I know that this is going to be a controversial posting, but it is something that is one of those issues that nags at me so that I need to get it out of my system. That was the prime purpose of my blog, which is why I need to write this posting even though I guess that, in turn it will irritate others. It is a factor which has come up many times certainly in my memory over the past 20 years, but the particular occasion recently that it has come to my attention is following the sentencing of Vincent Tabak for the murder of architect Jo Yeates in December 2010. Tabak received a life sentence with a tariff of a minimum of 20 years. However, for Yeates's parents this was not enough. I accept that they grieve for their daughter, but the statements they made after the sentencing suggest that the pair of them are very nasty people in themselves with an outlook which is barely different from Tabak. The couple are David Yeates aged 64 and Teresa Yeates aged 58. They seem symptomatic of the 'indignitary' approach which is so common in British society and is reinforced by the hysterical tabloid newspapers, notably 'The Sun' part of the Murdoch media empire of News International.
I have no sympathy for Tabak and certainly believe he deserves a life sentence in prison. What alarms me is the desire for the destruction of our legal processes, the move to arbitrary sentencing including execution and the fact that the language used in condemning the killer in fact help create an atmosphere which promotes such violence rather than seeks to reduce it.
The Yeateses, who have no legal training, complained that there was no death penalty in Britain and regretted it was not an option. However, in fact it seems as if even that would have been insufficient for them. Instead it appears they would have preferred to have Tabak tortured to death. In an official statement they said: 'The best we can hope for him is that he spends the rest of his life incarcerated where his life is a living hell, being the recipient of all evils, deprivations and degradations that his situation can provide.' They should be at least cautioned for trying to provoke fellow prisoners of Tabak from doing him harm. What they have no understanding of, is that the behaviour they are lauding is just the kind that excited their daughter's killer. To urge prisoners to visit such behaviour on the convicted man is simply to legitimise the kind of violence he carried out himself. In turn this will add to an 'atmosphere of permissiveness' in that others will things such 'deprivations and degradations' are acceptable for them to turn on any man or woman they feel is 'guilty'. Rather than doing anything to reduce future perpetrators, the Yeateses' language simply lionises such behaviour.
These days it seems entirely legitimate to wish for a 'lynch mob' approach to sentencing. You only have to sit in a pub when the news of such cases comes on television to know how many volunteer executioners there would be. In many ways all the legal reforms of the past three centuries seem to be forgotten and the average person in the street feels they are qualified to act as judge, jury and executioner for the person they believe to be guilty. The selection of the 'guilty' seems more based on the appearance of the person than any legal arguments. I am convinced that Amanda Knox is guilty of the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2007. The murder was a particularly perverse one and yet because Knox happens to be a beautiful American, she has to be innocent in the public eye and no-one is going around saying she should suffer the kind of 'deprivations and degradations' that were visited on Kercher. In fact, with her release on appeal earlier this year, she has mutated into a victim herself. This highlights how patronising the Americans are to other people's justice systems. Knox is portrayed as suffering at the hands of a foolish Italian court that somehow missed seeing her 'innocence' shining through.
A patronising attitude towards courts was seen in the Yeates case. It is clear that her parents had no faith in the legal system. Her father said: 'I always knew he was guilty but feel relief because I don't know how I would have reacted if the jury had come back with a verdict of manslaughter.' Again the father feels he should have been the judge, deciding on the sentence, not through the approach of law, but simply on his gut feeling. It is interesting, he probably felt the same about Christopher Jefferies, Jo Yeates's landlord who was an early suspect on to whom Tabak tried to shift guilt. I am sure if Jefferies had been charged, even though we now know he was innocent of the crime, David Yeates would be telling us how he should have been executed and how he knew that man was guilty.
The simplicity of this ability to sniff out guilt without any legal training, simply by looking at a person, leads the indignitaries to become exasperated with the legal processes. Teresa Yeates was disappointed that it took three days for the jury to decide on a majority guilty verdict (10:2) for Tabak. She said: 'It was the right verdict but it took so very long.' Of course, she sees the jurors as stupid for not being equipped as she clearly feels she is, to simply detect a guilty man and to sufficient level to satisfy the courts. Of course, the courts, juries and the whole legal system are disparaged by people like the Yeateses and organs like 'The Sun'. They self-righteously know the guilty and see any chance for the so-clearly guilty to have defence or to go through any legal process. Their favoured approach would take us back in Britain literally to the Middle Ages, to the kind of situation England had before Magna Carta of 1215. Such arbitrary execution characterises dictatorships of the kind the UK has helped to overthrow in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, but apparently for our own criminals, it is perfectly the kind of system we need to introduce.
Of course, for 'The Sun' even the Yeates's ostentatious statement about the punishments they want inflicted on Tabak are insufficient. The newspaper went further not missing the opportunity to slag off misguided foreigners, in this case, the prison system of the Netherlands, Tabak's home country on 29th October, appended to their article on the Yeateses saying: 'Dutch prisons are known for their luxurious hotel-style facilities, with each cell having its own heater, fridge and microwave'. The British are stunningly nationalistic, no other country, bar perhaps the USA, can be good enough in punishing criminals. Clearly they relish the overcrowded, insanitary conditions of British prisons which lead to murders and widespread reoffending. Much of the British public and the majority of the UK press have no faith in what our Victorian predecessors did, that there is a chance of rehabilitation. In their view as in the USA, guilty is guilty for eternity so the best thing to do is to kill the perpetrator, who will always be easily to detect, quite often because he is always going to be something like a 33-year old European man rather than a 24-year old American woman.
Infected by American culture the UK is now a society in which no emotion is sufficient unless it is taken to the fullest extent. You some how appear neglectful if you are not howling in sorrow or in anger or in calling for vengeance. Few seem alert to the actual words, most extreme so far in the Yeateses' statements, foster the kind of violent society which created the murder in the first place, a society with utter distrust in legal procedures so a society in which lawlessness in all its forms seems to be the only 'solution'. By being indignant, by howling in the media, you only foster more of the same kind of behaviour as that which distressed you in the first place. This is not civilisation it is a return to a barbaric age in all aspects.