How to win friends and influence people? As a politician that is a particularly pressing question. Especially with journalists. Journalists are the people that can make or break your career. Their significance as people that shape the news cannot be overstated.
Best off then not elbowing them in the face like Ed Balls did on 21st September 2014, putting Rob Merrick (a journalist for the Northern Echo) into hospital to have some stitches.
The context was a football game. Specifically, the annual Labour Party v Journalists charity football game that kicks off the Labour Party Conference.
It is a hard fought contest and the Shadow Chancellor was out for revenge after losing last year.
Over to Mr Balls as to how it happened – “”I was about to score a brilliant goal in the top right hand corner … As I steadied myself to shoot Rob came piling in from behind attempting to nick the ball and came off worst.”
By ‘coming off worst’, the BBC said Mr Balls meant “The pair were contesting a 50-50 ball on the edge of the journalists’ penalty area when an elbow from Mr Balls left a cut under Mr Merrick’s right eye.”
Fortunately, after treatment in the hospital, Mr Merrick was discharged in time to return to the game and collect his man of the match award as his team won a 3-1 victory.
You obviously can’t go round elbowing people in the face. On the other hand, to be guilty of a crime you need to have (usually) some form of guilty mind.
By way of example if I go up to someone on the tube and punch them, then that’s a crime. If, however, when I’m getting off the tube I slip over and, whilst flailing around trying to get balanced, hit someone in the face, then this is an accident and I’m not guilty of any offence.
As always, context is everything. In a football game people can expect a bit of ‘rough and tumble’. Deliberate punching or elbowing is obviously off the table, but people playing football are deemed to consent to the potential for injury by a late misjudged tackle, or something like what happened here.
So. Here what happened was an unfortunate accident and not a crime. As, in fairness, Mr Merrick himself readily agreed. So you won’t be seeing Mr Balls in the dock anytime soon.