Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Our domestic violence stats won't change until we stop giving abusive men a by-ball

Geoffrey Boycott's knighthood is an insult to the battered victims of this sickening abuse, says Fionola Meredith

Convicted woman-beater Geoffrey Boycott was knighted by Theresa May earlier this week
Convicted woman-beater Geoffrey Boycott was knighted by Theresa May earlier this week

Poor old Geoffrey Boycott is down in the mouth. There he was, all excited to receive a knighthood in Theresa May's honours list, when the experience was "soured" - in Boycott's own phrase - by unpleasant questions about his past.

A load of pesky women started chittering away, intent on flagging up the veteran cricketer's 1998 conviction, in France, for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Margaret Moore.

Honestly, the things a man has to put up with.

I mean, why drag all this up now, just when Boycott is planning what top hat to wear to the palace? It's ancient history - stuff that happened years ago. Besides, he didn't do anything wrong. As he said before, the woman slipped and fell, after flying into a rage because he refused to marry her.

And then the French insisted on presuming him guilty rather than innocent, which is the kind of thing they do in France, and a good reason for voting to leave the EU.

As for the chief executive of Women's Aid, Adina Claire, claiming that his knighthood was "extremely disappointing", because it sends the message that domestic abuse is not taken seriously as a crime, Boycott took a firm line. You have to, with the ladies. He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter Martha Kearney: "I don't give a toss about her, love."

Okay. Let's leave the bizarre precincts of Geoffrey-world, in which he is the injured party, an oppressed, victimised and unfairly maligned Brexiteer, and deal with the reality.

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Boycott was found guilty of a foul crime, fined £5,000 and given a suspended jail sentence. The trial - which, contrary to Boycott's nonsense claims, operated on the presumption of innocence, just like in the UK - heard that he pinned Moore down in a hotel room and punched her in the face 20 times before checking out and leaving her to pay the bill. Visual evidence showed her with a swollen, bruised face.

The public prosecutor Jean-Yves Duval at the trial rejected Boycott's defence that Ms Moore fell, saying the injuries were "absolutely incompatible" with an accident. Quite clearly, the court agreed.

And what does the soon-to-be Sir Geoffrey say when confronted with the truth, and its consequences?

Nah. Couldn't give a toss.

He couldn't have been more contemptuous and dismissive.

I wonder how his words sounded to the hundreds of thousands of women - and some men - who have ended up with a face that looked like Margaret Moore's when Boycott was finished with her?

Honouring sportsmen who abuse women is indefensible. It's grotesque.

Because it tells victims that their terror, their misery, their life sentence, matters less than the famous man's prodigious ability with a bat or a ball.

It tells the terrified children of abused mothers that mum's battered face is less important than winning a game.

It's all the more incredible that Theresa May took the decision to bestow a knighthood on Boycott, given that she introduced a landmark Domestic Abuse Bill to parliament earlier this year.

It appears that May, like many others, is able to draw some magical distinction in her own mind between the man who she idolised since childhood as a cricketing hero and the man who assaults his partner and then claims that he is the victim.

But they are one and the same man. You can't celebrate one side of him and condemn the other. Prodigious talent on the field can never erase the fact that Boycott is a convicted woman-beater - a fact that should automatically disqualify him from a knighthood.

Here in Northern Ireland, we have an obscene problem with domestic abuse. It stenches to high heaven. The scale of it is mind-boggling.

The PSNI recorded 31,682 incidents between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019 - the largest number of abuse reports in a single year. And that's just the incidents that got reported.

So what did we do to honour our own famous wife-beater George Best? We gave him what amounted to a state funeral and named Belfast City Airport after him.

That's how much we care about those tens of thousands domestic violence victims, each with their own hidden story of vicious abuse. Sorry ladies, but he was a beloved and brilliant footballer. That counts for much more than your pain.

I believe that the national disgrace of our domestic violence figures will never decline until society stops giving abusive men a by-ball, putting them on a pedestal and discounting their crimes as less significant than their talent.

We have a crucial decision to make. Do we, or don't we, give a toss?

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