There is room in life for being willing to accept an apology from someone who has caused great offence. I have just received an especially abject one from Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow, about his notorious tweet. Others, as I warned when he telephoned me today, will be less charitable. My view is that we may remain highly critical of the original sin while recognising the sincerity and depth of contrition …
Robert Halfon today offered an unqualified apology for the “scumbag football hooligans” tweet that outraged the people of Sunderland and all supporters of SAFC, from the club’s great catchment area of County Durham and beyond.
“I will regret that tweet as long as I live,” Mr Halfon told Salut! Sunderland by telephone after initiating contact via Twitter.
“I have learned a lot over the past couple of days. First, to look at events in perspective. Second, not to use intemperate language. Third, to fess up and apologise when you get it wrong.”
These remarkably self-critical statements, rare in tone from any public figure except perhaps when caught doing something unspeakably criminal, may lead many to forgive the miscreant even if they will not easily forget the offence caused. I am with them, as I told Mr Halfon. But I also warned him others would be less forgiving; mitigation rather than a defence.
I began by telling the MP that since I had been extremely critical of him, here was his opportunity to say where I had got it wrong.
His response: “I think you and other Sunderland supporters have every right to be critical. My tweet was an over-reaction and an emotive use of language because we had been walking on broken glass.
“I regret having written it and I give a full apology to anyone, particularly from Sunderland, who has been offended.”
He repeated his assertion – “on my life, my father’s life” – that his tweet was not intentionally directed at Sunderland fans or those of any other club. It was purely his reaction to having had to walk through broken glass while out in Covent Garden on Saturday night. “Whether or not anyone believes me, that is the God honest truth,” he added.
“But my language was wrong and emotive. I can see why it caused offence to the people of Sunderland. I wish I had never written that tweet and am hugely apologetic for having done so.”
The story so far:
Mr Halfon conceded the “fair point” made by Sheila Webster, on these pages, and by others elsewhere that the lack of litter bins gave people little choice about where to deposit the same kind of litter left by revellers on New Year’s Eve or attending other celebrations. He is aware now that police officers actually told supporters to put their bottles or glasses on the ground, and says he would probably have been similarly angry and “have a go at someone” if forced to walk through broken glass after any big event.
He added that he was not a gloryseeking, Johnny-come-lately supporter of Chelsea but had been a fan “since I was a kid and my grandfather would take me”. And far from being unable to find his way north of Watford, he knows the North East well, has been to Sunderland and South Shields, stayed in Darlington and enjoyed holidays in the region because he loves the countryside of Durham and Northumberland.
I have had my say. He has now had his. Comments remain open ….