Mine should have been one FULL of celebration. My youngest daughter turned 1 on Thursday, my Mum celebrated her birthday on Friday, and yesterday, my Grandparents were having a party for their 60th Wedding Anniversary. We had planned to celebrate this weekend with them all.
These celebrations were unexpectedly tarnished as a huge cloud descended over us all, in the form of a barrage of lazy articles being flung out by every national newspaper in the country, linking me to a 2015 “gangland” killing.
The link? My mother had a relationship (never married) with the offender’s father when I was 2 years old – I’ll be 38 in January.
I have never dismissed or denied my connections, but I find the fact that I am always used as the peg or promotional tool for these stories to be both damaging and careless.
Let me set the scene. On Friday afternoon (my Mum’s birthday) I was shopping with my eldest daughter for Christmas decorations. We were also passing the time as I was due to deliver a speech at a local school that evening about an initiative I am launching to inspire and empower inner city kids, like myself. Just one of many I have done in recent months.
At 2:33pm, I get a call from my manager, asking me to urgently look at an email. It was an article about an awful crime that had been committed, the ins and out of the incident, and a statement from the judge.
The chilling part? The fact that my name is the first name in the headline of the article. And not just that article, but… Every. Single. Article reporting on this story.
Now whilst I understand reporters want their stories read by as many people as possible, just paper clipping my name to something like this is extremely lazy, careless and insensitive. Not to mention, doing so has far reaching real-world repercussions for me and my family.
I have never attempted to justify or downplay the magnitude of the crimes in these stories. In fact I have on several occasions, condemned it. However, these articles cause me to live in fear that someone may seek revenge on me or my family due to these ‘apparent links’, despite being completely oblivious to, and disassociated with, all aspects of these cases and those involved. In one paper they even created a chart, which regurgitated past stories they chose to associate me with.
They don’t print stories about the speeches I do, or the initiatives I have launched and participated-in for schools and young children up and down the country. They don’t cover my charity work, and the time I donate for good causes and things close to my heart. They don’t write about my appointment to a house of commons panel helping to create positive community change. They don’t write about the things I share with the sole purpose of inspiring those who may need it. You don’t write about the fact that I have dedicated my entire career to helping and empowering others. I have never gone out of my way to hurt anyone.
Yet, something that I have played no part in whatsoever, other than to have been the “stepdaughter” (and that is in the loosest of terms) of someone for 2 years of my life, almost 35 years ago, and who I have not laid eyes on for decades, gets me on the digital front page, and prominent coverage in national papers. I am not a criminal, I do not condone crime or criminal activity and never have. I am a humanitarian, I am committed to giving and sharing, helping people and above all, I am a mother trying to positively raise and provide for her children. These articles directly impact my children. I kept my 13 year old daughter away from the internet on Friday, but on a supermarket visit with my husband on Saturday, she still came across your stories when she flicked through the papers and saw her Mummy. She’s 13 and decided to cancel a sleepover at a friend’s house because of this. Despite having a difficult conversation, and me answering her multiple questions, including “who is he?”, she’s embarrassed, confused and extremely upset that we have been involved in this way.
These articles directly impact my relationships. As I mentioned, It was my mums birthday yesterday, and this was very significant, and ironic as I knew offering to take her out would be pointless. She doesn’t want people to know I’m her daughter. She literally does NOTHING with me outside of our homes. She never attends my appearances, shows, or even my recent Birmingham walk of stars ceremony because, even she, doesn’t want to be associated with me publicly. Not because she isn’t proud of me, but because she doesn’t want people to associate her with the constant barrage of bad press I get.
These articles directly impact my mental health. I was diagnosed with depression, which began in 2005 following the first article of this kind appearing on my then 4 year old daughters birthday. Upon which I fled the country, fearing the repercussions of the exaggerated links made by the media. 13 years later and I still feel a very real threat hanging over the lives of me and my children when these ‘links’ are re-hashed and re-circulated. Despite never harming anybody in my life, I live in fear of serious harm. That someone may come and kill me in retribution because of what you’ve written and what your articles have led them to believe.
These articles directly impact my work and finances. Every time I am mentioned in these articles, my job prospects, campaign considerations and upcoming projects are subsequently taken away from me. I have been in talks with 3 major channels about different projects, all of which have now expressed that this news has tainted my profile and they’ll have to “change direction”. Please understand that this is how I pay my mortgage, school fees, car insurance, bills and taxes, and you take that away from me and my family, every time you print these stories that I have absolutely nothing to do with.
These words matter.
I shouldn’t have to divulge this type of information to highlight the level of carelessness in the reporting, or to express why my name shouldn’t be simply thrown in for traction when discussing these occurrences.
I am not essential to these stories.
I do not deserve this.
It’s unfair. It’s careless. And all in the name of selling more papers and generating clicks.
I have always attempted to “prove myself” to people, tried my hardest to show who I really am, and yet there is a constant weaponisation of things that are beyond my control being used to demonise me. I have even chosen to more or less hide my husband, an incredible man, father and partner, because he has been to prison in the past. Despite my experience with him, I’ve always feared these vultures would use him as a weapon too.
I shouldn’t have to denounce violence or condemn criminality as my own actions should show what I’m about, and what is important to me. I have never been violent or a criminal. I am focussed on empowerment, inspiration and creating ways to combat the negative effects on our youth that the struggles of growing up in the inner city can leave. One of which, unfortunately, is the likelihood of having some form of proximity to crime (whether victim or onlooker) and inevitably being forced to carry a ‘link’ to someone who has committed one.
It’s funny, because people like Ferne McCann, receive sympathy for her criminal association, receiving opportunities to give her take on her “ordeal” and from what I can see, continues to enjoy an unharmed career. Yet, I will now be vilified, dropped out and further ostracised for having a link to the son of the man my mum had a relationship with 35 years ago. I won’t state the obvious here.
So Dear Media,
The next time you want to write a story like this, may I suggest Paul Edmunds as a replacement for my name. He’s the supplier of countless illegal guns in and around Birmingham and its surrounding areas. The guns he provided have been positively linked to over 100 incidents of Gun Crime. He also stated that he was “not responsible for the actions of somebody that buys some things” and “it’s your problem, not mine.” I’d say he’d make a better candidate as a contributor to these crimes, and is also undoubtedly essential to these stories. Rather than the law-abiding, hardworking mother of 3 who has absolutely nothing to do with any part of these awful crimes.
Once again, I do not deserve this and it’s unfair.
I remember the song I used to sing in the playground when people tried to bully me;
“sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”
The words in these careless articles are my biggest source of pain.