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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison


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 he’s 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.