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Sometimes, facts really don't matter to people

Since the Brexit vote, and especially since the recent Autumn statement, there has been something familiar nagging at me; the remarkable refusal of Brexiters to accept or acknowledge the facts set out by the government and in the OBR's forecasts. It reminds me of something, a feeling I have had before. I know that the expression post-truth annoys a lot of people, but it is a thing, it really exists. People, for whatever reason can knowingly refuse to accept bare facts when it suits them. It isn't a new phenomenon at all. I am bound to say, moreover, that I have tended to experience it in a malign sense, when the things people want to believe are unconscionable or driven by prejudice of one kind or another.

Last night I remembered where it was that I had last seen the phenomenon and it was an experience that left me astonished at the time, but which also provoked in me a genuine disgust for my fellow citizens. I am afraid it is an unpleasant parallel scenario, but it was profound and extraordinary because of that - it was whilst I served on a jury in a rape case.

The evidence of guilt was overwhelming - it wasn't a date rape either. It was as open and shut a case as you could imagine. I believed, after hearing all of this absurdly damning evidence and these meticulously gathered facts, that we would probably be in the jury room for ten minutes before sending this piece of human excrement to jail forever. But I was to be grotesquely surprised.

The jury consisted of an equal number of men and women and seven of us immediately put our hands up for guilty, one was undecided and four said "Not Guilty". And they said it with capital letters. The rest of us just gazed at each other open-mouthed. The foreman asked the undecided what his issues were and the fellow began to look through his copious, almost verbatim notes, searching for small facts, most irrelevant (why was she out so late?) that gave him cause for doubt. Each of these concerns were dealt with by some sensible argument and by bringing the focus back onto the key issues. The judge had given the direction that essentially advises juries that they don't need a photograph of the accused committing the crime, but that they should use their experience and common sense to assess the facts and whether one version of the story is likely to be more true than the other. In this case, we were not far off having a photograph and a film of him doing it. The doubtful chap continued to nag about minor irrelevancies whilst accepting the core facts - in time he would come down firmly on guilty, but he worried himself sick about those minor issues. He was genuinely unsure because of his own nature and because he wanted to do the right thing, honestly, he had no malice or pre-judgement.

The firm Not Guilty mob – and in their unfathomable, snarling disregard for the woman, they were a mob – didn't bother with facts pointed out to them at all. It was as if they had not just sat though a four days of evidence and testimony. Phrases that stick out in my mind are "I know what young women are like" (from a middle aged woman) or "He's just a cheeky, scamp' (from a middle aged man.) I asked the woman to consider whether she herself, at that age, would have considered, in the circumstances before us, having sex with a complete stranger on a freezing, wintery night a few seconds after being grabbed by him. "Yeah, I might", she answered. I told her that I knew she was lying but couldn't understand why. Why, despite all the facts, was she prepared to call the victim a liar? Another woman noted that the victim hadn't broken down sobbing in tears on the witness stand. She had given what was evidently a carefully prepared performance, sticking to the facts, pausing frequently to compose herself. But according to Not Guilty woman 2, she ought to have been dissolved in wailing tears through-out.

On it went for three days. I had at one point, after he had made some dismissive, light hearted remark about the victim, threatened to take Not Guilty man out into the street and basically smash his face in if he treated this case and victim with such disdain again. It got THAT bad. The foreman dissolved amidst all this and left it to the rest of us to do the arguing, the refuting of mindless theory that was totally divorced from the facts before us. Twice we went back into court – mainly as cover for the people who refused to even consider overwhelming facts and evidence - to ask a supplementary question of the judge. Each time we did so, we came back to the room and one more changed their verdict. I vividly remember seeing the faces of the prosecution and investigating officers, bewildered, shocked, horrified that we should even need to ask such questions. Could it be that even with these facts, this monumentally damning evidence, they could lose the vote? The prosecution, confident in its case, had even agreed to allow the jury to be told prior to verdict that this defendant had no record of this sort of thing. "He's never done it before!" not Guilty Man would later exclaim. I refused to engage, or even appear to want, or need, to know the answers to the questions being asked. I did not want to be associated with these people.

Eventually, we got a unanimous guilty verdict. We got it because the four who at first were determined to find him not guilty for whatever strange and inexplicable reason, were forced, in a closed room, to face the overwhelming facts, over and over again. They couldn't walk away with their fingers in their ears saying "ner ner ner". And they came to understand that for whatever reason they wanted to find this monster innocent, it didn't wash when set against the horror of telling that young woman, in light of the mountain of grotesque evidence, that she had been lying.

I have sometimes tried to work out why these four people behaved in the way they did. Perhaps there was a reluctance to accept that such horrors actually existed. Maybe they found the prospect of condemning someone to many years of incarceration too difficult. I don't believe they were all stupid – maybe one or two of them – so they were making a conscious effort to ignore overwhelming facts. There was, at times, a sense that they deeply disliked the victim, which I found shocking. Could they really be so dishonest because they "know what young women are like", even when presented with evidence that said without doubt that the victim was not like whatever it was young women were supposed to be like in the minds of that juror? I have simply come to believe that people will go to any lengths to ignore facts or truth when it suits their prejudices, regardless of the consequences. But it is rare that you are locked in a room with them, able to force them to relentlessly face those facts and accept the evidence. ****** Note; This case occured many years ago and the sentence will have been well-served by the individual. However, because someone on Twitter put the wind up me, I have edited the original article and have removed anything that might, even in a small way, identify the case.

Comments

  1. Cognitive bias allows people to fill in the blanks with a feeling they are right regardless of what others say and I prefer that to post truth.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Loads of people form a quick first impression and then merely look for evidence to support that.

    I wonder how many of the people who voted 'guilty' initially disliked the guy and also merely sought for evidence to back that feeling up. They would merely be right by chance.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I can assure you the evidence was ridiculously overwhelming in every respect. Not first impressions at all

    ReplyDelete
  4. "I have sometimes tried to work out why these four people behaved in the way they did."

    Because most of us are formed by a misleading power of our beliefs. However, when/if we are courageous enough to go deeper, we all can find out that most of 'our' beliefs are not ours at all. We have adapted them from many people we were/are surrounded by; gurus, parents, teachers, etc.
    It's easier to adapt someone's else belief/opinion than to have a courage to experience something in person.
    Btw, the same approach is used in campaigns.

    Well written article, I liked reading it indeed. Thank you.

    Regards,
    El Stadnik

    ReplyDelete

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