The other News From England

May 16th., 1993.

A POLICEMAN PHONED to say that my friend's handbag had been found a couple of weeks after it was stolen.

They had decided to park their car in a car park. and in their no doubt loud and clear voices discussed whether it was safe to leave their handbags in the boot (US: trunk) whilst thev went for a walk along the canal. All the bags were stolen.

It happens all the time, the policeman said. Indeed, probaby tne thieves are there all or most of the dav, sitting in their car waiting ror a good prospect to come along. I made mv only suggestion for catching them, which was to leave a bag with a transmitter readv for them to walk off with and then follow them. Not very useful really, since they probably would empty it and throw it away within minutes.

We have, we are told, a crime wave in our society. There are more crimes reported now than there ever were. And there has been a considerable increase since the recession really took a hold. That's probably quite true, although there are people who believe that it is not so much that there is more crime as that there is more crime reported and that more actions are now classified as crimes.

The crime they are talking about is usually those crimes committed by the victim class, although we probably have enough bent lawyers and business people to completely destroy our economy (instead of just sucking it dry) in not much more time than it takes to pinch a handbag if they all got together to do it. Indeed, this may be roughly what our banks are about.

But the crime that gets reported is the stuff I am interested in at the moment, because we desperately need to do something about our children and our peers behaving in this way. At the moment we act as though it is someone else's responsibility. We paid the police and social workers to see to it for us, and why aren't they coping? They're not coping, one imagines, because they don't just need our support, they also need for us to get a better understanding of the problem. Why are our children (I don't mean my own, for they never did seem to be interested in this type of behaviour) doing all this? Many parents would say they weren't strict enough. Yet large numbers of very strict parents seem to have delinquent children, so one might question that.

Perhaps, then, we didn't give them enough freedom? I find it difficult to imagine this making any real difference by itself. How can freedom develop in someone a sense of 'right and wrong'? Indeed, is their right the same as my right? So we have a difficult problem. It is not really relevant whether the figures of crimes are greater or less. What really matters is that we have it and some people take it as normal to commit crimes and others take it as normal to have crimes committed against them.

I am inclined to believe that a lot of crime comes from alienation - after all, if you are not part of something, then do you have any reason not to just help yourself from it? Perhaps that wasn't very well put. If you are not a hen, you wouldn't normally mind stealing a hen's egg. I don't mean from the farmer, who thinks he or she owns the egg, but from the hen. You just take it. You don't think it's theft, because it's a hen's egg, and you are not a hen. In fact, in due course, you might come along and steal the hen's life as well, so that you could eat it's body. The difference is that it's a hen, and you don't feel towards hens how you feel towards humans.

That's if you feel goodwill towards humans. if you don't. is there any reason not to commit crime against them other than the risk of getting caught and pilloried? What was just taking from a hen (I have some sympathy for this hen) has now become a crime because it applies to people.

So it seems to me that as there are probably a great number of people who think that the only reason crime is limited is that the penalties are severe, there must be a great number of people who are alienated from, yet living within, our society, and a part of this great number are so extremely alienated that they comit crime (quite possibly expecting to get away with it because they are so alienated they don't even understand how it is possible to get caught)

When these people get caught society demands that they are punished, and they are quite often further alienated by being imprisoned, or in other ways institutionalised. In prison, they learn quite a few useful tricks for being alienated efficiently, like how to break into cars easily and mug old ladies. Prison is also at it's worst a message from society that you are not liked. I don't know how you'd feel about this, but I know I'd find this pretty hard to take. However, there are several types of prison, some better than others.

Having analysed the problem in this way (and no doubt missed even seeing many other possible explanations) I am still no wiser as to what I think we should be doing about it. The only thing that comes to mind is that we should be doing everything we possibly can to help all those around us to feel as good about themselves and as much a part of humanity as possible - and that is an extremely tall order when we feel threatened by them, or when they have just committed the most diabolical crime. Somehow, assuming my original analysis of the problem to be correct. we have to accommodate the idea that the crime was only committed in the first place because we alienated the person. therebv removing the incentive to , behave'.

I have tried to replace 'society' with 'we' wherever possible because 'society' sounds like someone else whilst 'we' sounds like my family and friends, those who read this. I can feel responsible to and collectively for us, whilst I can't so easily feel this about society. In fact, I feel so alienated from the idea of 'society' that I think I might just go out and nick a hen's egg.

('Nick' in the above sense is a bit of (probably Cockney) slang, and means 'steal').

May 22nd. 1993

THE GUILOFORD FOUR have been in the news again, with lawyers apparently tying themselves in ever tighter knots over this matter.

Originally convicted in the seventies of bombing a pub. they succeeded with an appeal that demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the police and lawyers who achieved their conviction in the first place had in various ways cheated, both by fabricating evidence and by withholding it.

It therefore followed that the police should be charged with fabricating evidence, and the prosecution lawyers with withholding it, and that the judge could reasonably be thought of as having either been incompetent or dishonest - take your pick.

The lawyers were not charged with anything, presumably because they are in the same club as judges, but the policemen, being further down the rather shaky structure that makes up our system of justice, were charged - I'm not quite sure who prosecuted, but I presume it must have been the government.

Therefore, the cynics say. they were in rather an awkward position because they wouldn't really like to succeed with the prosecution of members of their own freemasonry.

The case was brought to court, and the prosecution didn't bring along the key witness - a person by the name of Armstrong - and neither did the defence. Neither, as far as I know, did the Guildford Four themselves appear.

On the other hand, it needed to seem like a proper trial, so there was a jury. But a jury can only decide on the basis of the evidence they have heard, and the defence alleged that Mr. Armstrong "sang jike a canary" when interviewed by police, and that therefore the police didn't need to fabricate evidence. That being the case, one wonders why neither side had him along. He is reported to be a little annoyed about not being a witness, because he felt he could put a few things straight.

They were not found guilty, of course, as the cynics would predict. Never mind, they may still have to live with their consciences.

But that's not all. Another bunch of people, who were caught on a later occasion, confessed to the bombing, but their evidence was not listened to. One presumes the explanation for this is that they had already been caught, and this would make no difference to their sentence, but would get the others (who were allegedly of the same organisation) out - that. for the moment, is the only explanation I can think of to not explore this evidence, unless to save face. The Guildford Four are said to be unhappy about what amounts to an attempt to reconvict them at least in the public's eyes.

A politician said something to the effect of: "I cannot see how these people could possibly not be guilty if the Guildford Four are innocent. but we do have legal cuctom and T m,,~t th~ .' finding. I hope it will satisfy those who have been saying that by comon logic the policemen must be guilty." Nice and ambiguous, that.

But I wonder how it feels to be the Judge, whom the cynics must believe to have helped these policemen get off?

One of the problems with our lawyers is that they tend to think that the populace are not as bright as they are. They don't expect people to ask questions like how was the jury chosen and why was Mr Armstrong not heard?

If you are going to have system of Justice, then people in this country still want it to be just, and they still seem to expect it to be so. At the moment, a large number of people probably don't believe it is, and are pretty disappointed.

AN ADVERT. seeking a saxophone player for a rock and roll band appeared in a music trade paper last week. It is such a rare thing for a sax player to find a band needing a sax player that I felt I ought to have a look. When I phoned up, the only question the man asked me was what my age was! I asked him why, and he told me that what they wanted was someone of about thirty. What about the playing, I asked? He was dumbfounded and silent. More about this next week.