Life: A Political Commodity

This story has saddened me, and is beginning to wind me up.

Learco Chindamo is a young man who, over 12 years ago (at the age of only 15!) made a stupid, stupid mistake to be part of a gang. That gang membership led to a fight outside a school where a brave teacher tried to intervene. Chindamo stabbed him, and he died.

The death of Philip Lawrence was incredibly shocking at the time. It was one of those cases that ‘fits’ the media/political temperament of the moment, and ends up with wall-to-wall coverage. I’m still not sure why these things happen, but its something to do with the ‘human interest’ element, and probably also whatever agenda Murdoch is currently pursuing…

I want to make it clear that I think the death of Philip Lawrence was and is a tragedy. Human life is incredibly precious, and to have it snatched away in such a violent manner is a terrible thing. Learco Chindamo was guilty of a crime, and he deserved to pay for that crime. He was caught, charged, tried and found guilty, sentenced and jailed. He has served 12 years in prison. He has done his time.

Only, for some people, this isn’t enough. There is currently some consternation in the UK media, as the Government has just been told that they can’t deport Chindamo as they had hoped. Born in Italy, but raised in the UK since he was 6, this country is the only one he has known. It is the culture he is immersed in. It is where all of his family and friends reside. Yet we want to send him away, to throw him out of the country of his upbringing, even if its not of his birth.

A Home Office Minister, Tony McNulty has said Chindamo

“had forfeited his rights because of the seriousness of the crime he committed.”

Excuse me?!?

This appals me. It appals me as much, if not more, than the original crime. When did we decide that a crime was so severe that it obliterated the Human rights of the individual?? When did we decide that murderers no longer deserve to be treated as human?

Murder is a heinous crime. It can never be sanctioned or justified, whether by individuals, or tribes, or governments. It is, and always will be, in all circumstances, wrong; both morally and legally. Thankfully the British justice system has always recognised that. The murder of Philip Lawrence was wrong.

There was a price that was to be paid for such a crime, and under the laws of this country Learco Chindamo has paid that price. He has served his time. If he is judged to be rehabilitated, if he is judged repentant, if he is judged to be of no more danger to the community (and we have very well trained people who make these decisions for us), then he should be released back into the community. That is how justice works.

But that isn’t enough here, because Learco Chindamo is not just a criminal. He is not just a murderer. He is a High Profile murderer, of a High Profile victim. Because of this, because Sun readers don’t understand what the word justice means, suddenly all concept of due process, of proportionality of punishment goes out the window. And our Government is so afraid of the Sun and the Daily Mail that they have to posture in such a ridiculous manner.

Learco Chindamo is not a serial killer (or even a cold-blooded killer). He is not a terrorist. He has not been judged a danger to the community. He is a kid who made a stupid mistake, which he probably deeply regrets.

In this country we enshrine in law a concept of retributive justice, not one of vengeance. I cannot believe that it is necessary to destroy the entire life of a young man who made a tragic mistake at the age of only 15. We have already taken away nearly half his young life. Why do we need to take away his family and his home as well?

***

Much has been said in this case, and others like this, about the rights of the victim. I feel the need to emphasise that I do believe that the victim also has rights, also needs to be treated as human; treated with dignity and respect. Frances Lawrence has experienced a terrible loss, one I can barely imagine. I am deeply sorry for her loss, and the continued pain she must feel as this case is dragged back into the media spotlight again.

Yes, victims have rights. Yes, victims feel a terrible sense of loss, and a deep desire for retribution. But ‘vengeance is mine, says the Lord’.

I don’t say that as a pat answer, it really isn’t. Real justice will never be seen in this age. We have to wait for the True, Just judgement of the one true Judge. Until that time, we trust in the law of the land.

Believe it or not, the laws we have in this country are built on the principle that God will judge, but that until that time someone has to stand in between the family of the victim and the accused. Someone has to deflect the desire for vengeance and retribution and instead dispense some form of imperfect justice, some foreshadow of the justice to come. That is what our courts have done.

Frances Lawrence understandably feels much pain and loss and grief. I feel deeply for her. But because of her deep loss, she is the last person to be able to judge impartially on the fate of the young man who so cruelly snatched away the life of her husband. And those tabloid readers who empathise with her so understandably are similarly misplaced.

We are talking about the life of a young man. One who was but a boy when this crime was committed. Lets stop playing politics with peoples lives.

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5 thoughts on “Life: A Political Commodity

  1. David Webb says:

    Being young and in a gang is no excuse for stabbing someone (repeatedly) who is trying to stop you kicking the shit out of someone else.

    The fact that he’s only got to serve a maximum of 12 years for his crime is ridiculous. How long would he have served if the headmaster hadn’t stepped in and he’d killed the boy they where attacking?

    The thing with the deportation is a hard one to decide. If you’re over here seeking asylum and you commit a crime I think you should be deported straight away. Let them serve their time in their home countries prison system.

    Does he have a British passport? Did he apply for British citizenship before he decided to knife someone to death? If not I say deport him. Let him live out his new “reformed” life in Italy.

  2. I feel that this post slightly mis-represents the actions of Learco Chindamo.

    Doing a quick search to re-familiarise myself with the case I see that Chindamo was suspected in the non-fatal stabbing of John Mills. There was insufficient evidence to charge him but he was named as one of the muggers present when the attack took place.

    Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t involved in the stabbing of John Mills but add to our impression of Chindamo that he was already involved in violent crime.

    I see that when he fatally stabbed Philip Lawrence he was in fact the leader of the gang – not some naive boy that was dragged along with the others because he couldn’t say no to the leader. He /was/ the leader. I see that they didn’t set out to stab the teacher but in fact went there to assault another boy with an iron bar, a 13 year old who went to hospital with head injuries.

    Our understanding of Chindamo then is this:
    He was involved in violent crime before he stabbed Philip Lawrence;
    He was the leader of a gang which assaulted a 13 year old boy with an iron bar about the head – an action which an average 15 year old boy, let alone one already used to violence, would understand could very easily kill that 13 year old boy.

    Would you still class this character, Chindamo, as a ‘boy’?

    I think you are being naive if you believe that he did not have the mental capacity to understand what he was doing when Philip Lawrence was stabbed. While he may have ‘sound-bited’ in the news that he is a reformed character if there is any possibility that he might re-offend, endanger someone else in this country, why should the question as to whether he be deported or not be asked? Has he been judged as now a non-danger or has he just served all the years that the judge gave him?

    Yes the issue has been dressed up by the media, yes you have an idiot sound-bite about human rights but what is the problem with asking the question of deporting him? Keeping him in this country will most likely require him to obtain a new identity and all the associated /expensive/ trappings that go with it. Presumably all his family that he wants to stay in touch with will also require all this expense. Like it or not, deportation will benefit the commmunity (less expense, no possibility of him re-offending); and benefit him (won’t need a new identity, familiy won’t need a new identity, family that choose not to get a new identity will be able to stay in touch).

    I don’t know enough about the case to definitely say whether I think he should be deported or not but I am not throwing my hands up about people asking the question. Sometimes a decision has to be made along the lines of what is best for the majority. That is what laws try to do in essence I believe – benefit the greatest number of people at the time of their enactment. If you find that majority decision unpalettable I’m sorry for that. My personal belief is that there is no ‘god’. I don’t think there is some sort of being that metes out vengeance on his/her/its whim and until some being shows itself and slaps down a definitive “I AM CASTING VENGEANCE ON YOU!” act we’ll just have to do the best we can. If that ever happens you can of course say “I told you so” all you want, providing of course it’s your god that turns out to be the being wreaking vengeance. 😉

    Phew! That was long, and probably inflammatory – let the flames begin…

  3. Ah, Kitty my friend and nemesis, so good to hear from you again 😉
    I’ll do my best to clarify a couple of points that you have mentioned:

    1) I don’t mean to imply that Learco Chindamo is anything other that guilty of a terrible crime. If I haven’t said that clear enough, I’ll say it again: Human life is precious, to take it is the most serious crime we can commit.
    Learco Chindamo is guilty of murder, he has been charged and tried and sentenced and served time for the crime of murder. There is no way he is innocent in this.

    2) The feelings of Frances Lawrence (and many of the public and press) towards Learco Chindamo are legitimate feelings of grief, anger and a desire for retribution. They are in no way illegitimate. But the purpose of the justice arm of the state is to stand between the victim and the perpetrator, to ensure that there is no “eye for an eye” thing going on: to enact some form of (imperfect) justice, rather than vengeance and retribution.

    3) The whole extradition thing is a political matter, driven by the governments desire to appear tough in the media. It is not a question of law (which is enacted by the courts) it is what the government is trying to do outside of and top of the already-outworked provision of law as enacted by the courts and prisons. I do not believe that, if Learco Chindamo’s case were not so in the public eye, the issue of deportation (or for that matter, the need to provide alternate identities) would have come up.

  4. the life story of Mr. Learco Chindamo serves as a lesson to everyone especially the teenagers.. Instead of joining a “GANG” why don’t you guys join some curricular activities.. About the Learco’s case, i think he should stay in UK..he lives their for more than 20years..

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