Polly Toynbee

Polly Toynbee
Tony Martin

Reproduced from the RT Logo

A high proportion of crimes turn out to be double tragedies, a collision between two victims of one kind or another. The obvious victim is of course the victim of the crime, but often closer examination shows that the perpetrator is the lifelong damaged person, the one least likely to recover. However, most people are not sorry for the criminal. That's liberal wishy-washy stuff. Except where the criminal is a middle-class man protecting his property, and then, it seems that even murder is excused by many.
The Tony Martin case caused a furore when he was sentenced to life imprisonment for killing a 16- year-old burglar breaking into his home. The series A Very British Murder (Tuesdays C4) this week examines his case, including a long and rambling interview with Martin while he was awaiting trial. If ever there was an example of a collision between two victims, it is the night "Mad Martin", as he was known locally, shot dead Fred Barras, the gypsy boy he caught burgling his house. The more we learn of both the eccentric hermit and the teenage petty thief, the sadder both their life stories seem. It is more like a novel than a true life story, but a novel where there can be no satisfying tale of redemption for either of them. The boy is dead, the man, though a hero of the hang-'em-and-flog-'em lobby, likely to stay in jail for a long time.

Tony Martin is no role model for the have-a-go vigilantes,but he is desperately deserving of pity.

Tony Martin doesn't fit the hero's image he has been given by those who have made his case a political issue - including William Hague. He is no role model for the have-a-go vigilantes who itch to take the law into their own hands, whether against paedophiles or burglars. But he is desperately deserving of pity, like so many other criminals, including many murderers. Like many, he is plainly partly mentally deranged, though not enough to avoid standing trial. His story is tragically pathetic and when, at one point, he breaks down in tears, it is heart-rending.
The aptly named fenland Bleak House, which he eventually inherited from a relative, is a desolate spot. But it was the scene of his happiest childhood years, brought up in the country squirarchy. He was a younger son, not due to inherit family farm land, who failed at school and drifted from job to job. He doesn't say why, but he turned against people and found companionship only with his rottweilers.

He let Bleak House fall into total decay, with no doors or lintels, no electricity and mounds of rubbish everywhere. Frequent rows with local gypsies he had shot at and set his dogs on and a previous break in made him more isolated and angry than ever. He is a lost hermit, lost to the outside world. So when the boy climbed in through his window, Martin was on an emotional hair trigger, lying at night frilly clothed with his gun, waiting for it to happen.
As for the boy with a string of previous small thefts to his name, the local police interviewed here say he was no hardened criminal, but an ordinary bad boy. It was his bad luck to be picked up that evening on a whim by two older, professional burglars and taken to Bleak House, fuelled by a couple of cans of lager and the glamour of being with real criminals. Would he, like most teenage tearaways, have grown out of his criminality? We shall never know. But however dreadful burglary is - and it drives many people like Martin into a state of acute paranoia or terror - Barras plainly didn't deserve a death sentence.

The trouble with the reporting of crimes - and why it is sometimes worth doing in-depth documentaries on celebrated cases - is that only the headlines and the bare bones of the story ever reach the public, to be ignorantly chewed over in bars up and down the land. Radio phone-ins at the time were full of people saying, "And quite right to. The boy only got what he deserved!" How often the newspapers start up some indignant campaign about a case without offering any of the close details the judge and jury had to consider.
Sitting through day after day of evidence, the jury saw a far more complex picture than reached the public. Martin had his gun licence withdrawn five years ago, for fear of his firing off pot shots at people. The gun he used was an illegal weapon, illegally acquired, a pump-action shotgun banned after the Hungerford killings. Martin lied outrageously about what happened that night, his evidence disproved by the forensics. He shot the boy and one accomplice several times, and then as the boy was running away, shot him in the back again at close range, so he died two minutes later. Martin was lying in wait for this night in his paranoid, deranged state, wanting revenge.

But in the end all you are left thinking is what a double tragedy, poor mad man, poor dead boy and how hard it must be to serve on a jury in a case such as this. Crime is fascinating because it is subtle and the right punishment raises as many questions as it answers. There doesn't seem to be any point in putting Tony Martin in jail for years - but the same is probably true in one way or another of half the people he's inside with.

Letters to the Advertiser

Sarah's killer should face death penalty

EDITOR - Now that the body of the innocent child Sarah Payne has been discovered, dead in a field, is it not time that her murderer and those like them should be made to suffer the same sort of barbarism as they made this eight-year-old girl suffer?
There is a basic law that we as a Christian country live by, and it is the first of the 10 commandments, Thou shall not kill.
There are a few cliches that must he considered in cases like these, like 'fight fire with fire' and 'he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword' or if you believe the bible, 'an eye for an eye.
We must fight fire with fire, we must take an eye for an eye. And those who are prepared to live by the sword should understand that they should also be prepared to die by the sword. I say, bring back hanging.
M G Leyland,
Redbrick Court, Ashton.

Dear Editor,
Every time there is a murder of a child,the baying mob starts chanting to bring back hanging and starts quoting the bible out of context.
If these moral hypocrites were to think for a second they'd realise just how silly they are.MG Leyland quotes the "Do not kill" commandment and then stupidly suggests that an eye for an eye implies vengeance. The commandment says "Do not kill",it does not say "Do not kill,except if someone commits murder". If MG Leyland is using biblical morality, then hanging should not be advocated,since this makes the advocate as bad as the murderer and thus the very rules that would be imposed upon the murderer are broken by the advocate.
Negating the fact that not all of us believe in silly nonsense stories about gods,the bible also suggests that vengeance is the Lord's prerogative -not man's, and therefore anyone taking a life,for whatever reason,will be found wanting in heaven (wherever that is).
If it was up to me,emotional knee-jerkers like MG Leyland would be serving a life term along with the murderer,as they are so clearly capable of killing. My non-Christian morality suggests life is sacrosanct and to be respected without even a boundary on species.If we defeat the principle of "presumed innocent" and presume to "hang 'em high" as the brigade chant goes,then there is no way to pardon someone who is incorrectly found guilty.
The presumption of innocence MUST be maintained at all costs,and the ranting hyper-reactionary views advocated by the News of the World will only lead to terrorising innocent people,as it already has done.

[Only this week a judge gave a paedophile a reduced sentence because vigilantes had burned down his house,so the emotional knee-jerkers are shooting themselves in the foot.Note that "presumed innocent and lack of a death penalty,protects ourselves from being wrongly killed,and those that would have the death penalty and invert the presumption are making it MORE likely that innocent people and even themselves will be killed by the justice system. It is distinctly farcical,therefore for the bible thumping states of the US to advocate the death penalty as it is a complete contradiction to the biblical edicts -LB]

Mr and Mrs Payne have already said that they do not support vigilantism,and the police are correct to say that the News of the World is irresponsible.No doubt MG Leyland would have been looking for reds under his/her bed and would have supported the McCarthy witchunts.
Of course the law should change,but it would be hypocrisy to say that the law had the right to kill,and chastised those that presumed they could also. Lead by example,if you don't want killers,then don't kill people.
Yours sincerely,DL Borrell.

'Scum' deserve to suffer

EDITOR - Re: 'It is a contradiction', (Readers views, August 10). What an outrageous comment to make, every time there is a murder of a child, the baying mob starts chanting to bring back hanging and starts quoting the bible out of context.
Firstly there should never be a need to state, 'every time there is a murder of a child'. Secondly I find it offensive to describe good law abiding citizens who feel strongly about these horrendous crimes as 'chanting mobs'. We would not have to be 'chanting mobs', as you put it, if our feelings and views were heard and implemented to protect children from suffering at the hands of these boasts. Laws need to be changed to protect our children and if that means bringing back hanging, then so he it.They are the scum of the earth who only deserve to suffer the way their victims and families do.
J.Aston Address supplied.

Secrecy is breeding fear

EDITOR - Re: Promote forgiveness (August 10). How can any person be so casual as to write 'every time there is a murder of a child the baying mob starts chanting to bring back hanging'.
I don't believe hanging will ever he brought back but the law must be changed, it should be called the children's law - in memory of all the children abused and murdered by these paedophiles. Our legal system must stand up and say if you break the children's law you go to prison forever.
As for Gary Owens quote about 'recent miscarriages of justice', I hope he stops to think about the child abusers and murderers let out of prison to abuse and kill again. That to me is a great miscarriage of justice. I do not condone any vigilante attacks but secrecy and silence breed fear, hence mob reaction.
Mr A Aston,
Redbrick Court, Ashton.

My Comment:- It's noticeable that people fall back on biblical morality when they don't know how to judge a crime,and far from this facilitating good judgment,what happens is people use it to justify revenge and killing and actions taken upon "feelings" rather than thoughts. Mr Hardie might like to think about just how viable anger is as a means to decision making where such people are concerned. I heard the radio broadcasts over the Martin case and middle age women said bold facedly that they'd be prepared to shoot a teenager at point blank range for burglary! I hope they end up in jail like Mr Martin if they do. It is indicative of our materialism that we prioritise goods over lives.No one should be able to steal sentimental belongings without redress,but the punishment should fit the crime,and Tony Martin had no right to take the law into his own hands or deliver his own brand of illegal retaliation.
The law,as recounted by the police does not equate stealing a TV set with taking a life,and however brash and without conscience a thief is, life-taking isn't the answer,and neither should taking a life be justified using biblical morality. The bible also says "let he without sin cast the first stone" ,which if memory serves is used by Jesus in regard to a prostitute.Those who think paedophilism is so reprehensible that it warrants killing or vandalism or arson should ask themselves if they are without sin,and also why they are breaking the law when faced with "feelings" they can't deal with.Two wrongs don't make a right.
It is rather farcical to suggest that this "baying mob" are functioning better by going off "feelings".Perhaps if they put their brain into gear,they would not be so reactionary. Those who prey on children may not understand the values taken for granted by the rest of society,and further - those values are subjective at best,and one's man's meat is another's poison.
Those who find paedophilism so disgusting should ask themselves WHY they think it so disgusting. Prior to now other civilisations have had less of a problem about the age of consent,and we know that for a fact that we are subject to the over prudishness that "Christian morality" has imposed upon us culturally.That's not to say that I condone the actions of paedophiles - I don't,but it should be understood in context and reacted to via a process of rational analysis,not bible thumping reactionary fervour based on disgust. I find many of the attributes of many people's lives offensive,not least the capacity to moralise from a book which is a fairy tale and the reserve of those wih limited thinking capacity and simple minded superficial philosophies,but I don't burn their houses down,and I am not "disgusted" by them,I treat them with the respect that a human being (and animals -which isn't a derogatory term of abuse) deserve. If someone has committed a heinous crime it is incumbent upon the rest of us to "presume innocence" as this is what the law dictates,they are not guilty until found to be so by a jury,and as Polly suggests,the jury here know far more the details of the actual circumstances surrounding a case,than the media bloat to epidemic proportions for the consumption of the "quick to judge,quick to anger,slow to understand" brigade.
I find it offensive that I live in a society that theoretically presumes innocence,that so many are willing to prejudge and attack police vans containing a "suspect" who may be an innocent person.There but for the "grace of God" you might say goes themselves. Bizarrely,it is often due to the "grace of God" that so many get on their moral soap boxes and high horses,and DO prejudge when their code tells them not to.
If the same person banging on police vans,were an innocent suspect being eliminated from an enquiry,how would they feel if they were confronted by an angry mob ready to lynch them or burn their house.Make no mistake - innocent people have already been hurt or had to move house because someone thought they were a paedophile when they weren't,because they looked like someone's picture or a rumour had spread.
I find it offensive that people who have studied no philosophy or psychology seek to lecture me,and use their own "post war,kept our doors open,kept my nose clean" glib,superficial and ill-thought out schemes to decide what is right.
These people take no notice of other people and make no attempt to understand other value systems,and as soon as something goes wrong they are the first to open the wrong orifice and speak out of it.They should try learning about the law,psychology,and moral philosophy before hazarding their "not in my back yard" simple platitudes for complex problems.
If these "law abiding citizens" are so right,why are they so ready to kill innocent people and chastise others for doing the same thing - practice what you preach,and stop advocating double standards. I am not a wishy-washy liberal,I am as tired as others of lawless people cocking a snook at the police,but the silly policies of the government of putting CCD cameras everywhere makes everyone "presumed guilty".This is what those who bleat out the same old chant -"if you've done now wrong,you've got nothing to be afraid of" don't understand.I have a right to privacy,anonymity,and above all the presumption of innocence - which should be sacrosanct,and yet our fear of lawless people makes us denigrate the very system that is supposed to protect the rest of us from being wrongly imprisoned! Why should anyone serve a different prison term for killing a child than for killing an adult,because a child is more precious? Because a longer potential duration of life as been terminated? Loss of innocence? Then why do not killers of animals get two life sentences? And for those who think a human life is worth more than an animals,answer this,if their values are different from mine,why should I adopt their values to decide MY morality,when I have thought about it and they are knee-jerking from "feelings" which lead to to wish to kill and maim the people who have killed and maimed? Who's values are better? If I don't kill and maim and you do? Such hypocrites should not be allowed to rail road the justice system into setting up extra laws just because they are angry.Any old idiot can get angry,why not try thinking? -LB





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