This week’s latest bogl finds bigotry in the ascendant

Showbiz

STOP PRESS

From our Correspondent ©2016 Polly_Wood@fuxnews.org

OMG!!!, not Brangelina? Surely not yet? THE END ALREADY??? #terrifiedface

(Haven’t I seen this somewhere before? Ed.)

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Up the bum

Forgive me, gentle Spammers, Likers, Followers, Visitors and People No Longer Reading this, muh li’l bogl.

But I have started Posting early this week, owing to a particular circumstance.

Namely that I have, perhaps unwisely, agree to allow my urologist to do a precautionary biopsy on my elderly gentleman’s prostate, and have no idea if such a procedure is survivable in the short term.

Meanwhile, I have encouraging news from The Telegraph, which should know, that 99% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer survive ten years, whether or not they are receiving treatment for it.

Treatment, normally radiotherapy and excision surgery, makes little difference to the outcome, researchers have unexpectedly found. While it typically leaves patients impotent, bow-legged and dribbling piss into a bag.

No prizes then for guessing where urology as a popular option will be headed in future. But I shan’t draw his attention to it, not beforehand at least.

Postscriptum

Phew.

Audience of six staring at my arse, better than the Edinburgh Fringe. Maybe I should book a venue next year, ‘Just for the Crack!’

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Let us prey

Best Christopher Hitchens Arguments (Part 2). Viewed at: 1hr 30m

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHOo3e2Xlws

As part of her non-mandated education reforms, the Prime Minister, the curiously stork-like Mrs May has announced that ‘faith schools’ in Britain can now freely ignore a previous injunction that they must admit 50% of pupils from local families not of the school’s advertised religious denomination.

Along with her intention to introduce more selective grammar schools, this different and unusual form of selection by parental ‘faith’ is illogically her way of increasing opportunities and reducing social inequality for less well-off children.

Hitchens’ warning is salutary: the barbarians aren’t at the gates, they’re in the city.

It goes without saying that, far from increasing their isolation from the mainstream community, faith schools ought instead as a matter of national security and sanity to be closed down and got rid of altogether.

Faith is an individual matter and not a proper basis for learning.

The future must not be entrusted to graduates of urban madrassas setting religious monoculturalism against rational pluralism; typically teaching both childish, atavistic superstition alongside rational scientific inquiry as being of equal merit. They are simply not.

Imposing uncritical, incontrovertible religious observance, mystical rites and unprovable belief systems such as Creationism or (pretty un-)Intelligent Design in schools, other than as subjects purely of academic curiosity and pity, while denying the extent and validity of contemporary knowledge, is evil, tantamount to child abuse.

Children must be taught to question, not to accept as certainty the ‘word of God’ as ‘revealed’ to illiterate desert-dwellers in selectively edited, internally contradictory and poorly translated, 2,000-year-old texts of dubious provenance recovered from caves; and to imagine that such dessicated ravings constitute a blueprint for anything greater than a narrowly prescriptive, ignorant, barbaric and cruel society, hagridden by a power-hungry elite.

Postscriptum

Not for the first time, but again to my atheistic old surprise, I have received a Like for an anti-religious Post from a Christian who believes they have been healed by the power of faith. Eating a bit more probably helped! (smileyface)

Forgive me if I don’t reply properly, your own web site is a marvel, a thing of beauty and proof that Intelligent Design is not the prerogative of  whoever made the Universe, but it’s too complicated for an old dimwit to navigate to the bit where I can thank you without a Flipper account or whatever. Clearly your daughter did not set it up for you on a flying visit and leave you to cope.

Anyway, I’m sure you don’t need my permission to carry on believing whatever you want. But if I could borrow a few of your 6,437 Followers it would be handy, since I appear to be down to zero. (My son says who wants to read a depression memoir mostly about politics, with no pictures?) Just twelve might do the trick….

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The whites of their eyes

Paul Gascoigne, the sometime footballing genius destroyed by alcoholism and prurient media obsession, has been fined £1,000 as an ‘example’ to others considering racism as an occupation.

Gazza’s offence was to make a public remark, calling to a black security guard to smile ‘so I can see you’, during an inadvertent blackout that occurred in the auditorium while he was making one of those personal ‘performing freak’ appearance tours which ruined celebrities are sometimes obliged to go on by agents anxious to ensure they can afford their next meal.

It sounds like it was supposed to be a joke, of the ignorant yet affectionate kind one might not find surprising, coming from a working-class product of the Northeast, a barely educated lad brought up from an early age in the culture of the locker-room. Perhaps we should send him to a re-education camp?

I’m sure though that people must have said worse things about Gazza and his boozing.

Sadly, the victim of this heinous act of racism akin almost to the re-ignition of slavery could not recognise that it is not only black people who can be exploited, perhaps imagining that Gascoigne is still some important and well paid public entity rather than a pathetic old piss-artist, and continued to insist on a prosecution even after the Director of Public Prosecutions had ruled that the case was vexatious and unnecessary.

Meanwhile, Mr Nigel ‘skinnydipper’ Farage has been allowed to get away with complaining at a Donald Trump rally in, of all places, Mississippi, that President Obama had the effrontery to ‘talk down’ to the British people when urging us not to vote to leave the EU.

God forbid that uppity n-words should be encouraged to talk down to us superior white folks, even if they are the leader of the free world.

While the president of the Philippines, the deeply unpleasant little thug Rodrigo Duterte, visiting the G20 summit in a curiously deserted Guangjhou, called Mr Obama ‘a son of a whore’, a remark he later tried to withdraw on the grounds that it was an epithet he used frequently to describe other world leaders and he meant nothing by it.

Neither of these hateful, self-publicising racist shitbrains will be forced to answer for their obliquity in a Wolverhampton court, I feel sure.

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No news is better news

On the subject of perverse lawsuits, lawyers for the seven-times world Formula 1 racing champion, Michael Schumacher, who was left in a coma after a skiing accident two years ago, are suing a German magazine, Bunte, for reporting a claim by a member of the Schumacher entourage that the Schu was now able to walk again.

Positive news is, of course, to be frowned on nowadays. Or do I detect the long shadow of the insurance company loss-adjuster creeping across the well-kept lawn?

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Under the blanket

By our Court Correspondent, ©2016 HughJWhopper @whomeguv.con

Facing a £4 million fine for breaches of Health & Safety, Network Rail told a High Court hearing into the death of 82-year-old Brenda McFarland, run over by a train at a pedestrian railway crossing in Suffolk in August 2011:

“…individual mistakes had been made but the firm had not ignored warnings or been guilty of systemic failings.”

– BBC News report, 21 September 2016

“The Rail Accident Investigation Branch said Network Rail was told warnings of oncoming trains were “not sufficient” prior to the fatal collision…. Recommendations had been made in 2006 and 2008 for sirens to be placed at the level crossing to warn of approaching trains, but were not implemented.

– BBC News report, 19 July 2012

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A thin blue line

The death of PC David Philips hit (apparently) by a stolen pickup truck being pursued following a suspected robbery is awful for his family, friends and colleagues and our hearts go out to them.

But the incident looks more like reckless endangerment than deliberate murder; a swerving attempt to avoid the stinger device PC Philips and a colleague (who managed to jump out of the way) were deploying to burst the car’s tyres – in itself a dangerous measure that could have caused the deaths of anyone in the vehicle.

That at least will be the basis of any defence 18-year-old Clayton Williams will put up. The Wallasey, Merseyside teenager has already publicly confessed, and profoundly apologised to the family, in an extraordinary statement issued through his solicitor, after he was remanded in custody last week, in which he said he had no intention of running down PC Philips and was not aware that he had.

In fact, a number of aspects of this case are somewhat unsettling.

It is common practice, and allowed, for police to issue photographs or photofit pictures, and to name suspects they are looking for in connection with major crimes, before an arrest is made and a charge brought. But at that juncture, reporting restrictions demand that only the accused’s name, age and address may continue to be published.

I cannot remember a single case in which the police have carried out an arrest, the suspect has been charged, appeared in court to confirm their identity and been remanded for a further hearing, and the police have then released to the press, for publication, a photograph of the accused.

Whatever the crime, even a police killing, such an action is totally contrary to the 800-year old principle of British justice, that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. In this case, it looks like the defence has been railroaded into issuing a public admission of guilt even before the accused has been given the opportunity to enter a plea in court: trial by media.

It is not a happy precedent.

That the photograph should be an image taken from social media of the teenager drunk and behaving disgracefully at a party, leering spottily into the lens and raising two fingers, while the faces of people in the background have been pixellated, is clearly highly prejudicial. What motive could the police, if indeed it was they who obtained the photo, possibly have in releasing it to the media, other than to influence a potential future jury of sober and upright adult citizens?

The release of the image provoked a predictable crawling-out from under stones of the rabid tendency among the Commentariat, most of whom called for the youth to be violently tortured and hung as an example to others. Many complained of their disappointment that Clayton Williams, despite his name, had turned out not to be a black man.

The Daily Mail controversialist, Katie Hopkins for once took the side of proportionality and criticised sensationalist media coverage of the family’s outspoken grief as ‘scripted… X-factor videotape… the Instagram nation.’ She cruelly went on to imagine Mrs Williams viewing the TV coverage of her performance with satisfaction. Ms Hopkins is not a very nice person, but in this instance she expressed the unease some may have felt at the way the death of PC Philips was being turned to advantage, at a time of cuts to the police budget.

Again, this seems to have been the police ensuring maximum public opprobrium against the accused, through an orchestrated press conference designed to heighten sympathy for the victim’s fully extended family. Tearful family appeals to the killer to come forward have become commonplace, but in this instance the police already had a suspect in custody, who had apparently confessed – and went on to arrest a number of other, unnamed persons – presumably the boy’s family and friends – as accessories after the fact.

This trawling of connections to suspects is also disturbing, reminiscent as it is of the ancient practice of ‘sippenhaft’ – targeting the wider families of supposedly disloyal resisters to ensure compliance. Commit a crime nowadays and your spouse, your mum, or seemingly anyone on your contacts list who has failed to hand you over to the authorities in good time is likely to end up being hauled in and gaoled on charges of ‘conspiracy to pervert the course of justice’.

The vengeful statements of senior officers should be seen in context of a force that very much protects its own. The Chief Constable’s impassioned remark that ‘he didn’t stand a chance’ made for a good headline, but the inevitable inquiry might, in the cold light of day, possibly find that PC Philips was ordered into the path of the escaping vehicle by a superior; reducing his ‘chances’ still further.

It is unfortunately a truth that many such accidents happen when the police take off in hot pursuit of a suspect: in this case, the red Mitsubishi pickup stolen earlier was spotted lurking in the area an hour after police were called to the robbery, and a high-speed chase ensued. Was PC Philips ordered to put himself in harm’s way? And if so, could the extraordinary media-storm not have been generated in part to deflect attention away from a possibly fatal operational error?

It all begs the question: should we go on risking TV-cop-show-style, high-speed car chases in built-up areas, when we have spotter technology and surveillance cameras and drones, the ability to track vehicles remotely – and even, if not yet then not far off, the technology to send a jamming signal that can switch-off a car’s computerised engine management system?

And what if the victim had not been a policeman, but some other father-of-two making his way home after a night-shift, hit perhaps by a police car? Would the force have treated the case with the same sensationalised prominence, or perhaps relied instead on another anodyne and long-drawn-out IPCC investigation to draw a veil?

In context, with forty million vehicles on the UK’s cluttered roads, around 400 pedestrians are hit and killed by vehicles each year (some by police drivers); another 1,400 die in crashes. That’s quite a lot of ‘brilliant dads’ who don’t come home in the normal course of events. That this figure is one third what it was 40 years ago is  testament in part to the vigour with which police enforce the traffic regulations.

And it is salutary to remember that one hundred and forty-two people died in workplace accidents in 2014.

Statistically, police work is actually quite safe when compared with some other occupations; possibly due to assiduous training. The last British policeman killed in the line of duty was back in 2013, also struck by a getaway car. 2012 was an exceptional year, as a result of two WPCs in Manchester being lured into an ambush and shot to death by a local ‘face’ – a known thug who had decided to hand himself in over a previous murder and thought it would be a nice idea to take a couple of coppers down with him. Another PC was shot confronting an armed man while off-duty, and a fourth died of a heart attack while pursuing a suspect.

But there are 128 thousand people employed in the police force. It is the relative rarity of such incidents that makes them stand out.

Self-serving and pious statements by politicians about the extraordinary dangers of police work and lurid phrasemaking about ‘putting their lives on the line every night’ ignore the facts – with, on average, 30-plus deaths a year in police custody, it’s quite a lot more dangerous in Britain to be a criminal, or suspected of being one. Most people would say, that’s how it should be.

Of course, in America it’s more like a small war. Let’s not go there.

 

Postscriptum

After adding to the above yesterday with what I hoped was a more direct rationalisation of my semi-private concern at the management of the publicity surrounding this tragic case, as it seemed to set an uncomfortable legal precedent, there is news of a PC in a ‘serious’ condition, having been knifed in the stomach when called to an incident in North London. A 16-year-old boy is being questioned.

Of course, policing is often dangerous work. I merely commented that statistically, the fatality rate among police  in this country is thankfully very low. Nor do I believe that violent young punks without any sense of consequence or responsibility for their actions are a new phenomenon indicative of the breakdown of the social order: they have always existed.

Hanging and flogging them isn’t going to make any difference, we used to do that but they are ever with us. It is hardly perverted liberalism to suggest that there are reasons for their antisocial behaviour that ought to be addressed, while at the same time upholding the rule of law.

I do not take pleasure in the death of any individual; nor was I writing about any individual, excepting that this was a case that illustrated the way in which a precedent was being extended and nobody appeared to have noticed.

I have had a night to think about an abusive Comment received in relation to the original article. It is the first such Comment my blog has attracted in almost four years; possibly a sign of failure. The author, ‘Chris’, is a person obviously with little education, but direct and to the point. What I write may indeed be ‘fucking bollocks’, while it is indeed regrettable that I have never had the opportunity to die for my country, of whose overly sentimental laws and customs ‘Chris’ disapproves.

As a citizen (whose ancestors migrated here from northern Europe thirteen centuries ago) I still insist on the right to have a view, to express an opinion!

My blog is a personal ‘work in progress’ and subject to continual interventions by an editor I keep in my head. I have made one or two minor changes this morning. Something however that has also popped out of my head overnight is a worry that the country is becoming polarised between moral relativists and moral absolutists: people disposed to thinking-through complicated problems, as against people who merely react, sometimes with inarticulate violence, from pre-prepared positions.

I can see little difference between the ‘Chris’s and their fundamentalist counterparts in other cultures around the world, ISIS, the Moral Majority, who are once again in the ascendant. People who see everything in terms of black and white, who express violent thoughts against anyone they consider The Other – anyone that is, who looks or behaves or thinks differently from themselves. People with a visceral hatred of open discussion.

I suppose the difference is, for now, that one group is prepared to rampage through cities, indiscriminately shooting and bombing in the name of a religious ideal; while the others conduct their private wars by hurling inarticulate invective at people they fundamentally disagree with, in a public forum that guarantees their anonymity (for now). I am equally guilty of that, at times.

I suppose there has always been tension between the two camps, the ‘class war’ – but the internet has enabled a permissive discourse to evolve that is ratcheting up the social tension level, at a time of difficult global challenges to the postwar social consensus for which no-one appears to have any answers, other than more violence.

It’s not a good sign.

The Untouchable Mr Putin

Two Russia analysts on BBC radio this morning concurred: after so many years walled-up in the Kremlin, bathed in the asses’ milk of absolute power, surrounded and advised only by a small coterie of likeminded former KGB colleagues, Mr Putin is out-of-touch, delusional, poorly informed about what is going on in the world, a victim of his own propaganda, not – for an intelligence man – particularly intelligent and, quite probably, dangerously mad (and a closet gay… no, they didn’t say that) to boot.

Well, and well.

The problem for Mr Putin in Ukraine, since the downing of Flight MH17, has been that if he gives way to strident demands from the USA to use his influence on the pro-Russian separatist rebel leaders to co-operate with the international investigation, he will a) have to submit to the findings of the investigation, which may go against Russia; and b) let it be known that he does have influence over the separatists, which up to now he has denied.

The fact is that he most probably does not know how the plane came to be shot down, any more than the West does; but that he privately shares the West’s suspicions.

Consequently he is having to play a difficult hand. I suspect that he has been genuinely taken aback by the shooting-down of the civil airliner last week with almost 300 people on board. It was not part of the plan, and it has embarrassed him. The plan was to use the minimum of Russian cross-border involvement to stir-up the revolt in Eastern Ukraine. The downing of Flight MH17, whose passengers came from so many outraged countries, probably through the incompetence of a semi-trained rebel operative, has raised the stakes. Thus far, the supply of heavy weapons, money and training to the rebels has come from mysterious origins, seemingly with no clear trail leading back to Moscow. To intercede with the separatists in the combat zone is to admit that the sophisticated BUK mobile anti-aircraft missile launcher probably used in the attack – we still don’t really know – was one of his.

So, for home consumption, he has played the nationalist card and is using the State-controlled media to mount a massive disinformation campaign, attempting to throw blame on almost anyone else. He knows no-one outside Russia will ever believe he is innocent, but he can create enough of a smokescreen of blatantly contrarian disinformation to sow the seeds of doubt, especially among his many traditionalist supporters. He does not have to care about Western opinion. The tide of public opinion in Russia has swung behind him, as he has cleverly turned the disaster into an issue of anti-Russian sentiment and threat from the West, against which he knows a significant number of Russians will react with their hearts, rather than their heads. He has made ordinary Russians feel like they are the real victims of this disaster.

On the other hand, he must be relishing the extent to which the West has fallen consistently behind the curve on Ukraine since the start of his destabilisation campaign. This morning’s news is that the rebels have conceded almost everything the West was demanding. The bodies – those 20o or so that could be found scattered amid the alien corn – have been collected, bagged, ticketed, put on board a handy refrigerated train and shipped off to a Government-controlled town, to be handed over to the Dutch authorities, who lost the most citizens. The two ‘black box’ flight recorders that disappeared from the crash site on Day 1 have magically reappeared, and been handed over to the Malaysian air accident investigation team.

And, just as the British warrior PM David Cameron, his eye on the upcoming General Election, is tub-thumping and huffing and puffing in Brussels, demanding more ‘sanctions’ (short of anything that might upset business as usual in the City of London) while the spineless jellyfish who run the rest of the EU are quivering and havering over their pathetic gas supplies and their Russian business contracts, the rebels have declared a ceasefire in the civil war the West had somehow failed to notice was even happening, in a six-mile zone around the crash site, to enable investigations to take place. The fact that the evidence is now so compromised and contaminated as to be virtually useless will not have escaped Mr Putin. While we continue feebly to demand yesterday’s appropriate actions today, he has already conceded the point and moved on.

Thus, it is clear that he has, in a rather clever way, and despite being totally mad, ignorant and out-of-touch, outfoxed everyone. He knows we know, but cannot prove, that he has indeed brought the Kremlin’s influence to bear on the rebels, whom he has clearly been arming; and that as far as public opinion at home is concerned, it doesn’t matter a damn. He has been able to make concessions without being seen to have done so, because his clandestine ex-special forces operatives ARE the rebel leaders; and he knows we know that too, and that, far from condemning him, the Russian people will love him all the more for ‘standing up’ to Western pressure – while the truth is that he has had to give way to it, albeit on his own terms.

These stratagems are not the product of a diseased and delusional mind, and the most dangerous thing is for the West to believe he is not acting rationally. The whole operation since he succeeded in annexing the Crimean peninsula with barely a drop of blood spilled has been run on the principle of total, cynical deniability, that he has brilliantly carried to a whole new level. It is proving an object lesson in crisis management.

As long as the Russian people can have their patriotic indignation button so easily pushed, like the button that launched the rocket that killed 298 innocent civilians, 80 of them children, 33 thousand feet above the battle zone he controls, Mr Putin remains untouchable, either at home or abroad.

 

Police shootings: lawful, or just awful?

How far should policing go, to keep law-abiding citizens safe on the streets?

Should it, for instance, be regarded as acceptable that any armed-response police officer can kill at will? Of course not: he or she has to have due cause to believe that their own or another person’s life is in imminent danger from a suspect, or receive a direct order from a superior officer, before they are allowed to open fire. It is a principle of British justice that you are innocent until proven guilty, and I’m proud to say we abolished the death penalty for murder in 1965. (You also have a right to a fair trial by a jury of your peers, whatever heinous crime you are accused of.)

So, why would a police officer deliberately ‘execute’ an unarmed suspect in public? It’s illogical. It would be murder. There’s no reason.

Surely, then, it must automatically follow that when a well-trained armed-response officer does open fire, and kills a suspect, it is because they genuinely believed that there was an imminent danger to themselves and others. This is possibly why, despite a number of high-profile cases in which perfectly innocent people have been shot and sometimes killed by the police, no UK police firearms officer has ever been convicted of unlawfully killing a suspect. In every case, the jury has given the police marksman the benefit of the doubt, presumably as it is difficult to prove that someone with a duty to protect the public did not have a valid reason for carrying out an action with such drastic consequences for a person’s life.

In the case of Mark Duggan, an inquest jury has produced a controversial verdict. Here is a young man, allegedly acting as a courier for a nasty and violent criminal gang. An informant tells the police that Duggan is about to collect a gun and deliver it to the gang. Armed police set up a trap and stop a minicab. Duggan gets out as instructed and puts his hands in the air – according to the one witness who actually saw the incident clearly – and is immediately shot twice and dies at the scene. The police put out contradictory statements: Duggan was carrying a gun, wrapped in a sock (the witness says Duggan had a mobile phone in his hand). Duggan fired and wounded an officer (actually, the officer was hit by a ricochet from a shot fired from a police gun). And the police do not bother to inform Duggan’s family until they hear about it on the news. Five days of riots, arson, looting and further deaths ensue.

But there is a mystery: after Duggan has been shot, no-one can find his alleged gun until one turns up later in the grass verge, 20 feet away from the shooting. How did it get there?

Press reports the following day – we name the Daily Telegraph, a notorious right-wing source – claimed that Duggan, a ‘well-known gangster’, was armed, had opened fire first, and that a police officer’s life had been saved only because the bullet had struck his radio. It was a big, fat lie. Why do the police do this, make up stories to throw-off any possible line of enquiry in the media that might create doubt in the public mind? Can juries that are eventually constituted to decide on these cases really be impartial after being fed a load of panic-laden Scotland Yard PR guff? Well, it doesn’t matter, because in these cases, juries almost invariably move to acquit.

By a majority of 9 to 1, then, the 10-man jury finds that Duggan has in all probability thrown the gun 0ut of the window as the car is stopped and the police close in. Therefore he was unarmed at the time he was killed. This would technically make the killing unlawful; or, at the least, lead to an open verdict. So, instead, by 8-2, they decide that the police ‘lawfully’ killed him; in other words, their verdict is that the firearms officer had genuine cause to believe Duggan was armed and about to fire a gun witnesses said he did not have on his person at the time and that could not be found until some time after the event, at a considerable distance from the body.

In the heat of the moment, it is not an implausible explanation that the officer simply made a mistake. There was no gun, Duggan was surrendering, not about to fire; the reason he was being stopped was that the police had been forewarned he would be armed, so the simple act of raising his hands to surrender, with a black object – his phone – in one hand, could literally have ‘triggered’ an instinctive response in the officer to open fire.

This calls into question somewhat, the meaning of the key word in all of this: ‘lawful’. Because it seems to be self-defining: if there is reason to believe he is threatened, it is ‘lawful’ for the officer to shoot the suspect. If not, then not. So, it is entirely up to the officer him- or herself, supported by the often suspiciously collaborative testimony of his or her colleagues, to decide what is lawful – after the event.

American Followers will probably be amused that this is even an issue in funny old Britain. In America, police shoot and kill 1,600 suspects a year, not one every eighteen months.

So it’s not a problem confined to the UK. In 2012, for instance, police in Houston, Texas, called to the scene of an altercation, shot and killed Brian Claunch, a bipolar double-amputee in a wheelchair, when he brandished a ballpoint pen ‘aggressively’ after being refused a drink and a sandwich at 3 a.m. by his apartment-block supervisor. In California, 13-year-old child Andy Lopez was shot and killed by Santa Rosa police, who fired seven times after he failed to drop his weapon on command – a toy rifle. (Note: an almost exactly similar event occurred in November, 2014 in Cleveland, the dead child, Tamir Rice, in this case being only 12. This however took place against a nationwide wave of protests over incidents in which, specifically, three other young black men had been killed by white police investigating relatively minor offences, and Grand Juries had exonerated the officers without further consequence.)

Instinctive reactions, misperceived threats, reverting mindlessly to training… But I should like to explore a different explanation, that of ‘prior expectation’.

The Lopez killing took place just a day after a schoolteacher had been shot dead by a 12-year-old pupil at a school in Nevada. It was widely reported on the news. Children can be lethal too, you don’t need to be an adult to pull a trigger. And Lopez was Hispanic. He may have looked older, we don’t know. His English might not have been good enough to understand what was being shouted at him. We shall never know.

Father-of-two, Duggan was mixed-race, visibly a ‘black’ man. He was a known associate, if not a full member, of a criminal gang of black men. Any police officer would naturally be predisposed to anticipate that he might react violently on arrest and – being informed about the alleged gun – have already imagined a scenario in which he might have to open fire in self-defence. Although, it has to be said, he had no record of violence or possession of firearms.

Sportsmen and women are taught by psychologists to visualise every stage of their forthcoming event, so as to actualise their hoped-for victory mentally in advance of competing. The officer would have been on a hair-trigger alert and the shooting carried out while he was perhaps not fully in control of his own responses, but enacting a scene that was already played-out in his mind. Any gesture Duggan made would have been misinterpreted as a threat.

Just as, in the killing of the innocent Brazilian electrician Jean-Charles de Menezes in 2005, here was a darkish-skinned man carrying a backpack on the underground, so an entire team of anti-terrorism police assumed he must be a Middle Eastern terrorist involved with an earlier bomb outrage in London, and could therefore lawfully have seven bullets fired into his head at point-blank range in front of horrified passengers while other plain-clothes police were sitting on him in a desperate attempt to prevent him from triggering the bomb he was not in fact carrying. Subsequently, the police concocted a tissue of lies about what had happened; even inventing false rape allegations. The inquest jury returned an open verdict, one stop on the line away from unlawful killing; so no action, and the head of the unit responsible, Cressida Dick, was promoted to the rank of Commander.

These things don’t help.

Scottish father-of-three Henry Stanley was killed in North London in 1999 by police who, on hearing from an informant who thought he had overheard a man in a pub speaking with an ‘Irish’ accent, assumed that the wooden leg Stanley was carrying in a plastic bag to take home to fix a broken table must be a weapon; and that, being audibly Irish, he must be an IRA operative on active service and would obviously therefore be toting a rifle in public. He was not given a chance to explain otherwise, but despite the clearly prejudgemental nature of the armed police response, and an open inquest verdict, no policeman ever stood trial for Stanley’s killing.

Acting again on intelligence, in 1988 Operation Flavius was designed to intercept an apparently genuine IRA attack on British forces in Gibraltar. A plain-clothes unit of the SAS opened fire on the dockside without warning, and killed three IRA members on ‘active service’, one a woman, claiming later that one of them had made a sudden move towards a bag they assumed contained the detonator that would explode a car that turned out not to have a bomb in it after all (it was a dummy run). None of the terrorists was armed at the time; witnesses said they were surrendering. Verdict: lawful killing.

In 1983, armed police in an inner-London street opened fire on a Mini car at traffic lights, hitting 26-year-old film editor, Stephen Waldorf, eight times. He somehow survived. The assumption had been that he was an escaped prisoner, David Martin, who had absconded while on trial for the attempted murder of a police officer. The only reason they thought Waldorf was Martin was because the woman in the car with Waldorf resembled Martin’s girlfriend.  Two policemen were tried, and acquitted. But why had they shot at an innocent driver who was not even pointing a gun at them? Was it because he was believed to be an attempted ‘police-killer’, the worst kind of criminal the police can imagine?

In July 2012, an unnamed man was shot and wounded by armed police in the town of Knaphill, in Surrey. He was carrying a BB gun – a low-velocity, sublethal air weapon capable of firing ball-bearings – however it seems the reason he was shot was because he boasted to police that he had planted a bomb in the block of flats where he was living. The bomb squad was called, but found nothing. Residents had complained for months of drunken behaviour and rough sleepers. The suspect, who survived, was just a drunken, delusional idiot, no real threat to anyone. There are times when split-second decisions need to be made. It’s just that with hindsight, they’re not always the right ones.

And in 2010, alcoholic barrister Mark Saunders, drunk and depressed, fired a shotgun aimlessly out of the window of his London flat, breaking a window opposite, and was killed by five of the eleven bullets fired by police marksmen called to the scene. The police later claimed they had fired in self-defence, although Saunders could not effectively have injured anyone wearing a flak jacket with a shotgun at that range and the police had previously refused to allow his wife to enter the house and talk him down. Some witnesses described him as cheerful and calm that day, others that he was deranged and raving; while a taxi driver testified that Saunders had told him he felt that he was going to die. Lawful killing, although not under the Mental Health Act.

In all these cases, there was a prior assumption on the part of the police for possibly unconnected reasons that not only must the suspect be the guilty party, but that they would also be armed and dangerous, that they presented an immediate threat and there was no possible alternative than to deploy with live ammunition and to shoot to kill. In fact, it seems to have been the heightened prejudice – the ‘prior expectation’ – of the police units that led to the lethal reactions of armed response officers in situations where there was no credible, immediate threat to life.

It is also the case that the police feel they belong in a special category, as they themselves may become targets for random killings. Notorious cases include the 1966 murder of three policemen in London at the instigation of Harry Roberts, a career criminal with a grudge (Note: Roberts, 78, was finally released in December 2014 after serving 42 years. The Police Federation described the parole board’s decision as an insult); and the six-hour shooting spree in Northumberland in 2010 involving the deranged taxi driver Raoul Moat, during which he fired a shotgun at close range and blinded PC David Rathband, who later took his own life.  Then in 2012, came the deliberate murder by a smalltime Manchester hoodlum, Dale Cregan, of police officers Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, at whom he threw a hand-grenade when (unarmed) they responded to a false 999 call he had got a friend to make. Immediately afterwards, he walked into a police station and turned himself in. Facing a long-tariff sentence for another two murders, he had just wanted to take a couple of coppers with him. Few people, I suspect, would have cared if he had been shot.

It may be an exaggeration therefore to call incidents of police shootings deliberate ‘executions’, as Mark Duggan’s family did when the curious verdict was read out; but they were, with hindsight, possibly avoidable misjudgements in situations of prior expectation, overreactions for which there seems to have been little or no consequence for the officers responsible. And it seems at least probable that the psychopathology of such incidents reflects a self-defensive presumption on the part of police that they themselves are the intended targets.

It is true that armed officers respond to three incidents a day in the UK, and manage to kill the wrong person relatively rarely – we should perhaps pass over the case of the blind man who was tasered (twice) because the officer thought his white stick was a Samurai sword; and the case of Sgt Smellie, the 6’7″ Special Patrol Group officer who batoned a 5’2″ disabled woman after she threw an empty orange-juice carton at him during a demonstration, and the judge ruled he had acted lawfully in self-defence. But yes, the police do a difficult and sometimes dangerous job, and mistakes are made. The problem is, they are so rarely admitted to.

The case of Ian Tomlinson brought the self-defensive tactics of police ‘conspiring’ to protect their own into sharp relief. During a demonstration outside a G8 meeting in London in 2009, the middle-aged newspaper seller was trying to  pass through an area where the police had deliberately confined a number of demonstrators for several hours, a controversial tactic known as ‘kettling’. As he passed some SPG police, CCTV shows him making a remark to one of them, PC Simon Harwood, an officer with a prior record of violence, who batoned him on the legs, then violently shoved him in the back. Tomlinson, an alcoholic man with a heart condition, collapsed to the ground, where he died from what was later found to be a ruptured liver.

The police promptly issued a number of statements trying to claim that Tomlinson had provoked the attack, while the first postmortem by a police pathologist reported that Tomlinson had simply collapsed and died of a heart attack. However, the incident had been recorded on video by an American bank worker and a newspaper campaign led to a second, independent postmortem that forced the Independent Police Complaints Commission to reopen the case. Despite an inquest verdict of unlawful killing, Harwood was later acquitted of a charge of manslaughter and dismissed from the force.

If ‘lessons’ are to be ‘learned’ – if ever – then the police ought perhaps to look at both the training of firearms officers, which perhaps overstresses the urgency to shoot first and ask questions later (I am irresistably reminded of the Monty Python sketch, where the self-defence class instructor commands the terrified pupil to: ‘Now, come at me with that banana!’ – of course, it is a little more serious than that); and at the need perhaps to mediate between the backroom controllers and the frontline officers so that the latter go into situations unprejudiced by prior ‘intelligence’ of a dubious kind (I am no expert).

There are also questions of why the inquiries into such incidents may take years to come to their inevitable, anodyne conclusions, since no British judge or jury ever seems willing to disbelieve the word of a policeman; why the police seldom if ever volunteer information after the event that might lead the press, public and politicians to conclude that there had been misjudgements and mistakes; why the supposedly Independent Police Complaints Commission often appears on the surface to be colluding with this process; and why the police are allowed to investigate themselves before successive, expensive independent judicial inquiries have to be set up to get at a more objective version of the truth?

It can be argued that we are asking our police to do an ever more complex, intrusive and ultimately impossible job. Funding cuts and pay freezes, too, have played their part in creating resentment and an embattled mentality. For that reason, we need greater transparency and honesty when things go wrong, as they inevitably will. The public are more willing to forgive an honest and speedy admission of error, than a concocted narrative of lies and evasions that can only result in a damaging loss of confidence when the truth finally emerges. But as the criminal law moves the police ever further into the murky realm of intent, ultimately of criminalising  ‘bad attitude’ – anticipating, as opposed to solving, crimes – the possibility of fatal error is ever-increasing.

Postscriptum

As I re-read this Post in April, 2014, astonishing revelations are emerging of apparently deep-seated criminality in the Metropolitan Police force during the 1990s. Thousands of documents relating to long-term anti-corruption investigations are said to have been ‘accidentally’ shredded before the enquiries were completed. The police response has been to claim that the shredding was deliberate, as the data had already been transferred to computer files. Unfortunately, the files had then been lost in an ‘accidental’ computer malfunction!

If a criminal suspect put up a defence like that, they would not be believed. At best it reveals incredible ineptitude. Worse was to follow, however. Some documents were not lost, it seems, and this month ‘found’ their way to the media. They suggest that investigating officers involved in a case where a manager was forced to rob his employer’s safe after his wife and daughter were snatched, had then decided it was such a good wheeze, that they conspired to carry out the same kidnapping on the same family themselves at some future date – until their plot was discovered!

This story has emerged in the wake of ongoing revelations, now the subject of yet another enquiry, that undercover police in the Met infiltrated a group of supporters close to the family of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager murdered in an unprovoked attack by white racists at a South London bus stop in 1993, in order to spy on their campaign to force the police to improve the quality of their lackadaisical investigation. At one stage, the police had attempted to suggest that it was a gangland killing, for which the Lawrence family were somehow responsible. A report by Lord MacPherson concluded that the Met was ‘institutionally racist’. It has subsequently been suggested that a senior officer in the pay of the gangster father of one of the alleged killers, a corrupt relationship (denied, obviously) could have been responsible for the deliberate bungling of the investigation, that meant it was twenty years before any convictions were obtained.

Together with emerging evidence that South Yorkshire police may have deliberately concocted a cover-up on a massive scale in order to exonerate themselves of any suggestion that their mistakes may have led to the deaths of 96 football supporters in a stampede at the Hillsborough ground in Sheffield in 1989, (and the emerging evidence of widespread police inertia in the face of numerous complaints of organised sexual exploitation of female minors) it is surely impossible now for anyone to have faith that our police are not at least to some extent a state-within-a-state, entirely a law unto themselves.

Such revelations piling one upon another are a growing tragedy for those who believe in the rule of law, among whom there must, surely, still be a fair number of police officers who must feel desperately let down by all this?

Post-postscriptum

It is 29 January, 2015, and a report disguised under the anodyne title: ‘Digital communications’ has emerged, three weeks after the event, from the Home Office, admitting that a computer disc containing the transcripts of three judicial enquiries into some of the events reported above, including the names of protected witnesses, have been ‘lost in the post’.

A junior civil servant has been suspended pending enquiries. Tsk, tsk. (Surely we are not still using discs, without backup? Was this a floppy disk, or a CD? Surely we have encoded electronic transfer protocols rendering it unnecessary to rely on a 63p stamp? And surely what is put on disc remains on the hard-drive? No?)

Perhaps the officers tasked with looking for the slipped disc might find it hidden under the same rug as the unofficial Dickens report on orgies involving the abuse of children in care and possible sexual murders carried-on by ‘senior Tory politicians and members of the security establishment’ in the 1970s? Something we may never find, now that former Home Secretary Leon Brittan has conveniently died.

– UB

Post-Post-Postscriptum

This story will run and run, I fear.

In the wake of riots in the USA over further excusable murders of black men and women by apparently unaccountable white police officers who have been said officially to be ‘out of control’, we hear now that the ‘Independent’ Police Complaints Commission in the UK has decided there is no case to answer with regard to the so-called ‘Battle of Orgreave’ – an incident that took place 28 years ago at the height of a national strike by miners, when (at the instigation of Mrs Thatcher, who may have illegally diverted public funds to buy the operation) several hundred pickets were lured into a field and attacked by over a thousand foot- and mounted-police.

The IPCC line is that it was all so long ago, it would be impossible to charge anyone. A curious argument, since the police are currently involved in several large-scale enquiries into what were often fairly minor cases of sexual indiscretions in the 1960s and 70s, and the IPCC has no hesitation in prosecuting those to the hilt. In fact, at least four officers are still serving; while, once again, it is South Yorkshire police force that is involved; notorious for their cover-up of their own possible culpability in the Hillsborough football stadium disaster.

The IPCC also argues that, as none of the 95 miners arrested was ultimately convicted of charges of riotous assembly (carrying possible 20-year sentences), basically the fact that senior police officers concocted a load of bollocks (also known as conspiring to pervert the course of justice) against the miners is not of serious importance. This totally ignores the point that the cases were dismissed precisely because the police evidence was so blatantly corrupt that even policemen who were there at the time are complaining that their subsequent attempts to bring the truth to the attention of the authorities were overruled.

Yet we are to trust politicians to sanction mass surveillance activities, which will almost certainly be Home Secretary Theresa May’s version of implementing David Anderson QC’s new report recommending judicial oversight. Apparently, the police are also now seeking powers to examine ‘weblogs’. Oh dear….

Hi, fellas. Kettle’s on.

These men are just asking for it

Highly intelligent people can often do quite stupid things.

We woke up this morning to the news that Professor John Ashton, the country’s most senior scientific adviser in the field of public health, was arguing publicly for a debate on reducing  the legal age of consent to sex, from 16 to 15.

Now, Ashton probably has perfectly good, public-health-type reasons for arguing this, although the fact that so many young people are already having sex before they are 16 ought not to be one of them. Bad cases do not make good laws. And he is probably right: 15 is no longer a child, lowering the age might paradoxically reduce teenage pregnancies because younger girls would seek advice earlier (of course, boys aren’t involved), German frauleins are legally at-it by 14 and it ought to be up to individuals, not the law, to determine what is appropriate behaviour in their own particular circumstances.

One assumes, too, that Prof Ashton’s intention was not to invite a barrage of death threats from the piss-stained-sofa brigade, spurred on by tabloid headlines and even now reaching for their sharpened Tweeters, shouting: “Kill the paedo Prof!” But on past form that’s what is quite likely to happen next.

Nor, I suppose, was he mentally prepared for the instant clouds of Tory steam emanating from the little indignation boiler kept at Number 10, where dwells a young, married Prime Minister blessed with an entire quiverfull of potentially molestable juveniles.

So, what did he expect would happen if he announced what he was merely thinking?

Ashton might have taken a leaf out of the well-publicised book of his fellow eminent scientist, the aptly named Professor David Nutt. The day after it was extensively reported that another young clubber had died from ingesting some industrial quantity of bespoke designer substance, Prof Nutt took to the airwaves to invite prospective investors to fund the manufacture of a new drug he has invented, that mimics all of the happy results of consuming alcohol without any of the harmful side-effects. (Side issue: sounds really boring.)

Prof Nutt is, or was, the country’s leading specialist in Psychopharmacology – the effects of chemicals on the human brain. Unfortunately, the Government committee he led researching into this subject a few years ago recommended the legalisation of ecstacy and cannabis, or at least a downgrading of the categories of certain drugs, maybe even heroin, I don’t really remember. The committee was instantly disbanded, and Prof Nutt sacked, for daring to make this scientifically respectable suggestion which, naturally, flew in the face of all that is holy regarding the War On Drugs, widely thought outside the office of the editor of the Sun to have been lost almost before it began.

It had perhaps not occurred to him that the first stumbling-block he might encounter was the Rt Hon David Blunkett – possibly the most reactionary and headline-averse Home Secretary we have had in living memory.

As a result of the Nutty Prof’s hostage to fortune, providing the Government with a fresh opportunity to restate and reimpose an illiberal policy on the nation’s recreational drug users, the designer-highs industry has flourished as never before. Sinister East Europeans are able to afford houses with three-storey basements in Knightsbridge, and many young Brits have died from the unlicensed psychopharmacological tinkerings of their imported Chinese lab technicians. Collateral damage, apparently.

Prof Ashton, on the other hand, has – pardon the phrase – come up against the strangely puritanical attitude of young Britons to sex. To summarise their arguments, sex is generally to be frowned on. Not a single interviewee under 20 has been found to be in favour of reducing the age of consent; regardless of the fact that, until 100 years ago, we didn’t have an age of consent. Families took responsibility for policing their own children, the overnight ‘sleepover’ at a ‘friend’s house’ had not yet been invented. The working-class would breed like rats, whatever the law said. Perhaps he should have consulted his own children, before risking his reputation.

These eminent men need to take a reality check. They can be as clever and sensible and reasoned and expert as they like. They can even be absolutely bang-on right about stuff.

But they need to leave it to stupid politicians to make the decisions, if they know what’s good for them.

Postscriptum

As I have been writing this, the Attorney General of Northern Ireland has proposed a moratorium on the expanding number of expensive police investigations, coroners’ inquests and lawyer-led inquiries into illegal acts, murders basically, carried on over 15 years ago during the so-called Troubles; pointing out, not without reason, that it is costing £millions and preventing policemen and lawyers from catching-up with today’s backlog of unruliness. He too is now a headless corpse, having been decapitated by the snapping teeth of the Prime Minister and just about every victim support group, who now comprise the majority of the population.

What on earth did he expect? Silly man.

A consummation devoutly to be wished

“It becomes harder to live by the ‘rules’ of warfare, when the strongest weapon held by the weaker side is a willingness to ignore the rules.”

Morality in war

The Second World War was justified, in every fibre of Winston Churchill’s being, as a Manichean struggle between the civilised values and traditions of the British Empire, and the dark shadow of ruthless German expansionism. It was no longer (as it was in actuality) just another in the long-running series of European wars fought over territory, to establish German ideological and industrial hegemony in the vacuum created by the simultaneous collapse of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, and the perceived weakness of the other great European powers. It was not even a Wagnerian echo of the irresistible movement of pagan Germanic tribes south and westwards in the wake of the collapse of the Roman empire in the fifth century AD.

While the Nazis themselves tried to evoke memories of a mythical, heroic past, somehow struggling to remain good Catholics and Lutherans, Churchill’s brilliant masterstroke was to brand the war as a contest simply between two ideologies: Good and Evil. But in his mind was only the preservation of Empire. The liberation of France, the rescue of the Poles and Czechs and the lives of European Jews had nothing to do with it, although they should have. This was a war fought above all to keep India British and Europe in the balance.

Resistance to Nazism was successfully presented as a moral necessity – a crusade. This idea gained such traction that it helped to bring the majority of Americans into line with British war aims, just as it sustained the British people through the dark years of 1940 to ’43. Hitler’s single biggest blunder, Operation Barbarossa – the invasion of Soviet Russia – may have been motivated by the necessity to gain control of the Baku oilfields, rather than a desire to outshine Napoleon, having been denied access to Middle Eastern oil to fuel his tanks. But bringing Stalin into the conflict required the other Allied powers to forget for the time being that Soviet Russia was equally a diabolical, expansionist institution of enormous brutality, economic incompetence and State oppression: equally ‘evil’. This quasi-religious view of irreligious post-revolutionary Russia could only be revived after the inconvenience of the war was over, when the continuing struggle for global power became more political, economic.

And yet, who is to say that populist ideologies, the imposition of order through martial law, the gulags, the camps and the general slaughter of Kulaks were wrong? In what sense? We judge history, only from our own liberal, consumerist perspective; often with the benefit of hindsight. Had either of the twin evil ideologies prevailed, we might now be living in a world in which liberal, consumerist values were considered perverse, heretical – dangerous.

Nowadays, the idea of Nazi Germany as having been uniquely evil seems unquestionable. No-one in their right mind doubts that we were the good guys and the Germans (and their evil Japanese mates) the bad guys, the Other. It became, and remains probably for all time, impossible to hear the word ‘Nazi’ without a frisson of horror. Merely to question whether morality had any relevance in that conflict is to give support and approval to the undoubted brutalities of the regime, to the Holocaust of the European Jews. Not even the most counterfactual historical revisionist would dare to ponder on what Europe as ‘Greater Germany’ might look like now, seventy years on, without invoking the memory of intolerable savagery, callous indifference to life and the rights of the individual; the dead hand of trench-coated police bureaucracy.

Yet, as we know, the solution to the German problem adopted after the war was to bring them into the fold of civilised nations; rather than giving them further excuse to cause mayhem by attempting to crush them into submission, to obliterate them culturally and economically, as happened after the First World War. The starving survivors were successfully reprogrammed, detached from their Nazi past; the Allied powers declared themselves ready to show mercy, to finance prosperous decades of German political and economic expansion as a benefit to Europe and the world infinitely preferable to further costly attempts by both sides at military conquest.

Nibbling around the fringes of this colossal theme, it has become possible after so many decades to debate – not how evil were the Nazis, which is taken as read, but how good in fact were the Allied powers? For instance, while on the one hand 55,000 Allied airmen of Bomber Command bravely gave their lives trapped in freezing-cold, Spam-can deathtraps over Occupied Europe to strike at the evil (but highly productive) heart of Nazi Germany, it is relatively safe now to question whether it was an ethically acceptable or even militarily effective policy to deliberately obliterate whole cities, killing by firestorm almost half a million civilians – many of whom would  not have lived long enough to vote for National Socialism. The excuse that: ‘They started it’ does not really stand up in the court of Eternal justice.

For, even amid the brutal struggle between good and evil, through the fog of countless war histories, one might still detect here and there the signs of a military code of conduct operating, bearing echoes of medieval chivalry. Such behaviour was in large part enshrined in the Geneva Conventions governing treatment of enemy combatants, prisoners and civilian populations – who were expressly not to be slaughtered wholesale. It was also encoded in the organisation and bearing of the regiment: the historical traditions attached to individual fighting units on all sides, whose command hierarchies were still largely class-based. And, of course, the higher up the social scale your officer class stood, the more obligatory the concept of Noblesse Oblige became.

Not for nothing was Hitler portrayed in the aristocratic Churchill’s inspired mythology as a jumped-up, lower-class arriviste: a failed house-painter no less! (Both men were competent amateur artists. And while Churchill was a depressive borderline alcoholic and bon viveur, Hitler was an abstemious, fastidious character with a strong moral code.) Especially in Britain, the caste system still had a powerful resonance. Chivalry on the other hand was the preserve of the knightly classes, both in Britain and in Germany; the code of Bushido in Japan had long outlasted the demise of the Samurai. In the mid-twentieth century there were still rules of warfare, even if they weren’t entirely adhered to by any side; courtly behaviour on the battlefield and in the aftermath of engagements was still seen as the ideal, especially between officers. Death came before dishonour, to a Commando.

What has happened to change all that is simply that warfare has become increasingly asymmetrical. The idea of a conflict between equal powers has faded into the historical background. Wars are increasingly policing, or ‘peacekeeping’ actions involving major power commitment to propping-up clients against local insurgencies. With this massive technological disparity between combatants comes a distancing between the rival forces. Their war aims differ; their ideologies and cultures are more alien to one another. It becomes harder to live by the ‘rules’ of warfare, when the strongest weapon held by the weaker side is a willingness to ignore the rules. No system of morality can govern warfare in which one side only possesses the technology to kill at long-range, impersonally and without compassion: guns and bombs versus clubs and swords. Drones versus suicide vests.

Two men battling hand-to-hand, face-to-face, still have what one might term the ‘mother’s son’ option, to recognise one another’s common humanity. The victor has the opportunity to spare the loser’s life, and may calculate that, in doing so, he gains greater power and advantage than by callously terminating his opponent on the spot. There is less of a moral compass when one of the combatants is a starving peasant farmer armed with a bashed-up AK-47, while the other is a well-paid college graduate sitting in a bunker six thousand miles away at a million-dollar computer interface, remotely operating an unmanned drone armed with Hellfire missiles as if it were a game, going home at night. Drones cannot (yet) take prisoners, however useful prisoners may sometimes be. But drones can, and daily do, kill innocent women and children; which, in my book and, amusingly, also under the Geneva Conventions, is murder.

And so we come to the case of ‘Sergeant A’, who has this week been convicted of the crime of murder by a military tribunal in England. It is an extraordinarily difficult situation. On the one hand, the evidence is incontestable: ‘Sergeant A’, a veteran Royal Marines commando who had completed three terms fighting in the front line in Helmand, was filmed on a fellow marine’s helmet camera dispatching with a single pistol shot, a badly wounded Taliban opponent. This happened in the aftermath of a lethal firefight, in which two other British marines had been killed. Crucially, it did not happen during the firefight itself. The view of the tribunal was to agree with ‘Sergeant A”s own words, recorded at the scene, that he had just broken the Geneva Conventions, which propose that an enemy who is hors de combat should be considered a prisoner deserving of capture, rather than summary execution.

On the other side of murder, stands the military code of honour which, I would argue, was indeed observed by both parties.

This soldier of the Taliban – a poorly armed political and religious insurgency opposed to Western intervention in Afghanistan – knew when he signed-up to fight, that there was a very good chance he would be killed. For the Afghan warrior class, by both tradition and religious belief, and for Muslims in general, death on the battlefield while fighting the Infidel is an honour. To portray such young men as ‘terrorists’ is a gross insult, but we do so in order to bolster the belief that our side are the good guys. Whether we like it or not, whether or not it accords with our squeamish, civilised modern values, every armed man, good or bad, fights in the knowledge that he (or she) is being asked possibly to sacrifice themselves; and, perhaps harder, to sacrifice the lives of others.

There is a long and, in some part, honourable tradition of dispatching combatants to their own Valhalla who, for whatever reason, cannot continue making war, if it is not considered feasible, or if it would be prejudicial to the mission, to spare them. Soldiers have performed this service for one another for centuries. The principle is accepted by every combatant, whether a trained soldier or a dirt-farmer’s son, that the enemy has a duty to take your life; but so does your comrade, as a military necessity. It is accepted too by every pet owner and racehorse trainer, that suffering should be ended as quickly and painlessly as possible. Ending suffering may involve medical treatment leading to recovery, or it may involve a kindly bullet in the head. In times of war, normal morality – the biblical injunction: ‘Thou shalt not kill’, the social compact – can become an unaffordable luxury.

And as the ‘good’ guys, our claim to having a greater moral concern than the enemy for the lives of innocent bystanders is not always an honest one, is it? ‘Collateral damage’ is a pretty disgusting euphemism, under the Geneva Conventions, for the State-licensed murder our heroes practise daily in the pursuit of the bad guys. In wartime, ‘the greater good’ takes precedence.

Being thus dispatched by your enemy and fellow combatant, however, does not normally take place – at least, one assumes it does not – to the accompaniment of quotations from Hamlet. As he fired the fatal shot, ‘Sergeant A’ was heard to hastily mutter, in a rather selfconscious way, and somewhat out of context: ‘Shuffle off this mortal coil!’ It seems more like a benediction than an expression of murderous intent.

Whilst deprecating the act of shuffling another human being for any reason at all, I’d prefer to think of our Muslim insurgent – as he would think – as having been martyred honourably on the battlefield, resisting the enemy with his life as he was bound to do, with the witty rejoinder on his lips: ”Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished!’ But then, I don’t suppose Shakespeare gets much of a look-in at your average madrassa.

The marine’s option, of course, would have been to save the prisoner’s life somehow, possibly at the cost of further lives in his own unit, only to see him disappear into some rat-infested Afghan police shithole to have whatever tiny amounts of useful info he might still know tortured out of him. Anal rape and partial drowning or electrocution would, I suppose, be the more moral alternative to saving him from either bleeding to death in pain, or allowing his own comrades to administer the coup de grace, as they undoubtedly would have.

As it is, locking Sgt Blackman up for life for the ‘murder’ of this anonymous insurgent has effectively handed a victory to the enemy.

Perhaps the lesson of this tragic episode is that headcams are not such a good idea in war.