Thursday, November 26, 2009

UK Government Torturing UK Citizens

Extract from the Guardian, 25th. November, 2009 - by Ian Cobain

"After an investigation spanning more than a year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) today condemned Britain's role in the torture of terror suspects detained in Pakistan as cruel, counter-productive and in clear breach of international law ..... a report published today by HRW – entitled Cruel Britannia: British Complicity in the Torture and Ill-treatment of Terror Suspects – draws upon corroborative evidence received from the Pakistani torturers themselves.

Researchers at the New York-based NGO spoke to Pakistani intelligence agents directly involved in the torture who say their British counterparts knew they were mistreating British terrorism suspects. These agents said British officials were "breathing down their necks for information" while they were torturing a medical student from London, and that British intelligence officers were "grateful" they were "using all means possible" to extract information from a man from Luton being beaten, whipped, deprived of sleep and threatened with an electric drill.

"UK complicity is clear," the report says, adding that it had put the government in a "legally, morally and politically invidious position""

Monday, November 9, 2009

You Couldn't Make It Up! (2)

from:, Friday 6th. November, 2009 22 04 GMT

'Culture of impunity' at police unit

by Paul Lewis, Matthew Taylor

(Headlined as above in Saturday edition of the newspaper, filed with slightly different heading on the net on Friday night)

Of more than 5,000 complaints against squad, less than 0.18% were upheld

Scotland Yard faced calls for an "ethical audit" of all officers in its controversial riot squad tonight after figures revealed that they had received more than 5,000 complaint allegations, mostly for "oppressive behaviour".
Details of all allegations lodged against the Metropolitan police territorial support group (TSG) over the last four years reveal that only nine – less than 0.18% – were "substantiated" after an investigation by the force's complaints department.
The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, were described as evidence of a "culture of impunity" that makes it almost impossible for members of the public to lodge successful complaints against the Met's 730 TSG officers.
The TSG is a specialist squad that responds to outbreaks of disorder anywhere in the capital. It is under investigation for the most high-profile cases of alleged brutality at the G20 protests, including the death of Ian Tomlinson.
The unit came under renewed criticism this week after one of its officers was identified as a member of a team implicated in a "serious, gratuitous and prolonged" attack on a Muslim man.
PC Mark Jones, 42, was one of six officers involved in an attack on Babar Ahmad, 34, who was punched, kicked, stamped on and strangled during his arrest at his home in Tooting, south London. The Met paid Ahmad £60,000 in damages earlier this year and accepted its officers were responsible for the attack, during which Ahmad, a terror suspect, was forced into the Muslim prayer position and told: "Where is your God now? Pray to him."
A former Royal Marine, Jones has had 31 complaints lodged against him since 1993. Twenty-six were assault allegations, most of which had been lodged by black or Asian men, but none were substantiated.

The TSG has been the subject of 5,241 allegations since August 2005. They include 376 allegations of discrimination and 977 complaints of "incivility". More than 1,100 of the allegations concerned what members of the public said were "failures in duty". However by far the largest number of complaints – 2,280 – were categorised as "oppressive behaviour".
Just over 2,000 (38%) were "unsubstantiated" by the Met's department for professional standards, while the rest were resolved at the police station, dismissed, discontinued or dealt with in other ways.


(original article continues)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

You Couldn't Make It Up!

from:, Tuesday 18 August 2009 19.43 BST

Vikram Dodd

(Published in full, without abridgement or amendment)

Metropolitan police used anti-terror laws to stop and search 58 children under 10

• Terrorism Act used on 2,331 children last year
• Police abusing powers, says Muslim group chair

The official reviewer of terrorism legislation today criticised the Metropolitan police after it emerged that the force had stopped and searched 58 children aged nine or younger using terrorism powers designed to fight al-Qaida.

The children were stopped in 2008 and all were under the criminal age of responsibility, which is 10. None are believed to have been found to have been involved in terrorism.

According to figures from the Metropolitan Police Authority, in 2008 the Met used terrorism laws to stop and search 10 girls aged nine or under, and 48 boys. A total of 2,331 children aged 15 or under were stopped by Met officers using terrorism powers. (my italics)

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 gives police the power to stop and search people in areas deemed by senior officers to be at risk of terrorism. A constable does not need to have reasonable suspicion, and use of the power has been controversial.

Lord Carlile, the independent official reviewer of terrorism legislation, said: "I find these figures uncomfortable. There is absolutely no evidence of children in this country being involved in acts of terrorism." He described the fact that more than 2000 children aged 15 or under had been stopped under section 44 as a "very high figure" and added: "It shows some evidence that section 44 stops may have been used as an instrument of general policing rather than for the special purpose for which they were designed, which is not acceptable."

Carlile, a barrister by profession, said the only "reasonable justification" an officer could have to search a child under terrorism powers was if it was suspected an accompanying adult had concealed something on the juvenile.

He added: "I have consistently urged the Met to decrease the number of section 44 stops and searches. I hope we will see a dramatic reduction of section 44 procedures on adults, juveniles and children."

Last year the Met carried out 175,000 searches using section 44 and earlier this year the Guardian revealed it would scale back use of the power after conceding that hundreds of thousands of stops had damaged community relations and reversed fundamental principles of civil rights.

Corinna Ferguson, legal officer for Liberty, said: "We have always said that the powers given to the police under section 44 are so broad that they are bound to be misused. First it was octogenarian Walter Wolfgang; now children who have not even reached the age of criminal responsibility are being searched.

"It's difficult to see how it could ever be justified to subject a young child to what is inevitably a frightening experience, under the guise of combating terrorism."

Abdurahman Jafar, who chairs the Muslim Safety Forum, which tried to improve police and community relations, said the figures showed that some officers were abusing their powers and that this could damage children.

"Overarching powers are always going to be abused. If I had a child and they were stopped I would be absolutely disgusted.

"It's such a young age and the child is going to fear he or she is being treated as a suspect and that will damage the child."

Scotland Yard said: "Stop and search legislation covers people, not ages, there is no upper age limit and no lower age limit. … There are a number of scenarios in which a child could be searched under section 44, ie if they were with an adult who is also stopped under this power. We recognise the sensitivity surrounding these powers and are constantly looking to improve our use of the tactic.

"The threat to London from terrorism is real and serious and these powers are an important tactic in our counter-terrorism strategy."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MI5 and the Outsourcing of Torture

On 14th. May, 2009, The London Review of Books published Gareth Peirce's long lecture about the British Government and its apparent 'out-sourcing' of torture in the period between 2002 and 2009.

Two years before that article appeared, in 2007, Peter Kosminsky raised these issues in fictional form in a major two part television dramatisation called "Britz" which took an extremely thorough look at Muslim life in Britain and the tensions which drive some young Muslims to become suicide bombers, others to become MI5 agents. A young British Muslim was shown being tortured to the point of death on a remote airport, by un-named foreign agents, while MI5 agents stood by and discussed what he had revealed and what they still wanted to know.

Afterwards, a London-based MI5 agent complained to Kosminsky of these scenes - 'none of us would never do that', said the agent.

He or she was quite wrong.

MI5 agents often did exactly that, as now appears clear.

On 8th. July, 2009, the Guardian published a survey focusing on the fate of individual British Muslims tortured all over the world at the behest or with the apparent participation of British government agents. This is a summary, which takes in many of the points which Gareth Peirce was also raising:-

"Today ... there is mounting evidence that torture is still regarded by some agents of the British state as a useful and legitimate investigative tool. There is evidence too that in the post 9/11 world, government officials have been prepared to look the other way while British citizens, and others, have been tortured in secret prisons around the world. It is also clear that an official policy, devised to govern British intelligence officers while interrogating people held overseas, resulted in people being tortured .... Tony Blair, when prime minister, was aware of the existence of this policy ...."

After 9/11, as US and British forces went into Afghanistan and, later, Iraq, officers from a section of MI5 known as 'the international terrorism-related agent running section' were advised that interrogating captured detainees abroad would not impede future prosecutions in Britain but were not warned about the terms of the Geneva convention which ought to be applied to POWs or that, in 1972, the British government had specifically banned five 'techniques of mistreatment' that had been used in Ulster, ie: hooding, stress positions, loud noise, sleep deprivation or food and drink deprivation.

Michael Wood, the FO's senior legal advisor, concluded that it was not an offence in international law to receive or possess information extracted under torture, although it would not be admissible as evidence in court. Instructions to MI5 and 6 officers in January 2002 fell "far short of what is required in international law" according to Philippe Sands, QC, the professor of international law at University College, London, and author of the book 'Torture Team' who has detailed the ways in which the instructions to British intelligence acts implied or implicitly authorised complicity in torture.

"Sir Nigel Rodley, a former UN special rapporteur on torture, says that only 'wilful ignorance' could prevent MI5 from knowing what would happen to individuals picked up by the ISI (the Pakistani Secret Service)."

"Despite this, MI5 repeatedly asked the ISI to detail and question British citizens in Pakistan .... In some instances, MI5 would tell ISI agents where they could find the suspect, and would even ... draw up a list of questions it wanted the ISI to put to the detainee .... there is clear and growing evidence that British citizens, and others, suffered the most appalling torture as a result."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Too Much

Much too much about freedom, recently, to cover comprehensively - about the sordid and terrible history of the Bush administration in America, about the shocking plans for 24 hour surveillance of all UK electronic communications, about the down-grading of the Titan prison plan (NOT), which will produce five huge prisons instead of three monstrous prisons and is probably what the bureaucrats and politicians wanted in the first place.

Who was it wrote recently that there had been the equivalent of an arms race about prisons and imprisonment, about the punishment of crime in the UK?

'I am tougher on crime than you can ever be' has become the favourite boast of politicians of every party as if more repression, rather than more freedom, is what the UK requires.

Real freedom includes the possibility of considering, discussing, planning, advocating, voting for, social, economic and political provisions outside the extraordinarily limited range of options which current UK parties (and political parties in all the Western countries) represent.

It is repressive not to be able to consider revolution, especially when the collapse of banks and the appalling crimes that have recently been committed in the name of our current 'civilization' proves that everything that we care about most deeply is at risk.

Torture is everywhere.

America debates torture as if it were just another weapon in democracy's armour, instead of a poison which subverts all our ambitions and destroys all our hopes.

Naomi Wolf wrote the comments quoted below in the Guardian a few weeks ago and they summarise and encapsulate many of the writings and opinions and the evidence which have recently surfaced.

It is to the shame of all of us, commentators and the public, that so very little was said about these horrific abuses during the 8 years when they were openly perpetrated.

And have the abuses stopped? And will they stop for ever?

No chance.

There will always be thugs within the police and within the security forces, there will always be ruthlessness amongst their controllers, a willingness to use torture to achieve 'a greater purpose' (defined, no doubt, by those same anonymous controllers) and an apparent inabilty to realise that the 'greater purpose' is so suborned if criminal tactics are employed that it fails to be valuable even if achieved.

Great Britain survived Hitler and the Provisional IRA without regularly or officially employing the techniques of the torturer.

How come we cannot survive Al Qaida with the same sang froid?

But let us be aware of one crucial consideration.

If policemen and spooks brutalise the innocent (or even the guilty) in darkness and in secret, if they surreptitiously sub-contract torture to other regimes, they do not do it in my name or yours - not with my implied sanction or (I hope) yours either. They are criminals when they do it and they must remain criminals, outside the acceptable boundaries of western democratic behaviour.

Like capital punishment, torture destroys what it purports to protect, our liberty, simply by being put into practice.

It can never be sanctioned within a democracy, especially within a country like Britain that claims not just a democratic heritage but to lead the world on these issues.

Naomi Wolf, Guardian, 28th. April, 2009

"Since 2003 it has been fully documented .... that direct US policy for prisoners included electrodes on genitals, suffocation, hanging prisoners from bars by the wrists, beatings, concealed murders, sexual assault threats, sexual humiliation and forced nudity ......., Did our leaders call for investigations? They barely even called for a moment's consideration; tolerating torture ..... made them look tough .... (it) polled well ..... it was overwhelmingly OK with them."

Me and the Guardian

Every post that I complete seems to begin or end with a citation or a quotation from the Guardian. I am sorry about that. I do read other newspapers, journals, magazines etc. But the Guardian is a libertarian newspaper with a fine tradition of fighting for and discussing the issues to which this blog is dedicated. It provokes thought at the same time that it offers judgements, considerations and facts.

I apologize (but not very profusely) if the continual references to the Guardian get on anyone's nerves.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Erwin James

Erwin James

A little while ago, exchanges with the writer and former criminal, Erwin James Monahan, were included in this blog.

Since then, there has been a lot of discussion on the net and in the press about his real name, the crimes for which he served twenty years in prison and whether he had falsified details of his experience with the French Foreign Legion in articles published in the Guardian.

Nothing that has been published invalidates or calls into question his comments reproduced in this blog. (or, indeed, most of what he has ever written about criminals, criminology and his own past.)

An article in the Guardian (24/4/9) explained Erwin James' own point of view.

The Guardian Readers' Editor (Siobhain Butterworth) comments in the following terms this morning (29/4/9) and I entirely agree with her conclusions:

"It is never acceptable to lie to - or deliberately mislead - readers, but a sense or proportion about this incident is needed. Monahan is not a trained journalist who falsified news reports; he is a writer who, having pulled himself out of the most dreadful mire, went on to make the mistake of lying about his past to protect an identity he had been concealing for years. He has caused damage to the reputation of the Guardian and given some people reason to doubt his work. He will have to re-earn their trust. I wish him luck."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A personal account

22 Feb. 2009

So much is currently being written about surveillance, security and the consequences of the British and American governments' approach to terrorism that it is impossible for me to keep up.

As for making sense of all of it here, in these notes, it is impossible.

Anyway, that is not my role. This is a personal account (I almost said a personal 'meditation') on freedom and what it means to me, at this time.

The less comprehensive and the more ideosyncratic, personal, tentative and thoughful this blog becomes, the better and more useful it will be.





'Up to a point, Lord Copper.'

I am, as you can see, a touch conflicted about these issues.

Anyway, that is how I feel this particular morning in this particular, rather beautiful, place in Scotland at this particular time of day, before I have had my porridge and raspberries for breakfast.

Let me summarise, as briefly as possible, a recent article in the Guardian newspaper.

Seamus Milne was the author and it was published on the 19th. February.

The headline is: "Rimington is right. This is a recipe for creating terrorists."

The article points out, with incredulity, that Dame Stella Rimington, who used to be head of MI5, "has warned that the government has given terrorists the chance to find 'greater justification' by making people feel that they 'live in fear and under a police state.'"

"Rimington went further, denouncing the US for Guantanamo and torture, but reverted to type by insisting MI5 'doesn't do that'"

Milne refutes the idea that MI5's hands are clean and refers to the "chilling" conclusions of the recent report of the International Commission of Jurists:

"The framework of international law is being undermined .... the US and the UK have led that undermining."

Milne goes on to discuss un-published details of new anti-terrorist measures planned by the British government and leaked to the Guardian.

These include "the extraordinary proposal to label 'extremist' any British Muslim who supports armed resistance anywhere ...."

Come again?

" .... supports armed resistance ANYWHERE .... "

Even in other Arab countries with which they may have social, family or religious connections?

This is grossly unjust. In fact, it ought to be a ridiculous suggestion.

Britain and America invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and have lavished immense resources on changing the governments of those countries to models which favour British and American interests, especially British and American oil interests.

These recent anti-Muslim wars (because that is how they are perceived) are as rapacious as any medieval Crusade and it would be astonishing if most or many Iraqis and Afghan citizens did not support resistance to the invaders in some form.

How can the British government express either surprise, disappointment or disaproval when British Muslims also feel sympathy for fellow Muslims who have been attacked?

Did not most British people feel sympathy when Hitler marched into Austria and Czechoslovakia and attacked Poland?

Would most British people not have supported armed resistance to Hitler, in those territories and (if he had invaded) in Britain?

Would that not have been very much the right thing to do?

If Hitler had invaded Britain in 1940 a brave few of us, would have fought on, ineffectually throwing petrol bombs at fire-proofed vehicles from behind demure Home Counties pillar boxes and living rough in the Highlands of Scotland to prove our Iron Man credentials.

Many, perhaps most of us, would have sympathised with these hopelessly idealistic Resistance fighters, secretly supporting a plucky British fight back against the oppressors and all the odds. I can hear the stirring music now.

Many more (and sometimes the same people) would have collaborated with the German occupiers, to keep jobs and families safe, to keep themselves and their nearest and dearest secure, to try to survive in a desperate position.

Is the Iraqi or Afghan situation any different from the situation that might have happened in Britain?

Do Iraqi and Afghan loyalties and intellectual freedoms matter less than ours and those of our immediate forefathers?

My father was not a natural military man. He was small, slight, perhaps with something of the air of a Professor about him when he was young. He was also a professional musician.

He volunteered to fight Hitler in 1939 and joined the Coldstream Guards as a private soldier in spite of the fact that his first child, my sister, had just been born.

I am not at all sure that my mother approved - she got very tight lipped when the subject came up - but there was no arguing with him. Hitler had to be stopped, at whatever cost to him and his dependents.

If Germany had invaded and my father had survived, he might have been imprisoned for a while but he would eventually have found his way back into the civilian population, shattered, demoralised, saddened and physically weakened by his experiences.

By that time, the war would have been over but, from the security of Canada, Winston Churchill would have started to transform himself into a British Charles de Gaulle, calling for resistance and for undying loyalty to the British Crown.

My father was never a monarchist but he would have answered that call in his heart and so will the Iraqis.

Every time an Iraqi unlaces his shoes, he wishes he were brave enough (like Muntadar al-Zaidi) to throw them in the face of an American President and call him a dog, a cur, which is a great, great insult in the Arab World.

Every time an Iraqi sees fellow countrymen (and woman, and children) murdered by alien invaders he must feel sympathy or something stronger for those who practise armed resistance and who believe it necessary. That is no crime, that is the only reasonable thing to feel and think and believe when you see strangers killing your own people, apparently unjustly.

Freedom cannot be rationed, it does not belong merely to people of whose aims we approve. It is our birthright, the birthright of every human being - man, woman or child.

The freedom to think wrong thoughts, to be, silly, subversive, even frankly wicked in our thoughts - provided that (as Lord Mansfield laid down in the eighteenth century) these are not transformed into terrorist acts, is very fundamental.

Perhaps I can quote what I put in an earlier entry on this blog, because it is absolutely crucial to my continuing argument:

Lord Mansfield, in the eighteenth century, defended Britons' rights to think or even to intend anything - however horrible or wicked - without penalty. He considered that you shouldn't be sent to prison for having naughty thoughts. But Muslims now are being sent to prison merely because they talk about jihad, they talk about violent revolution and war against Western secularism and capitalism and they even go on the net and inform themselves about what they could do if they had the resources and the nerve to fight these forces. These are not (should not be) imprisonable offences and I find it very frightening to think that they are so. What it would do to any of our lives, to be held with out charge for 28 or 42 days or even more while the police rummaged our homes, dismantled our computers, frightened off our customers or suppliers, lost us our jobs and then took us to court and convicted us because of what we had chatted about, imagined or hoped. Or even - like that silly girl who worked at Heathrow - because we had written verses about glorious martyrs. Anyway, I have made my point. If you do not protest or object or even notice when the Muslims (like the Jews in pre-war Germany) are bullied by state authorities in your name, when are you going to protest or try to defend your remaining civil liberties? And when will the police come for you or yours instead of just for the people who have different colour skins and different habits and very different ideas?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

So Many Questions

'Freedom Matters' is the title of this blog and before Christmas, 2008, there were so many things that raised questions about freedom that I didn't write about any of them. I was overwhelmed.

My list of topics read:

How did America become a country where torture is debated instead of outlawed?

Is the right to commit suicide a necessary freedom?

Is Christianity the most prescriptive religion?

Are current advances in technology, changes in the law or people's attitudes the most frightening and most threatening developments?

What does the virtual collapse of Western capitalism mean for personal and societal freedom?

Each one of these questions could almost justify a short book. I doubt very much if I can deal with all of them adequately.

But the great advantage of blogging (as against writing a book) is that comments are temporary, of their time - some of them may have permanent or long term validity but they are very much of the moment.

I want to start by considering three of the topics together with another great historical question. My headline summary will be rather long and very daunting:

Torture, the technology of repression, the collapse of capitalism and the re-invention of America under Barack Obama

Before I write about these issues, I need to listen to a lecture by a British human rights lawyer called Gareth Peirce who is speaking at the Institute of Psychology in London on the coming Friday (Jan 30th.)

She has a lot of worthwhile things to say about these huge and threatening questions and especially about how what has happened in America relates to Britain and British law.

Watch this space, what else can I say?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

Note to a 12 year old this morning.

Hi, Sasha, what an exciting day! You will never forget today because if Obama achieves one hundredth of what he has made us all hope for, he will be a great great President. Every so often, America re-invents itself and this is one of those occasions. And you are a witness, you will want to tell your grand-children about it. What a day!

I wonder if Sasha will start to keep a diary.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Prison freedoms - within and without

I am inherently anti-authority, anti-government. You would, perhaps, expect me to be 'liberal' in all particulars.

So would I.

It was interesting to find myself out of sympathy with a fine writer and commentator called Erwin James. He has been in prison, he educated himself in prison, it could be said that he redeemed himself in prison. He knows a great deal about prison conditions and what has to be done with and to the men and women who have to serve long sentences.

But when I read what he had written about a visit to a prison in Scandinavia, I had to dissent or at least to comment. He suggested that all long-term prisoners should be allowed internet facilities, to help them to communicate, to help them to educate themselves.

Because of a case that had been reported in that particular week, I bridled - rather a lot - about what he was saying and about his tone. After all, long term prisoners (by definition) have committed some of the most horrible and most hurtful crimes. How should they be treated? What sort of 'freedoms' are appropriate if you have put yourself beyond the pale?

excerpts from Erwin James's blog:

" .... prisoners at Skien (in Norway) are allowed access to the Internet via computer in their cells. Access is monitored and firewalls are set up to avoid any embarrassing security breaches. In the UK few prisoners are allowed access to computers, never mind the Internet. A friend of mine, who has been in prison for decades was allowed to have a lap top in his cell four years ago. His mother and I clubbed together to buy it for him. Now the lap top is malfunctioning and needs repairs - but it would be cheaper for him to purchase another laptop. The only problem is the prison now has a different governor who does not like prisoners having computers in their cells. If my friend hands out his lap top he will not be allowed to have a replacement - “no more computers in cells,” says the governor. The Norwegian prison is secure and the prisoners are not going anywhere. But while they are in they are provided with opportunites to improve and feel that they are still connected to the world. Is that such a terrible thing?"

1. John Selwyn Gilbert Says:
November 27th, 2008 at 10:25 pm

Just this week, a mother described the effect of her teenage daughter’s murder to a court. I believe her statement said that ‘it tore the heart out of her family’ and I can well believe it. The man who committed the murder will be in prison for a very long time and, in this case, the need for prison to impose punishment on that man may be held to over-ride the other possibilities of prison, reform, re-education, rehabilitation amongst them. I am against Titan prisons, I believe that prisoners should be treated as human beings and helped to become something less than transgressive. But that particular man has robbed that particular teenage girl of her entire life and her parents and her sibling will never have anything except half a life between them.

Do you really think he should have access to broadband?

Erwin replied, as one would expect, thoughtfully:

" ... The majority of people who go to prison in the UK will be released, one day they will be your neighbour or my neighbour - I want a prison system that lets people out less likely or motivated to cause further harm or distress to others ..... The more we detach prisoners from society - the harsher our attitutes towards them while they are inside - the harder we make it for them to fit in when they get out."

And get out they will, he emphasized. "thanks to the fact that we do not sentence people to death in this great country, he (the prisoner, almost any prisoner) still has his life to live."

3. John Selwyn Gilbert Says:
November 29th, 2008 at 9:03 am

I cannot disagree with almost all you say and I have been struck by the wisdom (hard won) that you bring to these issues. I am old enough to remember - with absolute revulsion - what it meant when a man or woman was executed. Children - I was a child then - lingered by the radio waiting for the eight o’clock time signal that would tell them that a life had been ended. It was horrible. It disgusted me then and it makes me cry now. Capital punishment is not the answer. It is not even the question. The question, the problem, is what you do with a human being who makes him or herself less than human by the actions taken, who ‘tears the heart out’ of another human being or a family. I am aware, though I am not a lawyer, of the saying that ‘hard cases make bad law’, that the case I referred to and that mother’s moving statement should not, must not, overwhelm rational discussion or compassion. Most prisoners are not monsters. They are silly, greedy, drunk, stupid, irrational or just plain unlucky. And some (but relatively few) manage to re-invent themselves in prison and can be helped to do so and can be helped towards a useful life. But are some irredeemable? Is there a point at which society should say - this is too much, this is beyond civic compassion or common sense, this person is beyond help? If so, what on earth is to be done about it? Do you lock criminals convicted of murder up with a jar of hemlock? It would probably be the individuals convicted in error who would be the first to drink it. And there are always individuals convicted in error or convicted because they are mentally unstable or inadequate - that is another issue and another problem and yet another complication.

So - questions and more questions; I am afraid I have no answers, though your comments and the opportunity that blogging offers have made me think a little more seriously about some of my ideas.

I cannot forget that the mother of a murdered child also receives a life sentence of pain, guilt, remorse, anger and regret and that - in spite of a lifetime pretending to be a bleeding heart liberal - there is a bit of me that cries out for vengeance on that mother’s behalf.