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Soppy Sop
December 2009

The Kray twins: True to their roots 

Honesty has many enemies, and sentimentality is one of them. It has invaded our courts.

In the trial of the Liverpool and England footballer Steven Gerrard, the Scottish ex-footballer and ex-manager Kenny Dalglish testified that the accused was a humble man who had remained true to his roots. Well, Uriah Heep was humble, and the Kray twins were true to their roots, so even as a character reference this was of doubtful value. But the question in any case was not what kind of man Gerrard was, but whether he had attacked someone without lawful excuse. We can only hope that his humility and truth to his roots had nothing to do with his acquittal.

Judges at murder trials are now required to sit through victim impact statements by a close relative or friend of the murdered man or woman, and then, as they are specifically enjoined to do, ignore it altogether in their sentencing. It must be an exquisite torture to them, for two reasons: first, it is precisely the purpose of the law to remove highly emotional considerations from the administration of justice, and second, the inevitable emotional kitschiness of the statements themselves.

They invariably involve eulogies of the deceased: his lovely smile, his infectious laugh, his long eyelashes etc. They are very similar in this respect to the self-descriptions of people in the personal columns of newspapers or on internet dating sites. No doubt this is inevitable: the genre itself, which should not exist, calls it forth.

This official promotion of sentimentality — a sop to a public so ill-served by the criminal justice system — serves to obscure an important elementary truth about murder: that it is not heinous because it extinguishes a lovely smile or a playful sense of humour etc, but because it is the unlawful killing of someone. It is not permissible to kill the humourless and unsmiling ugly whom no one will miss.

Our policemen now go in for this sentimentality too, at least in their public pronouncements (in private, they are more robust). They pay nauseating, unctuous tribute to the victim of murder, as if he fell in devotion to a cause, or they say that such and such was a senseless murder, as if there were sensible ones of people who deserved it. Sometimes, they say that a murder took place in the course of a robbery that went tragically wrong — instead, presumably, of going happily right.

They seem like the mother of a youth who had just been convicted for the 250th time (meaning, if he were averagely competent at evading the police, his 5,000th offence). Interviewed on the radio, she said, "He's a good boy, really."

July 13th, 2011
7:07 PM
I enjoyed reading your perspective on being a legal witness, jurist who understands his/her job., I'm very curious about your thoughts on the Casey Anthony trial, verdict, and the jury's explanations as to how they arrived at their verdict. Do you have your own website?

January 23rd, 2010
11:01 PM
I was recently questioned, as a witness, by British detectives investigating a plot to murder a wife by her (estranged and suddenly jealous) husband (depite his decade plus of infidelity and prior conviction for assault upon her). In the interview I was asked whether I thought the wife had taken the threat seriously (or had reported it out of spite, despite it being true) and what I personally thought of the husband. When I pointed out that I didn't think it was the case that an intended victim of crime needed to believe the threat (or even be aware of it), or whether a witness to a crime needed to like/dislike the accused - for the action or conspiracy to be a crime or not - my interview became mildly hostile. My belief was that the question remained - 'had the husband attempted to persuade another to harm or kill his wife, irrespective of its likely outcome or the wife's degree of belief or fear' Had a Conspiracy to Murder been undertaken, irrespective of its likely success or outcome? The Police seemed to think otherwise. When I (reluctantly) gave my personal opinion of the husband I pointed out that he had, after all, been previously convicted of a serious assault on his wife. My words were, "at the end of the day, he has already beaten her up, quite seriously I believe". The Detective replied in an off-hand and dis-interested fashion, "well, he assaulted her", as if this was a trivial matter. What was more astonishing is that he was accompanied at the interview by a female colleague! One can only wonder what she must make of it all.

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