Wednesday 22 October 2014

A Second Chance: Convicted Paedophile working in Jamie Oliver's Restaurant.

The Daily Mail reported this on Thursday 16th October:

To summarise the key points, David Mason was convicted of raping a 12-year old girl in 2010. He was sentenced to four years in a young offenders’ institution. He served two, and did two years probationary work. He is now six weeks into a year-long apprenticeship scheme in Jamie Oliver’s central London restaurant, Fifteen. This became public knowledge when he posted a photo of himself with Oliver on Facebook, with a caption that read “Top of the pile where I belong.”

This article was shared by a friend of a friend on Facebook, and there were the usual vitriolic comments: the sentence wasn’t long enough, what they would do to Mason should they ever meet him, and outrage at the number of disadvantaged people desperate for this opportunity that has been handed to a paedophile.

It is on the latter point that I note that it is not that simple.

I’m not defending Mason. I agree that what he did was unforgivable, I wouldn’t want to socialise with him and I certainly wouldn’t entertain his presence around any child I was responsible for. Few would argue the deplorable nature of his crime.

However, at what point do we let this arbitrarily control the rest of his life? Mason now has to make a living for himself. How will he have the chance to do that if the chances are not there? There are few enough opportunities for people who have been in prison; why not do an apprenticeship at a restaurant?

There is currently a prominent culture that people released from prison are almost unemployable. Jobs are hard enough to come by even without a criminal record, and convicted criminals struggle to find employment after they’ve served their sentence. At the risk of romanticising or defending criminals, some have little choice but to go back in to crime – either out of desperation or because it is all they know.

If Mason wasn’t doing this apprenticeship, what would he be doing now? Likely he’d be claiming jobseekers allowance, applying for jobs he has little hope of getting because of his background – and a significant portion of the taxpayers in the UK would be quick to point out their contribution to this. He might even, out of desperation or desire, relapse back into crime; this would help nobody.

I do not suggest that Mason will never relapse or re-offend because he has this opportunity. And his Facebook post was a mistake: what goes on Facebook is public and out of your control; something you’d be advised to keep in mind if you have an embarrassing history. But he has a chance to make a life for himself; a decent job and a career. What he does with that chance is up to him – but he has it. Many do not.

The Daily Mail – thriving on its sense of righteous indignation it feels is generated by people who think they’re doing the right thing by agreeing with its controversial points – asks: Why has Mason, a convicted paedophile, been given this opportunity when there are many other disadvantaged youths desperate for a similar position? The comments below the article suggest a lot of people agree with this ideal. Many have stated that Oliver’s judgement was poor in taking Mason on and they would boycott all future TV programmes/publications/restaurants. But there is a more balanced way of viewing this:

There are many ways young people can be disadvantaged; having a criminal record is one of them. If the scheme helps those young people who have made some poor decisions when they were younger to make a life for themselves, it is no bad thing. It might even be argued that people without criminal records have opportunities elsewhere that those with records do not.

There is no evidence to suggest that Fifteen, Jamie Oliver or his management acted irresponsibly in giving Mason the apprenticeship; quite the contrary. They will have checked his background to make sure he is no threat to anybody. His job means he is unlikely to come in to direct contact with children. He will be ‘behind the scenes,’ and if he hadn’t posted the photo it is unlikely that his apprenticeship would be common knowledge.

David Mason is a convicted criminal who has done his time. He has a chance to turn his life around, whether he deserves it or not, and he his not a threat to anybody in the course of his work. I offer the opinion that it is no bad thing that David Mason is now an apprentice at the Fifteen restaurant.

- Matt

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