Editorial: Crying wolf

Last updated 09:20 13/12/2012

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OPINION: We've been having rather too many tales of fakery lately.

After the terrible consequences of the Aussie DJs' prank and the embarrassment of Environment Southland chairman Ali Timms disguising her identity to harangue Tim Shadbolt on live talkback TV, now one of the complainants in the "white van" predation scares in the south has admitted her story was false.

You have to feel sad for the 17-year-old girl behind the bogus account of a man with grey-silver hair trying to get her into a white van in George St, Windsor, on December 2.

We do not know her background or the specific circumstances that led to her deception, but there has to be something wrong in her life, that she would fabricate such a tale.

Not only did it amplify public concern, it was the sort of lie that muddies a very serious and necessary police investigation.

We need to remember that there remain two separate and distinct accounts of menacing behaviour.

The last thing that should happen is that teenagers, parents and children cease to be vigilant on the basis that maybe the whole scare is a crock because there's no doubt that at least one white van has been prowling around in Invercargill and the same or (more likely) another has been doing so in Cromwell.

Police are quite rightly continuing to take these cases very seriously indeed.

We all live in the knowledge that there are opportunist predators out there.

That's a miserable reality we have to find a balanced way to live with. To under-react could be disastrous but there are real perils, as well, in overreacting.

A sorry example of the latter was that of the woman who assailed a grey-haired man (tick) in a white van (tick) who was driving past Fernworth Primary in Pamona St. He was Ray Murray, day manager at a gardening programme for people with mental health issues, just going about his legitimate business.

OK, so she went too far, repeatedly abusing him as she tailed him. In the end, he was the one who contacted police.

This is not to say she shouldn't have done anything. Police remain open to good-faith tips and they certainly don't want to discourage them.

By and large, people tend to have a reasonably good antenna when it comes to creepy behaviour.

There may also be times when citizen action is needed. Consider the November 15 case when a grey-haired European in a white van approached a teenaged girl walking along Layard St near James Hargest College, and tried to grab her arm.

Clearly that would be a case for intervention and alarm-raising.

Generally, the police message has been that parents need to talk to their children about stranger danger and how to respond if they are approached.

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Schools, we are pleased to see, have been sending out the right messages in response to the recent cases.

- The Southland Times

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