‘One of our own’: Why Alfie Evans is Liverpool’s baby
LIVERPOOL, England, April 19, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – People in Liverpool dress well.
That was my first impression when I got off the train from Edinburgh that dark wet night. The station was busy with women in fancy dresses and astonishing hats and men–even young men–in expensively cut suits. It took me a moment to remember that it was the High Holy Day of Liverpool fashionistas: Ladies’ Day at the Aintree Racecourse. The Grand National, one of the most important events of the British horseracing year, took place the next day.
But the snazzy outfits were not confined to racegoers. On Saturday morning, as I hunted around the railway station for a new camera, I noticed well-dressed people standing outside a theatre. And two things occured to me: first, Liverpudlians–or as they are more commonly known, “Scousers”–dress better than Edinburghers; second, these people have a point to prove.
My sense that Liverpool is a collective identity as much as a city was born in the cab ride to my hotel near Alder Hey children’s hospital, where 23-month-old Alfie Evans is being held against his parents’ wishes. His parents Tom Evans and Kate James want to take Alfie to the Bambino Gesù in Rome before Alder Hey can remove Alfie’s life support. When I told my cab driver, a thin middle-aged man with a beanie pulled down to his eyebrows, I was covering the story, he declared how sad it was.
“They should give him a chance,” he said of the courts and the hospital that want the mysteriously sick Alfie to die. “There’s a lot of feeling in this town about it. He’s one of our own.”
‘Liverpool never stops fighting’
The theme of Alfie-as-Scouser was repeated the next morning when a larger, more talkative cabbie took me back to downtown Liverpool. All the way there, he praised Tom Evans, ranted against the establishment, including the “faceless” administrators of the National Health Service, and bragged of Liverpool’s collective, fighting spirit, which Evans embodies.
“He’s only 21 years old,” shouted the cabbie. “He’s done everything for his son. Every year they make celebrities Mother or Father of the Year, like Victoria Spice. Well, that should be Tom.”
The cabbie recalled Liverpool’s battle for justice after the Hillsborough Disaster. In 1989, Liverpool fans were unfairly blamed by police for the 96 fatalities and hundreds of injuries caused by overcrowding at a semi-final soccer match. It wasn’t until 2016 that the fans were exonerated.
“Only this city would have fought so long for Hillsborough,” said the driver. He indicated that the “Scousers” were prepared to fight just as hard for Alfie. “Liverpool never stops fighting.”
In his opinion–and I heard it from others–Alder Hey’s opposition to Alfie’s transfer to Rome stems from fear the Italian doctors will discover some negligence on the English hospital’s part. Liverpool has not forgotten the Alder Hey organ scandal of 1999-2001, when horrified Scousers discovered that a pathologist there had illegally stripped hundreds of dead children of their organs. My driver said his son’s girlfriend’s mother had had a baby who was one of the victims. Now because of what is happening to Alfie Evans, he said, people were avoiding taking their children to Alder Hey.
When I asked this driver why Liverpool was such a close-knit city, there was an uncharacteristic moment of silence. He then admitted that it might be because Liverpool had a rough reputation and “people look down on us.”
‘Scousers help each other’
My experience of Liverpool is limited to 16 hours shuttling between the railway station, Alder Hey, and a Travel Lodge. But I have lived in the UK for almost a decade, and I’ve learned a few things, like cultural differences between traditional British working-class folk and upper-middle-class High Court justices. For example, it makes sense that Tom Evans, a professed Catholic, is not married to his son’s mother, with whom he is still in a relationship, when you know that he left school at 16 and trained as a plasterer. Marriage, in the UK as elsewhere, is increasingly a middle-class and upper-class phenomenon.
But family–extended family and multiple children–is still crucial to traditional working-class folk. One woman I spoke to outside Alder Hey on Friday night, Evonne, is the mother of seven “and the grandmother of one.” Tom Evans himself is one of nine children. Kate James is said also to come from a big family although Alfie’s Aunt Georgina didn’t know that side of the family well enough to say how big.
Aunt Georgina had come along to stop Evonne from speaking to the press. Alfie’s Army, which includes the dozens who protest daily outside Alder Hey and the thousands of armchair warriors reading their Facebook page, appears to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, Alfie’s Army offers emotional, social, and material support. On the other, it spreads ill-founded rumours. Thus, only family members were supposed to speak to media.
Not all the Army got that memo. On Saturday afternoon, a smiling young couple caught my eye. They were among the 50 people protesting cheerfully outside Alder Hey, and they hoped I would take their photograph for the papers.
“Are you members of the family?” I asked hopefully. Depending almost entirely on cab drivers for quotes did not strike me as journalistic best practise. However, it seems the young man thought I was asking why he was there.
“Naw. We’re Scousers,” he said proudly. “Scousers help each other.”
My train to London was to leave shortly. I flagged down another cab and interviewed yet another driver. This one, young and bespectacled, said that he had removed his sick daughter from Alder Hey because of the Alfie Evans scandal. He had also been at the thousand-person-strong rally at Alder Hey on Thursday night after Tom Evans sent an SOS through Facebook.
“It’s disgusting what they’re doing to that child,” he said, meaning the hospital and the courts.
In my cabbie’s opinion, shared by almost everyone I spoke to in Liverpool, Tom Evans was doing what anyone would do for his children.
But here’s the thing: judge after judge has disagreed with Tom Evans’ fight to keep his son alive, to keep him ventilated, and to get him transferred to another hospital. These are, presumably, people who would allow their brain-damaged infants to die, were they in Alfie’s parents’ shoes. But then these judges are not Liverpool working-class folk, are they?
I sense a class-based culture clash here. I’ve wondered for a week about Mr Justice Haydon’s strange appeal to Alfie’s “privacy.” Haydon’s February 20 ruling, detailing Alfie’s state of health, makes for sober reading and subsequent soul-searching. But Haydon’s April 11 remarks about how he would not want videos of himself in Alfie’s situation online raises questions about the judge’s impartiality. His obsession with privacy and what he calls “dignity” is just so … middle-aged and middle-class. Privacy has not been a prime consideration of any infants I have known, let alone the social media generation. Are the courts imposing middle-aged, middle-class ideas about what makes life worth living on working-class Alfie and his young parents?
“What do you think about the judge’s interest in Alfie’s privacy?” I asked this last cab driver.
“That child will never have any privacy,” said the driver proudly, as if privacy were abuse and neglect. “We’ll be with him until the end. And when he dies, there will be thousands of us at his funeral. The whole city will be there.”