unpleasant reality, mainly that a major national newspaper was perfectly comfortable with running a blatant hatchet job on a 17 year old girl and then happy to pursue it brutally until they tasted blood.

The Mail trawled through Brown’s Twitter feed, some of the Tweets being used in their article dating back from when she was the age of 14. The sort of hatchet job they ran would be something usually saved for a cabinet minister, not a 17 year old girl. This is also ignoring the blinding hypocrisy of a newspaper that bought the world such wonderful stories as Stephen Gately’s Civil Partnership suicide accusing someone else of homophobia.

It is very hard to see what has been achieved from The Mail’s brutal and unpleasant exposé on Paris Brown. Despite personally disagreeing with the creation of Police and Crime Commissioners, I was pleased to see that Kent PCC Ann Barnes quite rightly used her position and a portion of her own salary to create a role that, if used correctly, could foster excellent relations between young people and the police force. Young people are woefully underrepresented in politics and need encouragement to become more involved through existing schemes such as the UK Youth Parliament and British Youth Council and innovative schemes like Ann Barnes’.

The fear stemming from this deeply uncomfortable treatment of 17 year old Paris Brown is that other young people will be put off from taking on more high profile positions in politics, expecting this sort of scrutiny and attack from a media  utterly desperate for stories. A dearth of young people willing to become politically active can only be a bad thing. If the treatment of Paris Brown makes this worse, then shame on the Daily Mail.

* President of Exeter University Liberal Democrats and Executive Member for the Liberal Democrat Mental Health Association

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  • I disagree. Anyone in a public position has to be able to stand up to scrutiny – people don’t get let off of integrity just because of their age. The fault was not Paris Brown’s, it was Ann Barnes’s – for setting up a silly position that catapulted a schoolgirl into a £17k per year public facing political job. The lesson from this story is let’s not try any more gimmicky “Down wiv da kids” stunts. Including teenagers in policing issues is a good idea, but this is absolutely not the way to do it.

  • The actions of the 14 year old Paris Brown were wrong. The actions of the 17 year old Paris Brown were right, in apologising. Sounds like a good representative to me – her resignation [albeit a refusal to sign the contract] should have been refused.

  • MBoy – the tweets and comments were traces from her childhood and nothing more. Are we so unforgiving?

  • Nick, you say in your first paragraph ‘after supposed racist and homophobic tweets’ – why do you use ‘supposed’ there ?

    The real fault here is the PCC’s for coming up with this daft post, and then not doing anything like a due diligence check on her preferred appointee.

  • Geoffrey Payne 10th Apr '13 - 1:01pm

    I think it is ridiculous to attack someone for what they wrote on Twitter when they were 14. It is perfectly possible to change your mind on various issues quite radically at that age.
    It is perfectly possible and likely she no longer holds those views today.
    It is worth bearing in mind that newspapers like the Mail and the Sun sell more copies when they demonise and humiliate someone. That is an example of one of the perverse incentives behind market forces. People are there to be exploited for profit.

  • @MBoy how is haing a someone who can talk to the youth on their own level a gimmick?

  • @Lucas – “having someone who can talk to the youth on their own level” is fine. But appointing a child to a position of serious public responsibility is both silly and gimmicky. Or do you now think we should have children in the House of Commons too?

  • PM’s questions tend to leave the impression that we already have children in the House of Commons.

  • Helen Dudden 10th Apr '13 - 2:18pm

    It is only with growing up you learn your lessons, it would of course be great, if a 16 year old could make statements of say a 30 year old, but then life is not like that.

    We were all young once, and I think it is a lesson to us all, the young are just that , learning to live life, and so sorry for Paris, I bet she feels as thought the world is not on her side.

    Don’t worry Paris,you will learn from this, and things will move on.

  • MBoy was the role a either a gimmick or did it carry serious public responsibility…?

    I think the answer is neither. It carried a modest responsibility to act as a young voice towards the police, something we desperately need (and with stories like this will not get) and in my view that cannot be seen as gimmicky, but really rather important.

    Helen, you are right (perhaps) on age, but punishing someone because they were once young is a sad state of affairs, and I share your condolence to Paris (who has apologised, recanted, converted, done everything she could but was still hounded out).

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Apr '13 - 5:44pm

    Interesting that Brown’s apologists are all latching on to the fact that some of the tweets were made when she was just 14. Actually, she was still sending out offensive tweets just a few weeks ago, including one where she appeared to support a violent assault.

    I do have some sympathy for Brown – in a sense she is a victim of the appalling cyber-delinquent culture so many kids (thankfully, not mine) participate in. I wish her well in growing up to be a decent adult and I hope this doesn’t cause her any more problems in the future.

    But the Mail were clearly right to run the story. How can a girl who was making tweets like this just a few weeks ago possibly be a suitable person to lecture the police on how they should be relating to youths? The role itself is a great idea but she is manifestly the wrong person for it.

  • Richard Church 10th Apr '13 - 6:51pm

    Why doesn’t the Daily Mail go for Northamptonshire’s Police Commissioner, who has just appointed his best friend (his own description of her) and election agent to a £65,000 a year job? Who knows what she said when she was 14 but she is paid the equivalent of 4 Paris Browns.

  • @ Stuart – quite right. The vast majority of teenagers don’t post racist and homophobic messages at any age to any forum, and to suggest that this is “normal” is just insulting to the most teenagers.

  • Youngsters these days are pretty sharp when it comes to technology, so for many parents’ benefit, may have more than one account… One they use when communicating with friends, and one for family. I suspect it will be a growing trend.

    I think it was right to have considered appointing a teenager for a position, and with a salary, but clearly the interview process wasn’t brought into line with modern “social networking” checks, and for that the young woman has paid the penalty. I’m glad she resigned, but based on comments elsewhere, PCCs are not welcomed by serving officers and this is an embarrassing episode, but one from which all parties will learn.

    I hope there will be other young people willing to come forward and be involved with the Police, it would have been better if this first one had not made some disastrous errors in judgement, but actually, it means any others who consider it will at least be forewarned about the scrutiny they will (and should) receive, so another media group cannot make a story from some indiscretion in the past.

    I wish Paris Brown well for the future. No doubt someone willing to give her a second chance will consider her as someone with some skills they need (and if I wasn’t at the other end of the country, I’d employ her tomorrow!)

  • @johnmc
    Not arguing that the tweets weren’t offensive, homophobic or racist as I stated later in the article.
    Would agree with @Henry, position is not akin to being Police Commissioner and is a moderate form of those responsibilities. The role is absolutely not a gimmick and is a good use of PCC’s power to foster better relations between young people and the police and could certainly shape police responses when dealing with young offenders, for example. Truth is that in the case of Brown the media behaved in an outright unpleasant way. The Mail article went way beyond realms of just the tweets and seemed to be insinuating that 17 year olds are incapable of taking responsibility for themselves. Also the nature of the coverage was totally overboard- this sort of item would not have made the third item on BBC News if it had just involved a local councillor, for example.

  • After seeing- and hearing Paris Brown; she seemed a very sensible and articulate young woman. She has probably “grown up” very quickly. Unlike the the writers on flattened trees called The Mail!
    Luckily -she has a future, I hope such thoughtless “rags” do not.

  • Michael Parsons 11th Apr '13 - 4:12pm

    Surely having an opinion, and expressing it even if it makes others uncomfortable, made this young lady the ideal candidate for her appointment. If she was just going to repeat the platitudes of newspaper-talk, or quack away in approved politically-correct Orwellian duckspeak, what use would she have been?

    There is still hardly a sight more ridiculous than the British in one if their periodic moral paroxysms. Epater les bourgeois!

  • David Allen 12th Apr '13 - 1:33pm

    “Actually, she was still sending out offensive tweets just a few weeks ago, including one where she appeared to support a violent assault.”

    Back in the Dark Ages when I and my friends were 17, most of us would regularly express support for violent assaults, albeit usually in jest. In those days people used something archaic called “verbal communication”, and so there were no consequences. It was part of growing up. If adolescents are not free to explore outrageous comments and thought forms, I’m not sure they can effectively learn to grow up. Pity we have Twitter.

  • @David – people have to learn that they cannot behave on Twitter as they behave behind the bike sheds. They need to behave on Twitter as they behave in any other venue where thousands are looking directly at them and listening. If they dont like that (and I wouldn’t) they shouldnt get on Twitter (as I havent).

  • MBoy, for grown-ups that’s fair comment. For kids it isn’t. There was also the 11-year old on the news today for spending £3000 while playing a “free” game on a mobile. Kids need protection from these things.

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