• 21 Apr - 27 Apr, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

Controversies arise over the strangest incidents when a society is culturally split down the middle. Indeed, if Pakistanis feel they are the only ones to be facing such a cultural split, they could not be further from the truth. Just have a look at British society as this story will reveal.

A few days ago, a ‘career’ burglar and his accomplice broke into a house not very far from my small town of Swanley in Kent; in fact, the ‘career’ burglar is said to have been a resident of Swanley. The house they broke into was inhabited by a man and his wife, both well into their 70s. The man, Richard Osborn-Brooks was 78 and he lived with his disabled wife who is 76.

Halfway through the night, Richard heard some noises in his house and went downstairs to check where he found himself face to face with the burglars. One of them, the career burglar who has been named in the media as Henry (it is not necessary to mention his surname for the purpose of this article) threatened Richard with a screwdriver and in the scuffle that followed, the burglar was stabbed either with his own screwdriver or with some weapon that Richard may have found nearby; that part of the story, though immaterial, is still a bit unclear.

The stabbed burglar staggered out with his unnamed accomplice and collapsed on way to their getaway car. His accomplice left him on the roadside, and fled, and Henry died before medical help could reach him.

The 78-year-old pensioner was arrested and taken to the police station on a suspected charge of manslaughter, but was released after a few days without charge, after consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). That in itself created a bit of an uproar as many felt that it should have been the duty of the court to determine whether the pensioner was justified in killing Henry or whether he should have used something called ‘justifiable and proportionate force’. That is a concept which is well nigh impossible to determine with any degree of reasonable objectivity, and as the majority seemed to think that he had every right to defend his family and his property, it was odd that any jury would decide in the homeowner’s favour – which could be why the CPS did not decide to take the matter to court. And since the British judiciary is singularly lacking in judges fired by the zest and zeal of some of their counterparts in Pakistan and no ‘suo moto’ action in these parts is known of, Richard was allowed to go home.

But he could not go back home. There was a groundswell of sympathy for the fallen burglar to the extent that some, mainly members of his own family and friends but a few from outside that circle as well, had started to build something of a shrine where Henry died, placing bouquets of flowers, sympathy cards and tying ribbons to the fence nearby the spot. Now burglary is a dangerous profession and while I do not claim to have any idea how high would be the premium on the insurance of a burglar’s life, I would be surprised if it was not pretty high. Besides, it is not a profession that is particularly admired and there were residents in the area who were suitably outraged by this act of sympathy for a criminal. However, as stated, some of the cards were from his family, including one said to be from his four-year-old daughter and another from his father. Both quite understandable.

The residents did not quite see it that way. Some of them angrily tore it down at which point newspapers started to enter the fray on both sides of the argument with some saying that burglar or not, his family would understandably grieve over his death and further that notwithstanding the fact that he had chosen a career that was not particularly admirable, he did not deserve to die; on the other side it was said that having confronted a pensioner with a screwdriver at the dead of night, he did not deserve any sympathy, more so since in a career of crime, he was reportedly on fairly familiar terms with the guards of the nearest prison, having graced it with his presence on more occasions than one.

The two sides could not agree on their view of the matter and as tensions grew the police had to advise people to ‘respect’ the tributes left by the grieving family. That had little effect and a second attempt to place the ‘tributes’ in the form of flowers and ribbons and cards, met with a similar fate with angry residents tearing down the flowers and stamping on them. Some policemen were than deputed to the area and as I write this, the floral and other tributes laid by the family and sympathisers of the former burglar have been torn down for the fourth time.

Driving the feeling at the forefront of these expressions of anger against the burglar and the expressions of sympathy for him on the other side, is the firm and popular English belief that a man’s home is his castle, which in this case was rudely violated; one very angry resident who has played a leading part in tearing down the tributes left for the slain burglar has left no one in doubt about what he thinks of those putting up the tributes, with the open expression of expletives that cannot be mentioned here. Meanwhile, Richard and his wife have not been able to return to their home where the botched burglary took place for fear of revenge attacks by the burglar’s cohorts and continue to live in an undisclosed location. One neighbour has even been reporting as suggesting that they may never return, preferring to sell their house and move to some other area altogether.

The two arguments show the two sides of the coin that typify modern day Britain. One side is a rampant right wing ideology that sees the home as being sacred and that carries on to a view of the country that does not countenance anybody who is not of a recognisable or traditional exterior; on the other is a left wing ideology that has gone equally far from that rare thing called common sense. Expressions of support and contempt both cannot see a line that should not be crossed.

All that said, I would have to admit that if I were to judge purely on the basis of published pictures of the burglar and the victim, I would have thought that the burglar looked like the nicer guy, while I would not particularly enjoy the experience of coming across Mr Osborn-Brooks on a dark night. Just shows how deceptive appearances can be. •