Where I live now, Bedford Falls, it's unusual for something to be in the newspaper and someone not be connected to the subject in some way. There was a fatal car crash not too far from my house a few weeks ago, and within two days I knew more details from the Bedford Falls grapevine than the media did, because I knew A, who knew B who knew C. News, as the minister in "Local Hero" points out, travels fast around here.
In Scotland's largest city, however, it's different. A bigger and more dense population means it's a little more unusual to know the subject of a major news story personally. That's why I was shocked today, when my old high school drama teacher's mugshot turned up in the paper... convicted as part of a child porn ring.
He's been convicted, apparently of some hideous stuff, but I don't know if it would be right to tell you his name. I'm not sure why, it just doesn't feel right. I know since he's now officially a criminal, I could legally tell you. Instead, I'll call him J. If you read the articles, you could probably work it out for yourself.
J taught drama for many years at my high school, and was a huge source of encouragement, to the point where existing plans for a school production were scrapped and I was given control of the whole project, including writer/director/set design/lighting responsibilities, based purely on one piece I had written and my "leadership skills" in the class. He heaped praise on my abilities and strengths.
OK, so... I know what you're thinking: Grooming. Ex-drama teacher convicted on child pornography charges takes 'special interest' in teenage male student. I'd think the same thing, and since reading the article, I've been racking my brains, trying hard to think of incidents or comments or uncomfortable touches that should have been red flags... and I can't think of *any*. Throughout the two years of school (including after hours drama club meetings) J was nothing but professional and extremely encouraging to me and the other drama students in the class. Hell, I can't even think of a time when he physically touched any of us, for any reason. But make no mistake, were it not for J, I wouldn't have had the confidence to get into radio and I probably would have stopped writing altogether (did I hear someone cheering?), but I built a career on that, and all because I had someone in authority, someone that I respected, who encouraged me. You non-kiddyfiddler teachers out there, take note.
Did I know he was gay? Of course I did. Everyone knew, but that didn't matter. It shouldn't matter. Did I think he would be part of a paedophile ring, or charged with possession and distribution of indecent images of children? Never. Not in a million years. Maybe that's what hurts the most, the fact that I didn't know what he was capable of. He had been in trouble with the law before, though. There were rumours after I left school of him being sacked because of an indecency charge, charges which were then dismissed on appeal, but nothing I knew for sure. The accusation, performing "the Chattanooga Choo-Choo" up a back alley (literally and figuratively) with two other men, is behaviour which one could argue is unbecoming of a high school teacher, but it was between three consenting adults, relatively hidden away, in the middle of the night. Bonehead move, but not the end of the world.
I'm not defending him or his actions. He's guilty and I'm glad he's been put away. And for anyone who is part of the old school of punishment and think that British jails are a holiday camp, let me assure you that when it comes to the prisoners that are isolated from the rest of the population for reasons such as this, ways are found for internal justice.
Here's where I'm torn. The guy's been convicted of some pretty horrific stuff. Possession of some really ghastly sounding child porn. Even the British media, which loves to pepper stories with unit-shifting softcore descriptions of anything sexual, are turning away in disgust at the details of this one. But J wasn't just a casual collector of pre-pubescent filth, he was part of the ring that made the stuff, headed by a guy who used his position as babysitter to not only abuse kids, but to take pictures and film of it. Certainly the discovery and dismantling of the ring is a good thing, right?
Flashback to November 1997. 70s glam rock icon and 90s ironic comeback star Gary Glitter takes his laptop to PC World to get fixed, where a repair man discovers a cache of kiddy porn on the hard drive. Thus begins a twelve year jail - foreign country - charges - jail - deportation - foreign country - charges - jail - deportation - foreign country cycle that takes him from Cuba to Cambodia to Thailand to Vietnam and finally back to the UK. Guilty? Yes. Sure. Deserved everything he got? Absolutely. Odd discovery? You betcha.
And so it was also in this case that one of the offending protagonists got caught, thanks to a PC repair man discovering the evidence on his computer. Quoth the BBC article:
The computer belonged to Neil Strachan, 41, a paint company engineer who worked for a firm at the Crown Decorator Centre in Edinburgh.
It had a rogue hard-drive slotted in the back, and when a repair technician began work he was confronted by the image of the naked 11-year-old boy.
I don't look at illegal porn. I don't even have any porn saved on my computer, but if I did, I'd make sure I hid it well enough that if a friend were to use my computer to check their mail, or if I took it to PC World to get repaired, it wouldn't be glaringly obvious. I'd either back my stash of filth up to a DVD and delete it from the computer, or I'd bury it deep and call the folder something innocuous like "Christmas 02". I'm not the smartest or the sneakiest man in the world, so I'd assume that these guys took those cautions at least. I mean, would anyone really have a folder called "Fwaarrrr_Kiddy_Porn" or "TheUnderEightsWankFile" on their computer at all, let alone one that you were going to have a stranger repair?
Which means only one thing... the PC repair guys were snooping. In this case specifically, this ominous sounding "rogue hard-drive" was most likely a second drive, often called a Slave Drive, which is actually a great way to backup data. That way, if the drive that runs your operating system gets an error or a virus, your data isn't harmed; you take it out and plonk it into another computer. So in order to be "confronted" with this image, he had to have been rooting around in a drive that he had no business rooting around in. If the issue was with the operating system - and I'd have to assume it was, otherwise why would he need to have it repaired - then there would be no reason to access the slave drive. And let's look even deeper, into the issue of being "confronted by the image of an 11 year old boy". When were you last "confronted" by anything unexpected on a computer? When was the last time a picture of your Aunt Nan just suddenly appeared out of nowhere? Just popped up without you physically clicking on the icon? I'll answer that question for you: it's never happened.
The argument could be made that this was a desktop background, but the article said that the porn was stashed on that "rogue" drive in the back and not the main one, so that scenario is unlikely. I'm no IT guy, but I know enough to tell you that if an image is stored on a slave drive, which - again - has nothing to do with the day to day comings and goings of the operating system, it's not going to open unless you specifically tell it to open, and you're not going to find it unless you're a nosy bastard, looking in places you have no business looking in.
So, bad men have been put behind bars and who knows how many kids have been spared ongoing abuse. Great news! But remember this fact: if you take your PC in to get repaired by someone, expect the nosy bastard to be snooping around in your folders. Looking at your holiday pictures, jotting down your credit card numbers and passwords, reading - maybe even copying and selling - that novel you've been writing for the past couple of years, backing up your address book and selling your friends' details to spammers, emailing your porn around to their friends.
What if you and your significant other have private pictures of yourselves? What if you have private pictures of your ex on there? What if you have perfectly innocent pictures of your own kids playing in the bath, and the guy who you are paying to crack open your computer and make it work again is part of another paedophile porn ring...? A friend of mine used to work in a photo development shop and believe me, if there were pictures that were worth copying, like the one of the woman who... ahem... 'used' the vodka bottle, they'd be copied and distributed. It happens. It's an absolute breach of trust, but it happens.
Even if you think those things are safe, remember this: nothing will stop the intrusive neb of the PC repair guy. Good or bad, legal or illegal, it will be looked at.