This week I must begin by reporting the jury is in – my knee is indeed torn. I did a cracking job on it, and I am hoping for a swift assessment at our famous Stanmore Orthopaedic Hospital to see if I will be ‘fixed.’ I am quite concerned that I will slide down the waiting list chute, because of lockdown backlog, and even if I were to be given a fair crack at being repaired, I wonder if the NHS might decline to assist, given I might not survive the predictable wait, nor be deemed ‘value for money.’ I can hardly consider jumping the queue, given I cannot ‘jump’ now, nor could I ‘run off’ elsewhere for similar reasons. But my next hurdle of more serious import, is that I am shortly due a repeat PET scan, and await this with trepidation. I have been feeling well, even whilst off chemo, but there’s always the worry that the gremlin is waiting by the door.
Now over to another jury and some nasty gremlins… but, before continuing, I must state that the following views are mine alone, and refer to this specific case.
I mentioned PC Andrew Harper last August, a police officer who suffered the most barbaric death at the hands of a group of teenagers.The case was heard in the Old Bailey; the first trial was halted because of serious allegations of jury tampering and the second trial – only recently concluded – may also have elements of jury tampering, despite being conducted with a whole raft of extra security.
But let’s skip past that for a moment. I think what caught my eye was the fascinating CV of the accused – Cole, Bowers and Long, with already a catalogue of offences behind them. Here we go: assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, shoplifting and public order offences. This combines to accord them the dubious accolade of being ‘career’ criminals – it is what they aspire to. All three further distinguish themselves by being illiterate, showing their level of social accomplishment, and they will – once serving time – doubtless continue to create fear amongst other prisoners, with their manslaughter conviction. Manslaughter, murder – it still amounts to the death of an innocent.
Whilst we in our religious community pay great attention to the subtleties of human behaviour, there are some who presumably care only about the blood of their own.
We can be slightly mollified by the fact they are now going to prison (not a young offenders institution) and I wonder if criminals’ own justice might now be meted out by their peers, in the same way that justice might have been served more appropriately by their peers in the Old Bailey. Long, the ringleader, had the temerity to suggest that ‘had he known the police officer was attached to the back of a vehicle and in a position of endangerment, he would have brought the vehicle to a halt and rendered assistance.’ Look back at their colourful CVs and see whether you would agree? A good samaritan he is not. By leaving the scene of their crime and speeding and weaving up that lane, trying to dislodge a man who had the misfortune to be caught on the harness at the back, they can’t claim to be remotely virtuous. The definition of murder includes the ‘intention to cause grievous bodily harm.’
The defendants sat laughing during the trial and their families cheered at the verdict. The widow of PC Harper broke down on hearing it. She, like all of us, had kept faith in the legal system, only to be very let down. Her husband of 4 weeks, an upstanding, likeable member of society, put his life on the line daily for society. And he was well past the end of his shift I think perhaps the time has come for imposing much stiffer penalties for crimes against emergency service workers. These three individuals have obviously shunned not just an education, but any life skills, or appreciation of the value of life. I know that some people may find my views here very harsh, but I think there is no penalty – NO penalty whatever – that fits a vile crime like this.
I learnt right and wrong when I was but a small child, and by age 12, heard the immortal words of The Mikado… ‘Let the punishment fit the crime.’ A manslaughter verdict in this case is NOT justice, merely a poor substitute. Just rearrange the word vile, and you see EVIL, which is the only fitting term for these individuals.
In my dream world I would transport the three of them – without further ado – to the state of Texas and let real justice be applied. In the USA, life means life, and young people are frequently condemned to spend their lives incarcerated. I truly feel for a youngster of 16 or 18 who is often deeply repentant, but still told they will spend 50 or 60 years behind bars, for only very occasional appeals see this overturned. Those convicted of murder – in certain states – are served up a death penalty, even though it essentially results in a whole life tariff instead. Over in holiday camp UK, if you get a sentence of 10 years at the age of 18, you can look forward to being back on the streets in 5 years, assuming for your good behaviour and a gullible parole board. Plenty time ahead to live a life of crime, repeat offending and start a family, creating another generation from the same stable. We’ve seen this all too often.
I think for certain offence categories, including heinous crimes, a ‘manslaughter’ verdict should not be an option. If that also necessitates a trial without a jury [because a ‘jury of one’s peers’ might conceivably consist of sympathetic followers, or because of perjury, witness intimidation or jury tampering], then so be it. Sections 44 to 50 of the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) provide for non-jury trials in cases where there is ‘danger of jury tampering or where jury tampering has taken place.’ This is likely why Lord Blunkett and others are calling for an inquiry, and I would like to think that most upright individuals would support a retrial of these villainous thugs.
After the jury had deliberated and pronounced their verdict, one of them made a particularly heartless and heinous comment. Think of Rhett Butler’s closing response to Scarlett O’Hara in the final scene of Gone with the Wind….just said in a less refined vocabulary. This comment alone indicates that they have not a shred of decency between them. Our hearts go out to Lissie Harper.
Having already prepared my column, it was then a coincidence that Gone with the Wind (1939) appeared in this week’s dispatches, with the death, at age 104, of Olivia de Havilland, who played Melanie Wilkes in this epic movie.
She was born in Tokyo in 1916, the year before her sister, Joan. Their father Walter (a cousin of the aircraft manufacturer Peter de Havilland) studied at Cambridge and then taught at Waseda University, specialising in patent law. Her mother Lillian had trained at RADA, gave concerts, took part in amateur dramatics and tutored students, including her daughters, both of whom were also instructed in elocution.
By 1919, the marriage had foundered, and Lillian decided to return to England. On reaching San Francisco both girls became ill though, and whilst they recovered, they took a house in Saratoga, New York. It was a peaceful and positive place, and plans for England were then extinguished.
Her mother then remarried George Fontaine, a grocer, who vehemently disapproved of the theatre, Having acquired a beautiful mid-Atlantic accent, and a lovely singing voice, Olivia then showed an interest in dramatics. After grammar school she was compelled by her stepfather to learn typing, although secretly she wanted to become a teacher, winning a scholarship to train.
Things at home were difficult, with the consequence that Olivia moved out aged 16 – a bold step in the 1930s.
Like her mother and sister, she greatly enjoyed amateur dramatics, and played the lead in Alice in Wonderland, followed by the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both with the Saratoga Community Theatre (1934). At this time the famous Austrian director Max Reinhardt was preparing to produce his version of The Dream in Hollywood, and his assistant saw the Saratoga production with 18 year old Olivia, and invited her to Hollywood. Thus began HER dream, with her being signed by Warner Bros. Warner Bros later introduced the dashing newcomer, Errol Flynn, in the pirate story Captain Blood, with Olivia playing opposite him.
After appearances in several costume dramas, she joined the massive frenzy for the lead female role in Gone with the Wind, playing opposite Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. Olivia shrewdly opted instead to try for the supporting role of Melanie.
Her sister Joan – convinced she herself would get Scarlet’s role – put her sister up for Melanie. This was to prove a defining moment in their lives as Olivia won the part of Melanie, but Scarlett O’Hara was given to Vivien Leigh. The sisters had a massive falling out after this, which lasted throughout their lives. Joan was evidently a talented actress, going on to win an Oscar for her role in Suspicion (1942), co-starring with Cary Grant. After Gone with the Wind, Olivia de Havilland played lesser roles, but one memorable film was The Dark Mirror (1946), a psychological drama about identical twins. She won two Oscars: To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949), and had acted alongside Hollywood greats such as James Cagney, Richard Burton, Dirk Bogarde and Bette Davis during her 50 year career. She spent her last 60 years living in Paris, and was appointed DBE in 2017. What a journey! Au revoir! Gone now, but not forgotten.
Until next week