Investigation Step #1: Google Suspect


Every journalist (and police officer, for that matter) should start their investigative work with a Google search. They may find it’s all they need.

You’ve probably read by now of the disappearance, reappearance and arrest of the former British prison officer John Darwin, who turned up at a police station this month saying he’d lost his memory after a kayak incident in 2002. Everyone was relieved, including his wife, who had apparently reconciled herself to his passing and moved to Panama a week earlier. But one person was skeptical: an unnamed woman who turned to Google, as this Guardian story by Matthew Weaver reports:

A single mother put police and journalists to shame in their attempts to unravel the mysterious reappearance of the canoeist John Darwin by using a simple Google search, it emerged yesterday.

The woman found the picture that apparently shows Darwin with his wife, Anne, in Panama City in July last year.

When confronted with the picture, which was published in the Daily Mirror yesterday, Anne Darwin is reported to have admitted: “Yes, that’s him. My sons will never forgive me.”

The photograph was available on a website of the firm Move to Panama. It was found by the anonymous woman after she tapped in the words “John, Anne and Panama” into Google. She forwarded the picture to Cleveland police and the Mirror. She said that when she sent the picture to detectives, she was told: “You’re joking.”

I believe she actually did a Google image search, which, at the time of writing, still throws up the same image as the number one result, although the actual image has been removed from the site.

Police and journalists should share the shame and blame for not doing some basic Google sleuthing.

Caught in the web | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited

An Appeal For Help

Fans of Loose Wire may possibly recall a column I did a year or so ago, when I tried to match quaint English placenames with computer matters, assigning the names to things that didn’t yet have them. Here are a few:

  • chettle (collective n) The debris, such as crumbs, dead insects and lint, that gets stuck inside your computer keyboard.
  • hordle (v) The noise a modem makes when it is trying to connect to the Internet. As in: My modem isn’t working. I can’t hear it hordle.
  • whitnash (n) The pain in your shoulder at the end of a long laptop-carrying trip. As in: The trip went fine, but I’ve got serious whitnash and need a bubble bath.

I’ve taken the liberty of re-publishing the piece as part of a holiday season blitz, part of which is for purely selfish reasons. Frankly, I’ve been less than happy that these words have not, for the most part, entered mainstream usage, so I figured I needed to give them a boost. I have therefore submitted the above three to Harper Collins’ new Living Dictionary/Word Exchange project, where folk are encouraged to put in their own suggestions for entries.

Of course, that it was I who assigned these words their meanings may not make me exactly an objective chronicler of the language, but as the editor in chief of Collins Dictionaries, Jeremy Butterfield, points out in today’s Guardian, “Things change very quickly now.  Words can establish themselves within a month.”

So this is where you, o reader, come in. I’d like you to back my campaign by making your own submissions of any of the words (I’ve just done the above, but feel free to use any of the other ones) to the Word Exchange. You have to register first, but, trust me, it’s worth it. In exchange, you can tell your grandchildren you helped put Chettle on the map.