Nicola Barry

Monthly Archives: December 2012

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Connecticut shooting

America is trigger-happy. After the Connecticut shooting, will they finally see sense?

The loss of a child is the one loss which never fades. Not with time. Not with anything. You take that loss with you to your grave.

Article on connecticut shooting, image of anti-gun sign

In Connecticut, after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, bereaved parents will now carry an irrational feeling of failure and guilt. A child is so, so vulnerable. Their trust in their parents is total. They depend on them to keep them safe. Mothers and fathers cannot help but feel they weren’t there for their little ones when they needed them most. Not only that but these bereaved parents will have to watch the survivors, – their children’s friends; watch them grow into their teens, develop a career, find love, get married and have children of their own, then grandchildren.

The Connecticut parents have been robbed of all this.

The redoubtable Scottish father, Mick North lost his five-year old daughter, Sophie, at Dunblane Primary School in 1996. He had already had his share of suffering. His adored wife, Barbara, died in 1993, after a prolonged battle with cancer. To protect Sophie from the loss of her mother, Mick struggled to make the little girl the centre of his life. His efforts paid off. Father and daughter became inseparable, a total double act.

At least, that was the case until the darkest, longest day of his life and his daughter’s last on this earth: March 13th 1996. For Scots it sits in the memory in the same way as the shooting of John F Kennedy does for a generation. Because, on that day, little Sophie became one of 16 children slain in the Dunblane massacre. Thomas Hamilton fired five bullets into her small frame – one for each year of her life. Since then her father has become an expert on guns. There is nothing this gentle, amazing man doesn’t know about the subject. His anti-gun campaigning skills are sought worldwide.

To remind those who may have forgotten or don’t know: sixteen years ago, Thomas Hamilton parked his van in the school grounds. Then, dressed in combat gear, he made his way to the gym, unchallenged, carrying four handguns, two Brownings and two Smith and Westons. His indiscriminate massacre began in the gym. A spray of bullets scattered the toddlers this way and that. A few, like Sophie North, died instantly, others lay injured, frozen in pain and panic, while their attacker opened fire on a nearby classroom.

Looking back, it seems unbelievable that the police had had dealings with Thomas Hamilton for 20 years or so before the massacre actually happened; allowing the man who would end up a murderer to renew his firearms licence, despite justifiable concerns about his suitability and behaviour. Just like Adam Lanza, in Connecticut, Thomas Hamilton committed one final act of cowardice and turned his gun on himself; leaving the rest of the world with the agony of trying to process his unthinkable act of evil.

In Dunblane, the immediate aftermath of the massacre proved unbearable for the relatives. One group of families were called and taken away, leaving the rest still in the staff room. Mick North said it was 2.30pm when he began to feel sick with worry. I remember him saying in an interview: “We didn’t know whether the people taken away were the parents of the survivors or of the children who had died. It was just like being in a police state”.

Post Dunblane, Thomas Hamilton left so many people with a legacy of panic attacks and nightmares, not least the children who survived when their friends had not. How did parents explain the obscenities perpetrated by Hamilton to the children left behind? Try to imagine the conversation: ‘Well, you see, this maniac came into the school and tried to kill you. He killed a lot of other children. They died and now they are in Heaven. But you were lucky. He tried to kill you but, didn’t succeed. Instead, he left you physically disabled as well as mentally scarred. Oh and he killed all your friends, but, hey, you were one of the lucky ones. And, no, this sort of thing doesn’t usually happen in a primary school. It was a one-off.” How could a young child comprehend the incomprehensible. I don’t even understand it myself. Do you? Does anybody?

I remember watching a TV programme about what had happened in Dunblane. It was about a little girl; a tiny child of five who had been shot through the leg by Thomas Hamilton. At the time, this beautiful child kept waking up during the night, sweating and screaming in terror … all her little friends shot dead. What horrors must have been going through her mind? It’s time we did say something to five year olds on the subject of guns. It’s time we explained that nobody has the right to take another person’s life, even threaten to do so. Might is not necessarily right, very rarely in fact.

The horror of Dunblane produced a great deal of noise and guns were rightly banned in the UK. But laws need teeth. Teeth bite. Nevertheless, in the States, guns are commonplace. Believe it or not, almost 30% of high school children in America have firearms. What for? There are no longer any wild frontiers to be conquered in the States yet, for no particular reason, the gun remains God. In fact, guns are to Americans what umbrellas are to Scots. Too many Americans carry their faithful pistols around with them, just in case. This makes it very hard to enforce laws limiting the way guns are bought and sold. Nor does the National Rifle Association help. Charlton Heston – Chuck to his trigger-happy pals – maintained parents were to blame when kids started shooting people. A stricter upbringing would sort them out, he said. Poor old deceased Chuck, I would say to him that guns are to blame, not parents. Only by stopping guns being sold or owned, can you remove all potential danger.

Nobody ever explains why Americans carry guns like hankies anyway. What exactly are they going to do with them? Some people maintain they need guns to protect themselves from would-be attackers. This is nonsense. A woman living in New York may well carry a gun in her handbag. Imagine that one night she is walking home alone. She thinks the man behind is following her, intending to rape or mug her. The woman surreptitiously grabs her gun from her bag, turns suddenly and blows out the stranger’s brains. It later transpires that she dropped her gold watch a few blocks back and the man was hurrying after her to return it.

The American Constitution, which sets out that country’s rights and freedoms, says people are allowed to “keep and bear arms.” In the States, if you buy a gun from a registered dealer, they carry out a quick computerised background check on you and that’s that. If you buy a gun from a private collector, anyone who is not a registered dealer I mean, such a check isn’t necessary. You could be a crackpot, you could be the world’s next serial sniper; the world’s next mass child murderer. It really doesn’t matter.

I am sure many people who carry guns do so because they believe a weapon will somehow enhance their image – a bit like the hairy, try-to-be-scary – guys who own fierce dogs.

When he made a statement on the Connecticut shooting, Barack Obama cried, a first for any American President that I can recall. Maybe he will take action – now that he doesn’t have to worry about being re-elected. We need to stop peddling the idea that guns make a person powerful. They don’t. Someone who needs to carry a gun in a so-called civilised society has to be very scared of something. To carry a gun is to wear that fear on one’s sleeve for the whole world to see. It is to be a coward.

Sadly, people the world over are trigger-happy. Fortunately, in the UK nowadays, it is extremely difficult to acquire a gun, legally. First of all, you need a licence. To get a licence you have to give the police information about yourself, including your medical records. You also need to get two people to tell the police they think you are a jolly good chap, the sort who definitely needs to carry a gun. Guns for target shooting and farm pest control are one thing. Any other weapon within the civilian population is unnecessary, undesirable and desperately sad.


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Apology for hoax call

DJs apology for hoax call doesn’t cut any ice

No doubt, millions of people around the world were waiting on tenterhooks to hear a heartfelt apology from the Australian DJs whose prank call ended with the death of Jacintha Saldanha, a nurse at the hospital where Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, was being treated.

Article re apology for hoax call, image of word 'sorry'

But, oh, what a let-down when Mel Greig and Michael Christian finally broke their silence on Australian TV: the crocodile tears, the insistences that “this was not supposed to happen”, the sheer ‘me, me,me’ of their agonising. They are shattered. They are upset. They are utterly distraught. To be brutally honest, does anyone, apart from their nearest and dearest, actually care how they feel?

For a start, no one they know has died as a result of their practical joke.

Yes, it was sensible that they, eventually, decided to grovel. A heartfelt apology, genuinely offered and gracefully accepted, can be a Godsend.

Unfortunately, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube once you’ve squeezed it out. In the civilized world, saying sorry and meaning it is often the only way to restore damaged relationships between individuals, nations even. But then I would not include broadcasters Greig and Christians in my definition of the civilised world. Their teary apology was supposed to placate anyone who feels distraught over the suicide of the nurse who was duped by the pair who pretended to be the Queen and Prince Charles enquiring after Kate’s health.

For a public apology to be successful, it requires the willingness of those who offended to acknowledge their many failings and the total lack of respect they showed the injured parties. The success of any apology lies in its delivery. So many people say “Sorry,” then follow it with, “Actually, you see…”  They never intended a real apology, just a long, rambling justification for whatever they did or said.

The Aussies did exactly that: “We never meant for this to happen,” they whined. Did they even consider what might happen to a nurse duped into giving out details of the health of a member of the Royal Family? Answer: no, probably not.

However, before we jump all over the Australian media, we should remember that Britain is not exactly innocent in this arena.

Remember the sexually explicit messages left for actor Andrew Sachs by the ghastly Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross. The pair left messages claiming Brand had slept with Sachs’ granddaughter, Georgina Baillie. In its apology, the BBC said the telephone calls to the actor’s answering machine should never have been made; adding that the conversation had been, “grossly offensive and an unacceptable intrusion into the private lives of both Mr Sachs and Ms Baillie.”

I haven’t noticed Ross or Brand suffering as a result of their repulsive behaviour, have you?

Of course, they were lucky. No one died as a result. But I think we all recall the pain, anger and distress their so-called prank created.
Clearly, it slipped the minds of Brand and Ross – if, indeed, they possess such a thing – that the actor who played Manuel in the series Fawlty Towers, is loved and respected the world over; your actual national treasure.

Unlike all those politicians we have witnessed, over the years, caught A) with their trousers at half mast or B) with their hand in the expenses pot. How many of them have we seen, pictured in front of the family pile, accompanied by simpering wife and adoring children, saying sorry?Invariably, it guarantees them some sort of comeback; a wonderfully paid job with the EU, perchance even a peerage.

As with the Australians’ apology, the verbal retractions of politicians in trouble are designed to soothe, to keep people on their side, despite what they have done. Radio and TV presenters are highly paid. Surely, they should possess at least a modicum of integrity? The hoax call did not reflect well on anyone, especially not on the radio station who keep trying to blame the King Edward V11 Hospital, in London. The Big Chiefs have even tried suggesting that the nurse was suffering from depression and might have committed suicide anyway.

No one can dispute that the untimely death of Jacintha Saldanha is a terrible tragedy, especially for her husband and two children.

When someone commits suicide, they are usually so distressed that they can’t see any other way out.
We all have problems, and, thankfully, can usually find ways of dealing with them. But this gentle, caring nurse was cruelly and very suddenly thrown into the international media spotlight; straight into the lion’s den, if you prefer, and her coping strategies were pushed to the limit. Suicide could almost be viewed as one of the most selfish acts one person can perpetrate on another.  As well as the grief and heartache for those left behind, there will be guilt and interminable questions: Could I have done something to prevent it? Why didn’t I realise how bad she was feeling? If only I had been more available.  Nor are these momentary thought processes. They can haunt the mind of the survivors for weeks, months, even years; echoes of a horror from which those close can never fully recover.
A lot of suicidal people give out warning signs in the hope that they will be rescued. Most don’t really want to die. They just want to feel better.

However, death by suicide is brutal and sudden.  For those left behind, there is no time to prepare, no time to anticipate the end and assemble your thoughts; no time to say goodbye and thank you.

Being judgmental of someone who commits suicide helps nobody either. Who can ever know the force of despair so black it compels someone to take their own life? All we can assume is that gentle Jacintha could not face the turmoil she had, unknowingly, created by answering a phone call from a bunch of complete prankers.

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