Hawking’s trouble and strife

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on why the police should butt out of Stephen Hawking's private life - and everyone else's.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

I know nothing about what goes on between Stephen Hawking and his wife, Elaine. But I am sure that if the famous physicist says he has not been assaulted and asks to be left alone, then the police have no business sticking their truncheons into his private affairs.

Professor Hawking has apparently been taken to hospital several times with injuries, including a broken wrist and a gash on his face. Several nurses and carers have made statements to the police over allegations that his wife was responsible. In a statement, Professor Hawking has ‘firmly and wholeheartedly’ rejected the allegations, declared that ‘my wife and I love each other very much’, and requested that the media respect his privacy.

This week, The Times reported that if Professor Hawking were to refuse to co-operate with police, he could be called as a hostile witness in any trial whether he liked it or not. When the paper later reported that the family’s lawyers were asking carers to sign a ‘statement of support’, a Cambridgeshire police source denounced the couple’s behaviour as ‘outrageous’ and declared (somewhat tactlessly): ‘I am completely speechless.’ The police appear astonished that any couple should want to defend their relationship against pecknoses and prodstaffs waving allegations of abuse. It is understandable that people are concerned for the welfare of the wheelchair-bound professor. But that is no excuse for treating the scientist like a child who does not know what is good for him and must be protected by the parental arm of PC Plod.

Official attitudes to domestic violence already infantilise women. As the barrister Barbara Hewson argues, the Home Office aims ‘to introduce the ethos of child protection work into dysfunctional adult relationships’. Last year it was announced that police would be able to prosecute a male partner using photographs of his spouse’s injuries, even if the woman did not want to give evidence.

The Government justifies such extraordinary measures by claiming that one in four women is a victim of an epidemic of domestic violence. That highly dubious statistic was extracted from a 1999 Home Office survey which equated a serious assault with a shove. Yet the survey also showed that only 17 per cent of those deemed victims of domestic violence thought what had happened was a crime. Most people trust themselves to decide what should be treated as a row, and what should be prosecuted as a criminal offence. They do not welcome the blunt instrument of the law as a relationship counsellor.

For hawkish ministers, such as Harriet Harman, the Solicitor-General, such a closed-door policy is intolerable. She insists that domestic violence must be treated in the same way as ‘violence against a stranger in the street’. Given that the Home Office now defines domestic violence so widely as to include ‘emotional and financial abuse’, the implications are far-reaching.

We hear a lot about the right to privacy when it comes to photographing celebrities, or trying to get trivial information from official agencies. Yet real privacy – the liberty to be left alone to sort out one’s life – can be deemed a problem, and those defending it accused of ‘outrageously’ obstructing the law.

Whether you or I would want to be married to Professor Hawking’s apparently rather domineering wife is not the issue. Their marriage is their affair until they decide otherwise. That outraged police source asked of the Hawkings: ‘Perhaps they would like to prosecute, defend and judge the case as well?’ To which one might reply: yes, when the ‘case’ concerns intimate details of our relationship, that is exactly what we would like to do.

This article is republished from The Times (London)

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Topics Politics


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