The Cook, The Thief and The Do-over
The following article was written by me and published in The Huffington Post on 10th January 2012.
Occasionally, my brain’s synapses fire in an unusual way. I was as bemused as any man, for instance, when I heard the news of Antony Worrall Thompson’s arrest for – what shall we call it? The media seem to have settled on “antics”. (Aren’t those TV personalities delightful?) I guess the alternative of “an offence under section 1(1) of the Theft Act 1968” did not quite trip of the tongue. And “shoplifting” is a term reserved for the poor.
And this is where I diverge from most. Because my very next thought was of Nicolas Robinson. He is the 23-year-old who was arrested for stealing water worth £3.50 from Lidl during the London Riots. He did not participate in the Riots – he was walking home from his girlfriend’s house, passed by an already burgled Lidl and, in a moment of monumental stupidity, decided to help himself to some bottled water. He had no previous convictions, was in full-time education and entered a “guilty” plea. He was sent down for six months.
At the time our Prime Minister went to great lengths to encourage courts to mete out tough sentences like it. He advocated a “zero tolerance policy”. The Daily Mail, for one, did not believe the rhetoric. “Tough sentences? Forget it”, it warned. “These teen yobs will be treated as if THEY’RE the victims”.
So, imagine my surprise at their article this morning which reacts to the news that Worrall Thompson has been given a mere caution, for stealing goods a total of five times in the last few weeks, by listing a litany of excuses including a terrible childhood, an alcoholic mother, financial worries – the list goes on ad nauseum. Worrall Thompson himself adds the possibilities of psychological problems and Alzheimers.
Granted, the circumstances in the former case are very different, in the context of large-scale pilfering. The powers that be decided an example needed to be set. However, Worrall Thompson is in the public eye and also sets an example. He is not there by coincidence, either. He has chosen to be one of the advocates of the Young Briton’s Foundation. He purports to go to our schools and colleges to promote conservative values, to “combat left-wing bias in the education system and the mainstream media”. This is very relevant.
Now, I am not advocating a lack of sympathy or compassion for him. I am simply asking: Where is the sympathy and compassion for Robinson and others like him? What do we know about their childhoods, their mothers, their pressures, their medical conditions, their lives?
Delivering the right message to young people is paramount. We simply cannot do it from the ethical quicksand that stretches between the treatment of the Antony Worrall Thompsons and the Nicolas Robinsons of this country. We cannot do so from the no-man’s-land which separates the second chances for Liam Fox and Andy Coulson and the four years prison term for those who posted the wrong thing on Facebook.
If we persist in occupying this land of hypocrisy, the only message which is likely to come through – loud and clear – is this: that the difference between a prison term and a caution is money and status; that the poor get to do time, while the rich get a do-over.
And some crazy left-wingers, the sort the YBF seek to combat, have suggested that maybe, just maybe, it was precisely this disparity which was at the root of the Riots.
I would encourage to read the comments on the original Huffington Post page, which are illuminating and infuriating in equal measure.