Read the following item and answer the questions at the end.

Myra Hindley, Rose West and Mary Bell are all names of women who have been ‘demonised’ in the tabloid press. Another name added to that list in recent years was Maxine Carr.

On August the 4th 2002, two schoolgirls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, went missing. The bodies of the girls were not found for nearly two weeks but, on the same day, Ian Huntley, the caretaker at their school, was arrested for their murder. During that time both Huntley and his girlfriend, Maxine Carr, had appeared on television to make pleas for them to be returned safely. Newspapers offered tens of thousands of pounds for clues. Hundreds of people joined in the search, coming from across the country to help.

Once Huntley was arrested, the media set about gathering as much information as possible on him and on Maxine Carr – the more salacious the better. They were vilified and when Carr was eventually taken to court in Peterborough, protesters were waiting for her. Placards called for the restoration of the death penalty, grown women screamed abuse at the police van, and for a horrible moment it almost looked as if they might overwhelm the police. Carr had nothing to do with the murders and was in Grimsby at the time. She had only been charged with perverting the course of justice and assisting an offender (she was cleared of this latter offence). This, however, made no difference to the lynch mob. The next time she appeared in court was via video link, appearing as white as a sheet and close to collapse.

Carr had provided Huntley with a false alibi, believing his claims that he had not murdered the two girls. There was also a distinct possibility that she was trapped in an abusive relationship with Huntley, which may well have contributed considerably to her behaviour.

Carr faced a difficult and uncertain future after her release from prison in May 2004. Threats had been made against her and there was speculation in the tabloids, sometimes verging on provocation, that she might be the target of vigilante attacks. The 27-year-old teaching assistant was described as scheming, manipulative and even as a “killer’s moll”. While she was in prison it was reported that she was revelling in her notoriety and that she cowered in fear of attacks. She is said to have demanded round-the-clock protection and a new identity at taxpayers’ expense — “She will get identity swap and YOU pick up the bill,” according to the Daily Express. Since she was released, some women and homes have been attacked, entirely mistakenly, by individuals or mobs who believe that Maxine Carr has suddenly arrived in their area.

(Adapted from the Times, May 11, 2004)

  1. Compare the strength of feeling shown against Maxine Carr with the level to which she was actually involved in the crime.
  2. On the Internet, investigate accounts of the case of ‘Baby P’ and Tracey Connelly in 2009. How were the descriptions of Tracey Connelly in the press different from the way in which the male offenders (the actual killers) were treated? For example, this item in the Daily Express Tramp Tracey used-TV to mask son’s screams
  3. What do these cases show about how women and men are seen, especially in cases involving children? Does our society expect higher moral standards of women than men? If so, why?
  4. How would sociologists explain this difference?