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When The Quality Of Compassion Is Strained

Marc My Words

By Marc Alexander

When The Quality Of Compassion Is Strained …

I magine being a mother, called by the police, and told that your 29 year old son has died.

E nvisage also that he didn’t die because of an accident or a health problem but that he was accosted by two youths who did not know him, who set upon him with their fists and shoes, a knife and fence palings.

N ow try to put yourself in the position of that 29 year old, being attacked, terrified and running away to escape, only to be cornered and then stabbed, stomped on and beaten to death.

S hannon McComb was that young man. He was so badly injured that he was wrapped in blue plastic inside his coffin.

H is murderous tormentors were given their sentence in court yesterday. While Shannon ’s family lost a son and brother forever, Kevin Green and Pakanui Morice paid the ‘small price’ of a non-parole sentence of 17 years. Nevertheless the Judge should be highly commended. In the scheme of things he handed down one of the longest sentences possible, dismissing the claims by their defence counsels that Morice was, at 17years, relatively immature and had difficulty ‘conceptualising’ what he had done; and that Green (aged18) did feel remorse. Frankly who cares? I know I sometimes sound like a broken record but these thugs deserve to sit out their natural life behind bars with their internment to look forward to and think about what they’ve done. They, along with other criminals of their ilk, should be made to work from sunup to sundown, with a constant reminder of the life they chose to end and the family they chose to destroy.

U nderpinning this sad saga…and one you won’t find in the pages of our media because for the most part they can’t be bothered to dig any deeper than the lurid details they deem necessary in order to sell their papers, was what I learnt when I spent last Saturday in Hamilton with Shannon’s mother Kristine and stepfather Richard. They are wonderfully warm people, who in spite of the tragedy of their son’s untimely death have found an inspirational strength that should never have been tested. They, like most Kiwis, want justice done.

T hey told me what Shannon was like…his gentle nature, his closeness to his younger brother and older sister. My primary reason for seeing them was because they had trouble including some key points they wanted to raise in their victim impact report. Although we have the Victims Rights Act 2002, some of its provisions have yet to bed down as standard practice. The issues they wanted to include were considered ‘prejudicial’ to the offenders. One was a telephone message from Shannon to his family telling them that he was planning to see them soon and that he loved them; the other was a photograph of Shannon in his younger days. Personally I don’t see how either could be ‘prejudicial’. Surely it must be left up to the victims – in this case the surviving family- to determine the full impact of the crime. At that point I intervened to find what is allowable in this situation and the judge ruled accordingly. I have no doubt this had an effect in determining the severity of the sentences. However it is sad that it took the intervention of an MP to achieve what should be an automatic right.

A secondary issue has also arisen because prior to Shannon ’s murder TVNZ had recorded an interview on an unrelated matter. Understandably Shannon ’s family has pleaded for the segment not to proceed. I have been in touch with TVNZ and they are adamant that they will proceed with the screening.

N ow I accept that public interest should not be compromised. I also support the freedom of the Press. We cannot allow news to be subject to continual veto by members of the public because the views expressed might embarrass or be hurtful. I understand all that but…and it’s a big but… sometimes the media has got to be bigger than that. Sometimes there has to be an ethical decision that works in favour of the public good not to portray certain things.

I n Shannon ’s case public interest is not excluded by putting the wishes of the family first. At the very least TVNZ could allow the family to view the segment first – not to edit, but to allow some prior knowledge of the item. And would it hurt TVNZ at all if the family was given a respectful time to recover from the wounds of the court process? Would that not be in the public interest of any victims who may one day find themselves in the same situation?

It would be a double calamity if rather than helping a family to heal and come to terms with their loss, the very media given a charter to advance the public good, ends up undermining it. Compassion still has a place in our society. I urge those who agree with me to write to TVNZ and ask for the segment ‘Down and Out’ to be pulled, (at least for the time being); and if it is not, then vote with your remote by watching something else.

Let us give Shannon the peace he was so brutally denied in life.

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