The front page of the Times one day last week asked "Why did I do it?", over a pretty much full page picture of Natasha Reid. Natasha is a graduate, aspiring to work as a social worker. She handed herself in to the police after stealing during the recent events in London. I believe that Natasha deserves credit for two things. The first is the way in which she responded to the promptings of conscience, recognising that what she had done was wrong. To attend a police station and admit what you have done in circumstances like these takes a good deal of courage. The second thing for which I think Natasha deserves credit is the dignity with which she has conducted herself in terms of the media coverage. As she left court, being harried by TV cameras and photographers, she used her arms to cover her face and try to protect something of her privacy. The Times photograph showed her with her arms in front of her face. There was no swearing or swagger, just a calm, determined walk away from the court.
It is a bit out of fashion at the moment to speak up for those involved in looting and assaults on police during last week's events, but I do think Natasha should be admired for what she has done after recognising the wrongness of her theft (not for the theft itself). I hope that she will, at some point, get a break in life that will overcome the difficulty presented by her inexplicable moment of failure.
"Ignore the rule book and lock up looters, JPs told" is the headline across the front page in today's Daily Telegraph. Even the paragraphs of the Telegraph's own report make clear that that is not at all the advice that has actually been given to Magistrates, so it must score highly among what one might gently describe as "misleading" headlines. As Natasha Reid's case, and other media coverage shows, there are a range of "stories" behind those who were involved in last week's events, and to reduce them all to one that demands a custodial sentence or remand in prison before trial is just not appropriate. Whilst circumstances might well mean that offences of theft are aggravated compared to normal situations, and therefore more severe sentencing is appropriate (this is the judical essence of the advice given to magistrates), that is a judgement to be made in each individual case and not in an undiscriminating way for everyone involved. If instead the judiciary just respond to the pressure of public opinion then they will in effect undermine the very rule of law that they are trying to uphold.
And it is somewhat disingenuous for politicians to speak about the "family" when they indicate by that term "different models of family", rather than defining it properly.