On Wednesday Sharon Collins and Essam Eid, the Clare housewife who tried to hire a hitman over the Internet and the Las Vegas poker dealer who conned her out of her money, were in court again to find out when they would face sentence. As usual the photographers were out in force looking for a shot for the next day’s papers and as usual they came away empty handed.
There are always photographers down at the courts. Along with those of us who write up the trials for the newspapers and broadcast media there are two agencies who cover the photographs on a daily basis. Every person accused of a crime and every major witness will have their photo taken from outside the Court gates so that the many column inches will have their illustrations.
There’s a agreed procedure. The snappers take up their positions outside the gates, photography not being allowed within the grounds of the court buildings. Anyone taking the stand runs the gauntlet every morning and evening as well as coming too and from lunch time. It’s not a pretty job. People accused of a crime are not usually in the mood to have their picture taken but it’s the way of it and so it continues on the daily basis.
Unless it’s a high profile trial and there’s been a verdict. While those whose case was not deemed interesting enough to hit the headlines are always photographed being led away in handcuffs, the same is not true of those whose trial and subsequent conviction has caused a press frenzy.
The likes of Joe O’Reilly, Brian Kearney or Sharon Collins are unlikely to appear on the front page being led across the judge’s yard at the back of the building with their hands shackled in front of them.
When a high profile felon appears before the judge they suddenly gain secret agent-like levels of stealth. Instead of being led across the yard to the prison van in full view of the side gate of the Four Courts the prison services start a game of cat and mouse with the increasingly frustrated snappers. There is an uncharacteristic ducking and diving and the prison van will draw up in a shielded corner beside the courts’ canteen away from any prying but excluded lens.
Now when I say high profile trials I mean those that cover the kind of violent middle class crime we have seen several examples of over the past year or so. We’re talking the kind of conviction where the tabloids take great interest in what the guilty party’s first meal in gaol was or whether their lover visited them or not. The kind of conviction where the accused’s state of mind when the prison door clangs shut behind them is of lip licking importance.
These are the cases where the prisoner suddenly has a right to privacy as they are led away to their cell. Unless the snappers can grab a hurried shot of them through the window of the prison van the photo used on the front page will be file.
OK these prisoners are special cases simply because the public appetite has already been whetted by screeds and screeds of purple prose; the one’s that the likes of me write books about as the dust is settling. But the photographs I’m talking about are the standard shots from a criminal trial.
Surely all prisoners have the same rights by law? Either none should have their moment of shame snapped for posterity or all should be led past for their deserved close up. Isn’t it just pandering to the celebrity status by avoiding this simple shot?
Sharon Collins is unlikely to be snapped in handcuffs, if he’s lucky her often ignored co-accused will receive the same treatment. But the Las Vegas poker dealer never really had the requisite glamour for the Irish press so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s allowed to join this hallowed group.
It would be easy to think that to get the full consideration of your privacy, you must be convicted of killing, or plotting to kill, your nearest and dearest, preferably while living a comfortable life and taking an attractive family photograph.
The people who are given this special treatment have usually been convicted of horrendous, calculated crimes. They are often arrogant to begin with and convinced of their own ability to evade the law. Yet when a jury finds them guilty the same law they have shown so much contempt from protects them like celebrity bodyguards outside a glitzy nightclub, from being shown being led away to pay for their crime.
Someone who lives to regret killing in a moment of rage, or as the almost inevitable climax to a marginalised life, or because their mental illness made them take an unimaginable step are not given the same respect. It really does seem that some are more equal than others.