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Cheers - AE

Saturday, 14 November 2009

No good deed to go unpunished.

Let's imagine you come across a small fire and, since you're the sort of person who likes to be prepared, you've got a fire extinguisher in your car and have taken the trouble to find out how to use it. The fire is very fresh and your extinguisher is just enough to put it out before you call the emergency services and get the fire brigade to come along and make damn sure it's safe. Would you do it? And if you did wouldn't you expect a word of thanks or maybe a pat on the back if not from Captain Flack then at least from Pugh or Pugh or Barney MacGrew or one of 'em? I'm fairly sure you wouldn't expect them to jam one of their hoses up your arse and turn it on as a punishment for helping. Now let's imagine that you're a recreational sailor who hears a distress call on the radio and realises that you're very close to the person in trouble. If you went to recover them would you expect to be recognised as an all round good egg or to be torpedoed and sunk by one of the RNLI's fleet of fast attack boats or hit by one of Her Majesty's Coastguard's kamikaze rescue helicopters? Lets be honest here, you'd expect a mention in the local paper and the yachting press with some local bod from the lifeboats or HMCG commending you for your help. And say you have a little first aid knowledge and happen across some poor sod in some clear medical distress. If you do your damnedest to keep 'em from death's door till the paramedics arrive would you be sweating with fear anticipating the beating that is to come? Or would you go home feeling a warm fuzzy for helping save a life and thinking maybe you'll get one of those Royal Humane Society gongs or something? Come on, it's the ceremony, free champers and posh nosh, isn't it?

Okay, now let's imagine that you come across a gun and a small amount of ammunition on your property and, not wishing to inconvenience the overworked local section of the thin blue line, decide to take it to the police station yourself. Since the ambulance crew didn't use their medical knowledge to deliver an unusually precise beating, you weren't killed to death by the coastguard and lifeboat crews, and you didn't get the world's most horrifyingly thorough enema courtesy of some angry men in flameproof trousers you might not be expecting anything unpleasant to come from handing in an obviously dangerous and illegally modified gun to the authorities. And if you relied on this in Britain you'd be making a terrible mistake.
A former soldier who handed a discarded shotgun in to police faces at least five years imprisonment for "doing his duty".

Paul Clarke, 27, was found guilty of possessing a firearm at Guildford Crown Court on Tuesday – after finding the gun and handing it personally to police officers on March 20 this year.
What? The? Fuck?
The jury took 20 minutes to make its conviction...
Oh, so they clearly gave some fucking serious thought to it, didn't they? I imagine that this might have been something to do with the comments from the prosecutor, who
...explained to the jury that possession of a firearm was a "strict liability" charge – therefore Mr Clarke's allegedly honest intent was irrelevant.
... or the judge who said
"This is an unusual case, but in law there is no dispute that Mr Clarke has no defence to this charge.

"The intention of anybody possessing a firearm is irrelevant."
Now in fairness the prosecutor (or defence for that matter) can and should say whatever they think they need to say to make their case and it's not clear if the judge said that before or after the verdict. It's also fair to say that they're right about the strict liability bit. It's like speeding - the law doesn't give the faintest fuck whether the road was empty and the conditions were fine and the speed you'd been clocked at was not dangerous. For speeding is also a strict liability offence and if there's no actual crash the justice system has little interest beyond whether you were over or under the limit. The fact that this makes something as important as road safety almost on a par with Brucie's Play Your Cards Right* isn't their concern. The justice system probably does not honestly believe that you are safe enough at 30mph to not merit prosecution but magically become dangerous enough to deserve punishment at 31, but it's lazy and it suits its purpose to call it a strict liability offence. Same with this possession of a firearm charge - the way the law was written, either because it's so hard to anticipate all situations or because it was drafted badly by lazy shites with an eye on a fucking clock or whatever, doesn't care that Paul Clarke was acting for the greater good by getting a gun safely out of the way as soon as possible and then handing it in at the local cop shop for safe disposal. As the judge and prosecutor explained, it's just not considered important and so up till sentencing at least the laws treats a concerned and honest good deed doing citizen the same as a recidivist armed robber caught with his preferred tool of the trade at home as opposed to actually waving it around in a bank. And even at sentencing there's no opportunity for a sensible judge to weigh the situation, conclude that society gains square root of fuck all by sending the guy to jail and hand down a non custodial sentence instead so as to minimise the effects on his life and give him a shot of appealing from the relative comfort of normal life. Oh no, quite possibly because of political knee jerks and circle jerks over guns and all sorts of waffle about being tough on crime (excuse me a moment - ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha - that's better) there are minimum sentences to go along with this, in this case, victimless crime. Paul Clarke is looking at five fucking years inside. Five years. Rapists have got less. Had this been a weapon used in a crime and there was evidence that Paul Clarke was involved I wouldn't be bothered, but it seems like the police and prosecution don't dispute his version of events at all.

But it's not just a bad law that brings us to the place where an innocent man has, despite all common sense, been charged and found guilty of a offence that is purely technical. A police officer (a pretty senior one in this case) had to decide to arrest Mr Clarke and an unknown number of people in the Crown Prosecution Service had to make a decision about whether a prosecution was in the public interest. Every day cops and the CPS decide not to make an arrest, not to go further than a caution or even not to charge at all, or finally that going all the way to court is either unlikely to result in conviction or serves no purpose. Somehow Paul Clarke slipped through those nets and had to rely on his last line of defence a dozen total strangers that might be open to the reasoned argument of his lawyer.
Defending, Lionel Blackman told the jury Mr Clarke's garden backs onto a public green field, and his garden wall is significantly lower than his neighbours.

He also showed jurors a leaflet printed by Surrey Police explaining to citizens what they can do at a police station, which included "reporting found firearms".

Quizzing officer Garnett, who arrested Mr Clarke, he asked: "Are you aware of any notice issued by Surrey Police, or any publicity given to, telling citizens that if they find a firearm the only thing they should do is not touch it, report it by telephone, and not take it into a police station?"

To which, Mr Garnett replied: "No, I don't believe so."

... Mr Blackman urged members of the jury to consider how they would respond if they found a gun.

He said: "This is a very small case with a very big principle.

"You could be walking to a railway station on the way to work and find a firearm in a bin in the park.

"Is it unreasonable to take it to the police station?"
And the pricks decided that it was unreasonable for an ex-soldier, someone we can assume has experience in handling guns safely, to remove it from where anyone could pick it up and take it to the nick himself. Well done, you cock sockets, well done. Perhaps none of you have heard of jury nullification, in which case it's disappointing that no-one thought to mention that the jury has the power to say fuck strict liability, we know the difference between right and wrong and what this man did was not wrong. It's equally disappointing that it apparently occurred to nobody on the jury without having it spelled out for them, or if it did that person was ignored or caved in. The problem is that while juries can clearly be dumb or spineless enough to go with the law as written no matter how unjust and/or badly drafted it may be the alternative is letting judges become juries as well. It's something about which I've got a post gently stewing in the back of my head but I feel that there's far too much judicial activism going on in British courts already and losing juries would be a huge step in the wrong direction. Besides, as the Ambush Predator has mentioned the other day, they do sometimes take the side of justice rather than mere law. Surely all the scandal about MPs' expenses and the pitiful excuses that everyone's claims had been within the rules was enough to teach the country that blind obedience to rules doesn't necessarily make for a system that's just of fair, and if not the minority who are bright enough can look forward to another five years of the same thanks to the apathetic cunts who weren't paying attention. Meanwhile poor Paul Clarke must be wishing he'd got lucky and had a jury that thought as much about right and wrong as it did about legal and illegal. He might get lucky on appeal but he'll never get the intervening time back.

Edited to add: And there's this courtesy of Shibby. What are we to say when 'fucking hell' is no longer adequate?

H/T Dick Puddlecote and JuliaM.

*Fuck, showing me age a bit there.


JuliaM said...

It's possible there might be more to it than first thought. Check the comments.

If there's even a whiff of this, and someone takes it up in the MSM, excpect someone high up to get very cold feet indeed..

Angry Exile said...

Yeah, I got that from similar comments over at Dick Puddlecote's after I'd blogged on it. I think we should all be watching this space.

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