Jail sentences handed to charity collection thieves owe more to outside pressure than the desire for justice, argues Dave Woodhall.
I’m sure it was just coincidence that Adam and Karl Tookey, the two thieves convicted of stealing poppy collection boxes, were tried and sentenced yesterday, November 11th. Caught on Saturday for a crime committed last Wednesday and in court on Monday morning. Admirable work, and proof that the Swift and Sure Justice initiative introduced by the government is working. Or is it?
The two men were convicted of a serious crime, one branded “despicable” by the police officer commenting on the case. Their sentences were of twelve months each. That’s hardly a slap on the wrist; even allowing for early release they’re likely to lose any jobs they might have, find it difficult to get another and move closer to becoming indoctrinated into a career as habitual criminals. No pre-sentence reports, no serious discussion on an alternative, possibly more appropriate, sentence – a lengthy period of community work cleaning up war graves, for example. I have a distinct sense of unease that this was not justice in action, but rather a peculiar type of vengeance.
The Poppy Appeal is not a ‘normal’ charity, particularly at this time of year. The phrase “poppy fascism” has come into usage in recent years to describe the pressures brought to bear both to contribute to the appeal and to make sure that the world knows you have. Woe betide anyone appearing on TV or elsewhere in public during early November without wearing a poppy. Yesterday Google were criticised because their tribute was deemed too low-key. Saturday’s Festival of Remembrance showed how far this influence has come – what was once a solemn and dignified commemoration is now a dumbed-down light entertainment show one step removed from the Royal Variety Performance.
The Royal British Legion have tried hard to ensure that the poppy remains free from politics but they are fighting a losing battle against those who use it as a symbol of nationalism – not wearing a poppy is deemed unpatriotic – and the modern deification of the armed forces.
Adam and Karl Tookey are a couple of petty criminals. They committed a low crime and deserve to be punished for it. However, I doubt that each would have been sentenced to twelve months in prison had they stole from any other charity, at any other time of year, and that is my main fear about this case. The point was made following the often-disproportionate sentences handed out in the wake of the 2011 riots – for justice to work it has to apply fairly in every instance, no matter how unsavoury the crime or the individual criminal.