Friday, February 22, 2008

Vengeance demeans, justice elevates civilization.

Whilst renewed calls for the death penalty are perfectly understandable from the families of recent murder victims, its a call I cannot support.

I harbour no righteous indignation at the thought of the death penalty. I just think its unproven as a deterrence and would be unjustly applied to only a few, whilst we face the real danger of juries acquitting the guilty and convicting the innocent.

A case in point, David Hodgson a 48-year-old Richmond man was found guilty earlier this week at Teesside Crown Court of murdering shop worker Jenny Nicholl in June 2005.

Jenny Nicholl's body has never been found, there was no official crime scene, no forensic evidence linking Hodgson to any killing and yet based on circumstantial evidence, Hodgson has been convicted and sentenced to serve a minimum of 18 years in prison.

Faced with only circumstantial evidence to go on and the thought a conviction would condemn Hodgson to the gallows. Would the jury have been as confident or would they have become squeamish and more likely to have returned a not guilty verdict?

We will never know, but I suspect several jurors would have wanted to have found a reasonable doubt and Hodgson a guilty man, might is such circumstances have walked free.

On 20 July 1910, Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary said,

“The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilization of any country”.

I think Winston Churchill was absolutely right, let us continue to think and act in a civilized manner. Many years spent in custody is a far harsher punishment, than Albert Pierrepoint's celebrated, record seven second hanging, of James Inglis on 8th May 1951.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Imprisoned by lies

David Hodgson a 48-year-old Richmond man was yesterday found guilty at Teesside Crown Court of murdering shop worker Jenny Nicholl [19]. Jenny, also from Richmond, North Yorkshire, left home on June 30th, 2005, telling her mum she would not be back that night.

Jenny Nicholl's body has never been found and there is no official crime scene yet based on circumstantial evidence only - Hodgson has been convicted and sentenced to serve a minimum of 18 years in prison.

Only Hodgson knows what occurred that night, driving him to murder his young lover.

The prosecution case uncovered his lies and wildly differing and contradictory accounts given to detectives. Hodgson denied having a relationship with Jenny but then admitted he was friends with her and over a month after Jenny went missing, said he loved her and his life revolved around her.

Hodgson's defense was predicated on Jenny telling him she was leaving home for good, alleging abuse by her father who subsequent to her disappearance was convicted of down loading child pornography from the Internet.

The prosecution alleged Hodgson made calls on Jenny's mobile phone after she had disappeared to send a text to her father, giving the impression she was still alive.

Later, Hodgson admitted he had called Jenny after her disappearance, from public telephone boxes in Richmond, and he had spoken to her from his home telephone.

The jury didn't believe Hodgson's claim Jenny left him notes after she disappeared. He said the messages had been left in a tin under a bridge in Green Lane, near Richmond. When the police asked why he had initially failed to tell them about the notes, he said it had "slipped his mind".

Jenny's friends told the court how she loved her car, bought by her parents in early 2005 and yet the vehicle was found abandoned at the Holly Hill Inn, in Richmond, four days after she went missing.

The defendant's mother-in-law, Evelyn Bagley was a key prosecution witness. She told the court, how she had seen Hodgson walking back into Richmond from the direction of Holly Hill, the morning after Jenny vanished.

Bank records revealed Jenny's personal account was £268 in credit and had not been touched after June 30 2005. A Richmond tanning salon also confirmed, Jenny had booked 25 sessions in the week she had disappeared. The prosecution said these were not the actions of a young woman about to leave her friends and family forever.

Mr Justice Openshaw branded 48-year-old David Hodgson a murderer and a liar as he imposed a mandatory life sentence on the married father-of-two at Teesside Crown Court earlier today.

The judge said Hodgson, had lied to police during the lengthy investigation and to the jury during his trial. He told Hodgson his cruel concealment of Jenny's body had deprived her family of the opportunity of laying her to rest and prolonged their anguish.

Richmond is a beautiful sleepy Yorkshire Dales market town. The tragedy to beset young Jenny Nicholl and her family has shocked and astounded this tiny community and will forever be restless in its history. Those of us, of which I count myself as one, never imagined the cold, calculating stench of murder would ever invade our cherished rural world. How wrong we were?

David Hodgson now has time to contemplate, how his actions destroyed two families and shook his community to the core. I sincerely hope he will find a way to admit his crime and tell Jenny Nicholl's family where she is and let her be properly laid to rest.


Hodgson told the police, Jenny had left messages for him at a remote bridge on Green Lane - which is about 4km from the Holly Hill Pub, where she abandoned her car. This I believe was a Freudian slip by Hodgson, revealing where he left Jenny.

Green Lane is a forbidding, narrow track which is a remote secondary access lane and the perfect spot for lovers to meet and hide their activities away from from public gaze.

Adjacent and directly to the west of Green Lane are many disused mine shafts, a perfect, quiet place to hide a body.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.

According to a recent British Crime Survey, overall crime has fallen by 42% between the years 1995 and 2006.

What about future trends and societies ability to confront criminal behaviour and the roots of motivation to commit crime? These questions have exercised generations of criminologists from one of its founding fathers, the French sociologist Emile Durkhiem in 1893 to the present day.

I don't think its bold to suggest, most leading criminologists believe the roots of crime lie in some form of disaffection or victimization. This disaffection grows, argued Durkheim, when society is faced with radical change which questions social cohesion and a breakdown in the national moral framework which guides the order of things.

Whatever the complexities, of which there are many, crime is here to stay and the criminologists and sociologists continue to vie and add their personal voice in the development of national social policy.

As a casual observer, keen to learn and understand about such things, I have found parallels with Durkheim's France in the late 19th century and the developing electronic world unfolding before us today.

In 1992, I was keen to investigate the emerging technologies to redress the inequalities in the transaction value chain in the automotive sector, which at the time wholly advantaged the manufacturers. I was impelled to give more influence to the consumer. This early work, was successful in demonstrating a shift in the balance of power and created the first “demand driven transaction model” in automotive retailing.

The evolution of greater interactive technologies brings with it a unique brand of conflict as it offers advantages to one group over another with the former excitedly entrenching their rights as the latter seeks to militate the effect, by increasingly confusing and complicating the offerings. We only need to look to the supply of insurance services and utilities for such examples.

What you may ask has this to do with crime? As in the case of late 19th century France, I sense we are in transition, a liminal state between the old and the new - betwixt the end of the industrial revolution and a new fully wired, interactive, demand driven world.

This new brave world will be faster, more furious and less accommodating of failure to engage with the constant influence over our lives from global rather than local initiatives.

Today, schools struggle to educate students for jobs yet to be invented and the core skill sets of today will be out of date before students leave university with an ever growing group of disaffected individuals who cannot or will not be able to engage with the new order of things.

Within a generation, jobs and opportunities will be categorized as being information rich, [technology driven] and information poor [basic service sector] with differentials been bitterly fought over. We will in my opinion see a renaissance of collective bargaining and a rise in trade unionism to counter the gap between the information rich and poor.

Disaffected groups are likely to become evermore introvert and tribal, thus deepening division and discontent which in my view can only lead to greater levels of crime. Unless we begin to think out the box we will become a collection of fragmented communities ranging from exclusive gated groups behind the latest security paraphernalia to ghettos of despair with those in the middle bearing a heightened fear of crime.

I hope I am wrong but how can we avoid this somewhat apocalyptic view?

Leaders, policy makers and their advisers must think long term - beyond the election cycle and they must act strategically and philosophically to build a consensus for the next twenty years, if our society is to remain inclusive to all.

A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Respice Finem "Look to the end"

What did the good Archbishop actual say?

- Dr Rowan Williams said that the introduction of parts of Islamic law here would help to maintain social cohesion and seems unavoidable.

- Sharia courts exist already.

- We should “face up to the fact” that some British citizens do not relate to the British legal system, he said, and that Muslims should not have to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”.

- A lot of what is written on this confusing subject suggests “the ideal situation is one in which there is one law and only one law for everybody”. He went on: “That principle is an important pillar of our social identity as a western liberal democracy.” “It’s a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties, which shape and dictate how they behave in society, and the law needs to take some account of that.”

- “An approach to law which simply said there is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said . . . I think that’s a bit of a danger.”

Sadly what Dr Williams omitted to say, seriously undermines his argument. He did not celebrate the fact that our long established legal system - combines both statute law and common law, nor indeed did he mention that the central tenet of our legal framework is equality.

From the moment of your first breath to your very last breath everyone is equal under our law and before our courts.

Dr Williams is a seasoned intellectual and a trained academic - naturally his instincts are to look deeper and broader at the theological questions of the day and try and shape an inclusive Christan consensus around his personal sense of values and direction.

As the leader of the Anglican Church, this is indeed what he must do, lead his flock.

But leadership demands an understanding of your subject and your flock. On both counts Dr Williams was simply wrong and instead of raising a debate he has fuelled a row. To suggest, as he did, “other affiliations” within a revised legal framework could be accommodated is simply unworkable. Our principles of judicial independence would be compromised and we would lose our systems universal respect. Such a suggestion is intellectually flawed.

Dr Williams has seriously misunderstood the mood of a normally tolerant British society which sadly will come to haunt the remainder of his term in office.

To many reasonable and fair minded observers, the establishment of which Dr Williams is a pillar continually gives the impression that British culture and values is something to be ashamed of and must be devalued to accommodate cultures far less tolerant than ours.

I have no doubt Dr Williams is a good man, who allowed his heart to rule his head. On this occasion, he was completely and utterly wrong.

We should forgive him for he knows not, what he has truly done.

Respice Finem