Sacking Saatchi wouldn’t have helped Nigella – and that’s not condoning his behaviour

Saturday evening, reviewing the papers on Sky News, and I found myself wondering if I’d come across as a domestic violence apologist.

It shouldn’t happen to a gender equalitest, and as much as I might want to blame the fact I’ve been in the US for two months and was rusty on paper reviewing, feeling out of sync with UK news, and struggling to get a word in edge ways against the consistently confident Alex Deane, the fact is I fucked up in not nailing my colours to the mast.

Mentioning the campaign for London Evening Standard Editor Sarah Sands to sack Saatchi, I said I didn’t think it was the right move, on the basis that the strangulation incident was ‘not relevant’ to the column he wrote. Before I had a time to explain further, we’d moved on to the next story and there was I sounding as though I was I touting the old ‘private matter’ argument.

What I actually meant was that in his column, Saatchi does not seek to evince a gender equalitest point of view, nor elucidate his views on family morality, domestic abuse, or human rights. The feminist riposte to this, espoused by, amongst others, Louise Mensch (proving it wasn’t a case of so-called Guardianista indignation) was that Sands should sack Saatchi. If she did this, they said, it would send out a strong signal that domestic abuse is not ok; not if you’re an illustrious art dealer; not if you’re a respected intellectual; not if you’re a friend of the editor.

I suppose my rationale in defending Sands’ decision at the time was the knowledge that Saatchi had only been given a caution from police. But a police caution doesn’t mean that was Saatchi was not guilty – rather that he was, but that the police deemed the offence not serious enough to warrant either a ‘conditional caution’ which requires a course of treatment or attendance of a rehabilitative group to be undertaken as a result, or a criminal record.

Given that the conviction rate for domestic abuse in the UK is so pitiful and the incidences of it so frequent (around 1 in 4 will experience it at some point), and our education and willingness to talk about it so poor, a police caution hardly makes for effective action. But that is a problem with the justice system, not with Sands’ decision.

On further reflection, I decided I agreed with Sands for an even more important reason – consideration of the victim. Would Nigella Lawson have really benefitted from the added adverse publicity of a sacked Saatchi at what one can only imagine is a terrible time for her and her family? Her needs and wishes should surely now be paramount. Given that Sands knows the couple, presumably this was also on her mind – sack Saatchi and the story (and Nigella Lawson’s public-facing distress) would have continued.  Instead, Sands took the measured decision to allow the case to be fiercely debated within the pages of the Standard itself.

Whatever the context of those shocking pictures, I only hope that, at the very least, Saatchi makes a public apology – but only once Lawson has been afforded the privacy she now needs to move forward with her life – whether that’s alone or with her abusive husband. Post-Leveson, the paps really should be putting down their cameras.

I also hope that I keep my wits about me the next time I’m in a position to condemn domestic abuse and make sure I do so unequivocally, and quickly, so that the possibility I’m excusing abuse doesn’t cross either mine or anyone else’s mind.

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