Oscar Pistorius – why I have supported him for so long.

Posted in disability, opinion, Parasport on September 20th, 2016 by John Coxon

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From a decade of unpaid professional support as a freelance independent online journalist & professional photographer for paralympic sport & raising & promoting disability awareness I have just two t-shirts & a polo shirt all three of which I actually had to pinch from the media rooms . I also have a signed photo from Oscar Pistorius & treasure all four items.

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I have such treasured memories of the BT Paralympic  World Cup May 2009 at the Sports City complex, Manchester as accredited photographer covering swimming, wheelchair basketball, track cycling & track & field on a voluntary basis for the not for profit global women’s sport news website  Women Sport Report . I so enjoyed it & was happy to attend three consecutive games until sadly London won the right to stage it & making it not cost effective to continue to cover.

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It’s been a mission of mine for the past two decades to provide voluntary support as a photographer & journalist in the field of disability sport & women’s sport particularly because of the lack of parity in media coverage & funding for those two groups.   I also use my special educator background & knowledge of disability to help raise awareness of disability issues using photograph’s of athlete’s I have taken & to try & help change attitudes in positive ways.

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That gap has closed somewhat since 2009 helped enormously by mainstream broadcast coverage of the 2012 & 2016 Olympics & Paralympics.  It was back then I got to see & photograph the athlete who was by then the first global poster boy for Paralympic sport, Oscar Pistorius. For an independent freelance professional photographer we do not enjoy a level playing field when it comes to access where events are taking place & where young upstart event managers provide media pens for us where a big company will have paid handsomely as official photographers with no restrictions where they stand. You can’t get original shots if you are forced to remain in one place & even though I pushed it as far as I could I ran the risk of being ejected from the venue.

It was in 2010 I found a way to get some original shots of Oscar in full flight during his gold medal win in the 400m where even then the stadium was only half full and where on the far side of the track there were no spectators. I slipped through the crowded north stand and secreted myself lying on the ground near the long jump & got superb shots of him as he majestically passed me.

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Back in 2009    that was my first major paralympic event & days w ere long and tiring but I was adrenalin driven. When all the regular establishment media & my freelance colleagues had long left I stayed behind in the empty media room, downloading photos onto my laptop & editing them taking in now and again the remains of the free coffee.  Went out to get some fresh air and there was Oscar sitting waiting for the mandatory drugs test , the last of the day when all the other athletes had gone so I asked if I could keep him company and we chatted for maybe half an hour. He was no attention seeking diva, just an ordinary extra ordinary guy, modest, humble & genuine & very friendly. (Incidentally in my whole professional photography career I have as yet seen no other elite athlete able bodied or not so at ease with fans or who spent more time happily  chatting, signing autographs and having photos taken with them but in no way an attention seeker  or vain just a nice guy not wanting to disappoint people as well as so many  small acts of kindness only a few get to see )

Off track, still modest & courteous but beneath the strong confident man , on his day prosthesis he felt highly anxious & at times acutely vulnerable having had a lifelong history of threat & experience of actual crime.

Moving forward a few years I was devastated when I heard of Reeva’s death & that Oscar had been charged with her murder and yet , having met the guy , but myself always objective, there was no way the man I met was capable of such an act & I believed his version of events & still do to this day after examining in detail all the evidence, court transcripts, psychologists reports plus a mountain of prejudiced media & social media malicious falsehoods  that racked this case up in what was to become the vilest travesty in his country’s  legal history. My dad brought me up to be decent, be myself , independent & fact based in my opinions,  to stand up for what I believe in & support those who are  victims of bad stuff they so did not deserve regardless of the cost. I would also never endorse a product, service or person in whom I did not believe or trust. I trust Oscar & believe in him & whilst it is so tragic that he is responsible for Reeva’s death I know it was an accident & have read nothing in the mountains of research I have done to change that view. He & his family have no voice & thus are unable to speak out & defend themselves from all the abuse they have been subjected to on social media & still being subjected  so I made it my business to be as supportive as possible based on evidence & facts. I have done this in the main via Twitter since it offers the biggest reach in terms of audience . To that end given the 140 character limit I came up with the idea of screen capturing text with a photo making “photocard “tweets to help raise awareness of actual evidence & to challenge what I believe has grown into a gross miscarriage of justice  where this was not a murder or a domestic violence rage killing but a tragic accident , the kind of accident that could happen to any south African home owner armed for self defence against violent armed home intrusions which so many citizens live in real fear of.

Please click on the image below to see an album of my photo tweet cards over on my Facebook.

 

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OSCAR PISTORIUS ITV INTERVIEW WITH MARK WILLIAMS -THOMAS

Posted in disability, opinion, Parasport on June 23rd, 2016 by John Coxon

Oscar being interviewed after taking gold in Manchester at the Paralympic Cup. The awful events of the last three years have taken a terrible toll on him emotionally & mentally & visibly aged him.

Friday June 24th , 2016 will , on the UK’s ITV channel, see the broadcast of an exclusive interview with Oscar Pistorius by the multi -award winning investigative journalist Mark Williams-Thomas a man who was the only journalist to interview the athlete during his trial

What can we expect from the man , a rarity these days , an independent incorruptible  TV investigative journalist who previously exposed  a serial notorious prolific  UK knighted paedophile , our worst ever ,  formerly respected and loved TV celebrity Jimmy Saville, who has interviewed Oscar recently the only journalist in the world trusted to do so ?

( NB  in the interest of honesty and openness co-incidentally as an independent  professional photographer, covering disability sport on a voluntary basis I have actually met and spent some time talking to Oscar Pistorius and been interviewed by Mark. I also had tended to focus professionally on women’s sport and was a regular co-editor /contributor to the not for profit global women sport news website womensportreport.com, since I wanted to try and help counteract the lack of parity in the media in terms of coverage of women’s sport. Alas, where a male photographer covers women’s sport at all levels it seems inevitable that such focus leads to a perception, almost  exclusively amongst males that my motivation is questionable and have, as such been victim of Chinese whispers and a number of  ill founded comments and allegations.  I was actually interviewed by Mark Williams-Thomas who was, as a consultant for England Hockey, rigorously but fairly investigating allegations of inappropriate comments I was accused of making which although were not of a criminal nature had been a cause for concern. I voluntarily presented myself where I had no obligation to do so. I found him professional, objective, thorough and fair and was completely open and honest with him although it was not a particularly comfortable experience. As a consequence I trust  that Mark’s interview with Oscar  as he awaits  re-sentencing will be honest , impartial  , devoid of sentimentality and fact based. I am sure it will, as it must be, be handled sensitively given the athlete’s broken state of mind and I’d expect a series of open but probing questions to enable the athlete to give his side of things. It is also going to be emotional at times as we hear that Oscar still breaks down when he is speaking about Reeva and the accident.

It will be uncomfortable for Oscar not because he has anything at all to hide  but ,  I am certain,  because his love for Reeva was as is his abject remorse and grief, genuine .  To revisit those events is traumatic for him but at least Mark has given him the opportunity, in a private and secure environment of his uncle’s home where he lives under house arrest , to put his side of things. The preposterous declaration by Prosecutor Nel that Oscar’s refusal to be  cross examined in court during the re-sentencing proceedings on mental health grounds was an act when  he  allowed himself to be interviewed by Mark  merely shows the persecutor Nel’s complete ignorance of the mental state Oscar is in as a result of  his  , Nel’s,  unacceptable aggressive posturing to TV camera’s , his constant attacks on the athlete’s character and humiliation of him in front of the world and failure to understand that, in the safety and privacy of his uncle’s home, ill though he is and traumatised, he would feel far less threatened or vulnerable.

Let’s be honest Britain has a long established stable and widely respected very effective police force and justice system and South Africa as yet has neither. Tonight in Oscar’s home city we see public rioting and looting and the police are showing cowardice  and complete lack of competence to bring the situation under control. This is where Oscar lives, in the Province of Gauteng which based on gun death statistics is the most dangerous region to live in and Pretoria has a terrible record for violent crimes and armed home intrusions and yet Nel and the corrupt Supreme Court of Appeal , whose judges are appointed by the corrupt  ANC whose leader , Zuma , fathered twenty children , has milked public coffers and shared the gold with his family, his harem of wives  and fellow villains, tell us Oscar should feel safe . What denial and what a sick joke that really is.  Our own police have very high conviction rates for serious crimes especially murder and other violent offences  – South Africa conviction rates are 70% below of our own conviction statistics .  We still have a few independent unbiased investigative  journalists who have no allegiances politically or financially just an avid desire to examine events in a fair and thorough way even if that is against popular perception and  current of public opinion. They are fearless because they are answerable to nobody just their own ethical code .

Consider the heinous criminals who commit sexual offences against women and children and such predators are notoriously clever and manipulative and for example, how many times have we seen those predators crying crocodile tears for the TV cameras and making statements of grief ridden ire when in fact they are the guilty party. Sexual offenders come from all walks of life but what they have in common is that they are accomplished devious liars and manipulative individuals so adept at protesting innocence and it takes a particular kind of experienced police professional to interview them , see past the lies, follow the evidence and secure a conviction.  Now one  investigative independent journalist, a Brit ( as you’d struggle  find an ethical journalist in the RSA it appears based on the biased reporting of Oscar’s trial) has for the second time been trusted by the Pistorius family to interview Oscar , the only journalist in the world they respected and feel they can trust.

 

Mark Williams-Thomas, as an old school investigative journalist has a battery of impressive international awards for his journalism and under pinning that it his former role as a detective investigating serious crime thus, it is very unlikely that, were Oscar a manipulative liar as Nel would ask us to believe he was, he would not be able to fool this man.  Mark interviewed Oscar during the trial and based on his conversations with the athlete measured against interviewing real killers and paedophiles he was satisfied that Oscar loved Reeva, mourns her loss but crucially he did not believe Oscar is a murderer and fully accepted this was a tragic accident.

During the actual trial of paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius  he  became victim of  the post apartheid still   image flawed South African justice system’s  unprecedented decision to allow broadcast media to televise the trial for its own  propaganda purposes. At that time Oscar and his  under media siege family  gave permission for just one independent , neutral investigative journalist in the world to interview the athlete and crucially not a native South African journalist but an independent freelance British journalist. After  that interview  , in a sensational case that  was to develop as trial by media, here  was, it appears to me ,  a rare  voice seeking the truth not front page headlines or popularity, who, potentially, put his professional reputation on the line declaring he did not believe the athlete was a murderer. After the extraordinary media circus that ensued over the three years since that interview and the avalanche of unprecedented , largely ill- informed and media mis-informed public vilification on social media of the athlete and his family,  they gave their consent once again for Mark Williams Thomas to interview Oscar as he faces his future uncertainties awaiting  re-sentencing after a higher court perversely over turned the original trial verdict and artificially inflated it to one of murder.

Who is this one man that Oscar and his family still feel they can trust and can we trust that individual’s professional assessment now of the athlete after  all the evidence has been heard and subsequent events ? Will he conclude he was mistaken with his original conclusion or will he have changed his mind ?  Given that the establishment media have almost exclusively  gone for sensational headlines, often at the expense of the actual facts and truth,  what conclusions will the journalist have drawn? Long term well informed supporters of the athlete like myself have stood in disbelief at the media and justice system’s treatment of the athlete and so hope a few would see past all the sensationalism and try and present a more balanced picture but of course, so many social media  users have been sucked into Nel and the wider media’s dismissal of the athlete and , even without taking  note of all the evidence  and who stick to the belief he is a liar and a murderer and it is unlikely that the documentary can make any impact on that sort of rigid mind set.  But at least, for the first time, Oscar has an opportunity to put his side of the story. Mark is a former experienced policeman , a serious crimes specialist detective having to make life changing judgements about those before him based on interviews  and purely on solid  evidence and facts that  stand up in a court in our  long established  system clearly far more stable, free of political influence  and far more demanding in terms of proof than that which exists in the current south Africa. So who is this man and what are his credentials?

Mark Williams  Thomas MA ,is an experienced  highly respected British multi award winning independent free lance investigative journalist /reporter with two Royal Television Society Awards, a Broadcasting Press Guild Award and an International Peabody Award. (An international award that recognizes distinguished and meritorious public service of  radio and television professionals and crucially reflecting excellence in quality, rather than popularity or commercial success.  He is also a double  BAFTA (British Academy Film Awards ) nominee. He holds , from 2007 ) a masters degree in criminology from the University of Birmingham. As a  former  serious crimes police detective he has far-reaching experience of working at the centre of high profile investigations and undertaking major police reviews and inquiries. As a detective he , for example , was involved in the investigation that led to the conviction of pop music mogul Jonathan king for the sexual abuse of young boys. He also is now also a highly respected independent child protection and safeguarding expert consultant a role he fulfils  for example for England Hockey (which includes actually interviewing, with the governing body’s elected officers,  those under investigation of allegations of misconduct which threatens the safety of minors in the support , those under 18 years old especially )

 

He has, as a TV journalist over the last decade, expertly and independently investigated and reported on some of  our biggest serious crime stories including  exposing the  formerly hugely popular  British TV celebrity as one of the country’s most prolific paedophiles in its history, the late Sir Jimmy Saville  and interviewing, before his arrest the paedophile killer of twelve year old Tia Sharp, Stuart Hazel, now serving 38 years in prison for her murder . His latest documentary is based on a second impartial interview with Oscar Pistorius to be broadcast June 24th in the UK on ITV.

With a proven track record for straightforward talk and exposing the truth however unpleasant  with fact based investigative questioning without any vested interest, I fully anticipate that this latest documentary will for some vindicate Oscar Pistorius and raise further concerns as to the safety of branding him as a murderer both by his country’s justice system and the wider court of public opinion. There is an army of fake names and fake profiles and therefore emboldened individuals for whom facts are an inconvenience, the documentary is unlikely to change those of rigid mind sets who have been suckered into the deceit of Nel’s self and state  fulfilling version events and an avalanche of media sensationalist falsehoods Nel inspired with the collusion of the gutter press media to whom his service leaked false information before and during the trial.

Supporters , (not blind “fans” ) of Oscar like myself have been the target of incredible abuse as he and his family have been so much more and in the main when people like myself respond calmly to abuse on social media,   with facts,  the abuse becomes even more personal as so many of those people have ingrained prejudices that facts cannot dent.  The ethicless , vested interest  RSA and global media are largely if not wholly responsible for Oscar being wrongly labelled as a murderer and to have become victim of the harshest treatment anyone has ever been when charged with a similar crime simply because  of his global celebrity which the justice system saw as an opportunity to try to show us that the RSA system is robust, fair and impartial when it has shown the world that it is actually rotten to the core, politically compromised  and totally unjust and unfair. All similar cases after all resulted in suspended sentences and Oscar was the first to get a custodial sentence and incredible that he now has had that inflated to the crime of murder.

God help South Africa as the riots and public disorder continue in the city where Oscar lives and the police totally incompetent in controlling that disorder , a city within the province of Gauteng, a region which in terms of violent guns deaths is the most dangerous place in the county and yet Nel and the SCA try to tell us that Oscar’s fear of crime and home invasion was unfounded. Oscar Pistorius and his family represent the very best of South Africa in terms of decency, humility and integrity and Nel and the SCA represent the country at its fatally floundering worst. Nel, the lacking in scruples egotist   is in comparison a ruthless ambitious weasel , worryingly the second most powerful legal “professional “ in the NPA  and is now under investigation himself  and his steroid fuelled bully buddies Schultz and Bachelor are under investigation for serious crimes and Nel gave self Schultz immunity even though he is a self confessed murderer and he sat in the trial and tried to intimate members of Oscar’s family with an invitation card from Nel.

I asked Oscar if he would have a photo with these RSA fans during the paralympic World cup in Manchester in 2010

The interview will also be broadcast in South Africa. Hard of course and perhaps unwise  to predict  how the interview will go down with people and actually do not expect Mark to make any pronouncements as to whether he still feels as h did during the actual trial after interviewing Oscar previously and where he wrote a supportive newspaper report saying he was convinced the athlete is not a murder. What I do hope is that those who either knee jerked and wrongly presumed it was a murder and the result of a domestic violence incident or have been led in their own dismissal of him by falsehoods spread by the media and the lies that Nel came out with at the trial and during the re-sentencing hearing will learn from this that the athlete’s grief and remorse is all consuming. Nel wants us to believe the athlete did not love Reeva and that his distress in court is merely that of a man full not of remorse but self-pity trying to save his on skin. My guess is that nobody will be left in doubt of his love for Reeva and his profound grief and remorse.

An Oscar quote from the interview that airs on ITV Friday 24th June 9-10pm GMT

An Oscar quote from the interview that airs on ITV Friday 24th June 9-10pm GMT

What perhaps will not be addressed is the excessive treatment the justice system has rained down on him  , far harsher treatment than anyone previously has been given for a similar offence and that in my view needs independently investigating at international court level as it has been a gross miscarriage of justice inflating an accidental,unintentional killing to that of murder without even a retrial.

In closing I believe we will have confirmed that the athlete has been punishing himself far more than any sentence could do and that he wants to be punished for killing Reeva accidentally yet I think the state has punished him more than enough already, not for justice but to meet its own ends to appear far more robust than it actually is. His treatment clearly has not been impartial in fact the very reverse simply because of his fame and the opportunity the state saw to make an example of him.

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