What were the events immediately preceding the collapse and eventual death of Gerard Crawford? The 75-year-old man was in a local newsagent’s shop in West Belfast on Monday when a masked man tried to steal the till. The best the VO can do this morning is to tell us that he ‘intervened’ and ‘confronted’ the raider. The pensioner then collapsed, lost consciousness and died two days later. Did he attack the raider? Stand in his way? Call on him to put down the till? It’s unclear but that doesn’t stop the VO giving him a front-page headline as a ‘Shopraid hero’.
God knows if someone you love dies suddenly, you grasp at anything that’ll muffle the blow, and the thought that your loved one may have shown courage in his final hours might be some comfort. But there’s a fine line between courage and foolhardiness. When I heard an intruder moving around downstairs in our house last year, I phoned the police. Their firm and repeated instructions were ‘Don’t go downtairs until we arrive’. I didn’t. Was I a coward to stay put? I don’t think so. Would I have been heroic if I’d gone down? Far from it. Foolhardy or stupid might be nearer the mark.
We don’t know the detail of how Gerard Crawford died but in the absence of contrary evidence, it may be comforting but it’s also misleading to use words like ‘hero’. A community is right to do what it can to protect itself from thugs and thieves, but praising the actions of 75-year-olds who take on able-bodied criminals is potentially dangerous. In the fight against crime we need to fight clever ; our media should stress that rather than slap up another tabloid headline.