Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sending the right message

Actually, not all the news today was bad, not even about prison. There was this story.

I have chatted to people who felt the sentence of two years and eight months was harsh. I disagree. Look at it this way. The guy chucked a large, heavy object from a great height into a crowd. As it happens, it missed everybody: but it could have caused life-changing injuries to a couple of people. If it had landed directly on top of one person it could have put them in a wheelchair; in a persistent vegetative state; in a coffin. It is no credit to Mr Woollard that none of those tragedies came to pass: when he launched the fire extinguisher, he didn't care.

Imagine if Edward Woollard had got drunk one lunchtime, climbed into a car, and driven at 50 mph on the wrong side of the road in the centre of, say, Edinburgh. Suppose he ran a red light, but amazingly he didn't hurt anyone. Even if he'd given himself up to the police afterwards, he would have been charged with dangerous driving and would probably have got three years or more in jail for recklessly endangering life. So what's different here?

If one or both of my children was a student in London rather than Edinburgh, then one of them might have been at the tuition fees protest. Might have been in the courtyard into which Woollard chucked the extinguisher. Perhaps you think I'm just worried in case the extinguisher hit one of my children? No, I'm wondering if either of them would ever completely recover if they were standing next to someone - a policeman perhaps - who was suddenly transfigured into a foreshortened pile of meat as they were drenched in his blood.

Actions have consequences. Edward Woollard should count himself ridiculously lucky that he faces only a temporary loss of liberty, and doesn't have to live with having killed, paralysed or traumatised people.

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