In 2010 my 25 year old son James died in the custody of Avon and Somerset Police. He had been detained under Section 136b of the Mental Health Act. There has been significant online coverage over the years, and the purpose of this article is not to tell that story but to explain how and why my experiences since then have had a profound effect on the way I see the world and how my values have shifted and how that has affected 21st Century Print’s relationships with its clients and suppliers. If you are interested in James’s story, this link is his family’s statement after his inquest in 2013.
James's death was a terrible and painful shock. What I (and the rest of James's family and friends) needed was answers- the truth and a commitment from those involved from his death that they would learn from what happened and make changes to prevent it happening again. In fact, we received a lot of corporate double-speak, feigned compassion and a State determined to avoid its agents being held accountable. This added deep insult to grievous injury. Here is an example of what I mean.
"We promise you a transparent investigation into James’s death. No stone will be left unturned and if any of our police officers were responsible they will be held to account" really means “Your son’s death is very sad but we really don’t want to have to deal with it and we will close ranks to make sure that the ball of truth gets kicked firmly into the long grass”.
Our campaigning work around James’s death is particularly relevant in this "Mental Health Awareness Week" but that is not the subject of this blog.
Evading the truth, spin, double-speak all get in the way of integrity and honesty. At 21st Century Print we don’t do that stuff. Ever. We are a print management company, and we have a lot of experience and we work incredibly hard in giving our clients the best possible service and value. If we can’t add value (and 99% of the time we can), we walk away.
When on the rare occasions something goes wrong, or we have difficult news for a client, we speak the truth and of course we tell our client about our proposed remedy. The client has trusted us with their printed communication and we are to be trusted. I am lucky that my business partner Carol has the same values. We sometimes advise a client against having something printed, if we do not believe that it is going to give the benefit intended. Making a profit is important to us but only in a way that does not clash with these values.
Perhaps, people in all walks of life could be more honest if we lived in a less litigious world, where people are too scared of being sued to be candid, especially when the stakes are high. I have never understood why insurance companies tell you never to admit liability in a road traffic accident for example. I can only say that telling the truth rarely really shames the devil, and if somebody cannot comment because of legal ramifications, then say nothing rather than tell a lie. In American terms, plead the Fifth Amendment.
This is an extremely serious first blog on our web page. I miss James very much and every day, but in some very peculiar ways, his death and its aftermath have given me a renewed sense of purpose and changed my values in a positive way. I wish he was still with us though. I always will.