The important thing second within the wretched Mason Greenwood affair didn’t arrive this week, when Manchester United lastly determined to let the participant go. It occurred on 30 January 2022, when that now infamous audio recording was dumped on-line. In it, a person – alleged to be Greenwood – could be heard angrily coercing a girl to have intercourse with him towards her will. It was accompanied by photos of (presumably) the identical feminine with bruises on her physique and, in a single, a bloodied mouth.

It was hideous, seemingly incriminating materials. Sufficient to start felony proceedings? The police actually thought so. They arrested and later charged Greenwood with tried rape, controlling and coercive behaviour and assault occasioning precise bodily hurt. However in February this 12 months, the costs had been dropped. The Crown Prosecution Service said that key witnesses had withdrawn and new materials had come to mild, which means there was ‘now not a sensible prospect of conviction’.

The choice of prosecutors to drop the costs would usually mark the top of such issues. Loads of different public figures, footballers included, have survived allegations and dropped expenses. However that was by no means going to be the case right here. Not after the publication of the audio and pictures. As one commentator put it, ‘Nonetheless that tape exists. And nonetheless its menace chills to the bone.’ So from the second that audio emerged into the general public realm, it was already too late for a return to any form of normality. Greenwood was already on trial. Not in a court docket of legislation, in fact, however within the media.

It has made for a tawdry spectacle. For nearly 18 months, an limitless stream of pundits have turned themselves into decide, jury and executioner. And so they have accomplished so unencumbered by legislation, requirements of proof and due course of. They’ve taken it upon themselves to evaluate this admittedly unsympathetic younger man. They’ve assumed his guilt. And so they have demanded some frustratingly unspecified type of punishment.

Within the absence of an precise court docket, a lot of the duty for delivering the media’s verdict has in fact fallen on United, as Greenwood’s employers. They’ve successfully been tasked with delivering a type of quasi-justice. And this week, United began to do exactly that. Within the close to identikit phrases of each pundit and speaking head on the market, they got here to ‘the suitable determination’. They determined to let Greenwood go. To chop him free. To clean their arms of him.

However in doing so, they’ve solely proven the bounds and risks of trial by media. In spite of everything, in mild of United’s determination, Greenwood actually doesn’t seem harmless – he has been punished, shedding his profession at a stroke. However nor has he been discovered responsible of something in a court docket of legislation. As an alternative, he now has a limbo-like standing, as a completely tarnished, tainted particular person.

It makes for a obscure, unsure and interminable punishment. Certainly, it received’t finish with the termination of his time at United. If he’s too tarnished and tainted for United, he’s absolutely too tarnished and tainted for some other massive soccer membership. English golf equipment shall be too scared of the PR prices of taking him on. And golf equipment from overseas linked with him have already began distancing themselves. He’s legally free, however virtually restricted.

Some commentators have even advised that he ought to by no means have the ability to work once more full cease. LBC’s James O’Brien says Greenwood shouldn’t even be allowed a job at Rentokil. For the recipient of media judgement, time can by no means be served. Amends can by no means be made. There isn’t a house to begin over. This doesn’t look or sound like justice, does it?

United have arguably made issues worse. They did the media’s bidding, however with out conviction. They accompanied the announcement of Greenwood’s departure on Monday with an announcement that nearly justified retaining him. Having reviewed ‘the proof accessible to us’, the assertion learn, ‘we’ve concluded that the fabric posted on-line [in January 2022] didn’t present a full image’ and that Greenwood had not dedicated the ‘offences’ alleged. They did settle for that Greenwood had ‘made errors which he takes duty for’, however they didn’t say what these errors had been.

In reality, the one motive they gave for eliminating Greenwood was a ‘recognition of the difficulties’ that he would face ‘recommencing his profession at Manchester United’. In different phrases, the stress and criticism that might comply with his reintegration inside the workforce would have been an excessive amount of. The assertion would possibly as nicely have simply stated that ‘the media have left us with no alternative however to sack him’.

A part of the explanation for United’s forked tongue is that, up till final week, in response to stories, they absolutely supposed on reinstating Greenwood. However after the Athletic leaked United’s plans, the backlash from a piece of followers, marketing campaign teams and an array of pundits proved an excessive amount of. And so, on Monday, they backtracked. They had been successfully pressured to imagine Greenwood’s guilt. To punish him.

If United really thought that Greenwood had not accomplished the issues he has been accused of, they need to have stood by him. And in the event that they thought he had, then they little doubt would have terminated his contract way back. However they did neither. They accepted the media’s verdict that Greenwood is responsible, whereas successfully asserting his innocence. No surprise one in all United’s chief critics accused them of ‘gaslighting’.

However whereas United and under-fire CEO Richard Arnold have dealt with the Greenwood affair badly, they arguably ought to by no means have been put on this place within the first place. It ought to by no means have been as much as United to judge the guilt or innocence of one in all their staff. That could be a job for a court docket of legislation, not a soccer membership.

We could by no means know why this case collapsed. However to face up for due course of and harmless till confirmed responsible is to not make excuses for folks like Greenwood. It’s to defend a system which is the one manner of delivering correct justice – each for the accused and the accuser. That’s, a jury of his friends, weighing up all of the proof. Not a kangaroo court docket staffed solely by pundits.

Regardless of the failure to prosecute Greenwood, the media, armed with the unique audio and people photos, put Greenwood within the dock and refused to let him out till its model of justice was served.

And what justice. A person was an ethical leper, to be denied work presumably perpetually. His guilt by no means confirmed, however all the time presumed. Trial by media is a vicious, unsatisfying course of for all involved. It delivers punishment, however no closure.

Tim Black is a spiked columnist.