The public and the tabloid press had long
recognised that criminals could not be held responsible for their
actions. Parents harming children, for example, was clearly the
fault of social services departments. Burglaries and other
robberies could be firmly laid at the door of the police.
Delinquency was caused by TV producers. Such common-sense notions
remained unchallenged until the case of Tibbles the cat.
An armed robbery had occurred at Barclays
Bank in Ealing. The police were routinely blamed and, in
particular, PC Henderson, the local beat bobby. Why had he not
known about the crime and prevented it?
PC Henderson argued that, indeed, he might
have done, had he not been delayed in traffic. Investigation
revealed the congestion to have been caused by the breakdown of a
car driven by Tibbles owner on her way to the vet. Had it
not been for Tibbles, the robbery would have been foiled! Tibbles
was clearly to blame and was subsequently destroyed.
Many other small animals found themselves
at the end of accusatorial causal chains.
Owners were sad, but philosophical.
I love Fluffy, said one
tearful, five year old as her pet was taken away, but I
know hes a very naughty hamster.
Fluffy had escaped from his cage and become
trapped beneath the garden shed. The RSPCA were called and had,
as a result, been unable to attend another incident involving a
cat up a tree. A neighbour had tried to frighten the cat from his
branch by firing a distress flare that had distracted the pilot
of a private plane. The plane had collided with a nuclear power
station, and the resulting burst of radiation had led the
military to assume a nuclear attack. Retaliation had been
ordered, and World War Three had only narrowly been averted.
This confirmed that no one was ever
culpable. Fault always lay elsewhere. Perhaps with small furry
creatures, or even inanimate objects. The root cause of the
Middle East conflict was traced to a Chippendale chair. Sadly,
innocent chairs were scapegoated. Furniture shops were fire-bombed,
and seating was destroyed in its millions. However, the peoples
of the Middle East finally stood together.
Highly paid lawyers began to care more
about convincing chains of cause and effect than about the guilt
or innocence of plants and rocks they incriminated. Undoubtedly
miscarriages of justice occurred as prisons filled rapidly with
bric-a-brac. Public support was enthusiastic, however, not least
amongst those who had been innocently compelled to rob banks or
kill those they disliked. Indeed there was an outcry when
Winchester Cathedral, having been convicted in a landmark trial,
was not incarcerated. A Derbyshire fox was shot for this outrage.
This raised questions about sentencing very
large objects and led to the reintroduction of corporal
punishment. Following conviction of the North Sea, teams of
police, armed with whips, assembled along the Norfolk coast to
flog the surf. Water from waves was boiled on the beach in sight
of the sea - barbaric perhaps, but thought a necessary deterrent.
Judges continue to debate appropriate
retribution for the moon.