When I first moved to Sticksville various Swindonians asked me if it was a wise move. They had heard the small town in question had a bad reputation and that there were some unsavoury characters there.

Then, after I arrived and mentioned to my new neighbours and work colleagues that I was from Swindon, it often elicited the same response. ‘Swindon eh? Bit dodgy there at night isn’t it?’

Neither group had spent much time in the others’ town, but they all seemed to have a negative opinion to share.

I talked up the positives of each town to the residents of the other. I’ve lived in one or the other for fifty years and never experienced the sort of problems that both were supposed to have, and it just goes to show how easy it is to get a reputation.

A few weeks back, my Sticksville local newspaper reported that a worried female driver had given a lift to a female pedestrian one night because the walker was being followed by a ‘hoody-wearing’ man, and she was worried about her bag being snatched.

Now over the last 23 years I have walked along this road many times. It has often been dark, due to the time of day, or the time of year.

I also happen to have a ‘hoody’. I wear it for no other reason than it keeps my ears warm and my head dry.

Sometimes there is someone walking in front of me. That’s another way of interpreting that I am walking behind them.

Sometimes they are walking slower than me. That is another way of interpreting that I am catching them up.

Sometimes that person in front is female.

Under all these circumstances I am not committing any offence, and as far as I can tell, the person in the story wasn’t either.

But the paper asked readers to call 101 if they had any information.

To report what?

Perhaps there were mitigating circumstances that weren’t made clear. Imagine he was swinging a pool cue for example?

Still suspicious? Could this person not be on his way to play pool, guilty of jauntily hurrying in anticipation of an enjoyable night with friends?

It’s all about interpretation.

Of course the lady driver could be applauded for taking no chances, but I sometimes worry that half the human race is demonised for being male.

Had the driver spotted a girl walking behind, would she still have offered a lift? Could that girl not have snatched a hand bag, as the driver feared the man might?

As a man, had I offered that female a lift, (perhaps for the very same concerns that the lady driver had), would my actions have been viewed as helpful or suspicious?

Some summers ago I spotted a child of around four years old, on her own at around 8:00pm, near the very street mentioned in the story. That child could have been at extreme risk. Did her parents know where she was?

But I knew that I daren’t approach her for fear of being implicated, so the child remained on the street exposed to whatever real risks were present.

Would I have felt upset if I later read that something had happened to her? Of course.

But would I have been suspected of being the one who caused her harm? No.

How sad that self preservation kicks in through fear of the potential of being the one to be suspected.

And that’s all through seeing how things can be misinterpreted.