Tag Archives: crime

Something must be done

Just because something must be done, it does not follow that the thing you can think of to do is the right answer. I’m in a state of rage and distress as I write this because the something being done is that trees are being cut down. This won’t solve the problem even slightly.

Some weeks ago, a woman was attacked, in broad daylight not far from where I live. This is an awful thing to have happened. She was in a public space, in the middle of the day – she’s one of those women who even the most enthusiastic victim blamer would struggle to find fault with, but like too many other women, she’s been attacked. Trees played no part in what happened, and their absence would not have kept her safe. But the response has been to cut down all the nearby trees.

What are we going to do if someone else is attacked fifty yards further down the path? Keep cutting down trees? It makes no sense. It’s a move that lets people feel like they are doing something, but as the something in question helps no one and prevents nothing, this is an expensive kind of injustice. It’s a loss of life, of habitat, and no one is made safer by it.

The tunnel where the attack happened was left without lights for months thanks to vandalism and inaction. That was a real hazard. The one laurel tree that had grown substantially under the one street lamp was an issue that legitimately needed tackling, but that was all.

Safety from attack is not about cutting down trees. We need to treat victims a lot better and prosecute more effectively. We need to challenge rape culture. Trees are not the reason people feel able or inclined to attack other people. Cutting down the trees does not cut down the crime – quite possibly the opposite given what we know about the impact of trees on reducing all kinds of criminality.

The Perfect Criminal

Like a lot of people, I am attracted to stories about certain kinds of criminals. The Robin Hood model, robbing the rich to help the poor is always a thing – smugglers, highwaymen, pirates and the such tend to fall into that category. Anyone who was outlawed for political reasons. Also the vigilantes and people for whom there can otherwise be no justice unless they take matters into their own hands. It’s not ideal, but when the system itself kills and steals, what choice is there but to break the law?

In practice, these are not the criminals who routinely get away with it. Those who can bribe their way out of a situation and those who have friends in high places remain the ones most able to get away with criminal activity. 

Here in the UK there’s a lot of evidence of bribe taking in the highest places. Inappropriate and illegal foreign donations to political parties. Invitations to pay for luxuries suggest corruption. Massive contracts going to the friends of those in power, only for those friends not to be able to deliver in the slightest. What happened to the billions of pounds we invested in a track and trace system? And yet, despite this evidence, nothing seems to be changing. Many people don’t even seem to mind.

We’ve bought into a story that says a certain kind of person is entitled to have a great deal of wealth. The person who claims they can barely make ends meet on eighty grand a year, but who thinks poor people can reasonably feed themselves for 30p a meal. The people who are entitled to have their heating bills paid for them while they do nothing about the suffering of people who can no longer afford heating. 

Are they better than the rest of us? Is the man with multiple children by different partners but who went to Eton somehow intrinsically better than the man with multiple children by different partners who lives on a council estate? Why is the person who takes a few billion from the public purse to give to a family member somehow more acceptable than the person who steals someone’s purse for the few quid in it? Why do we allow ourselves to be persuaded that the criminal in the expensive (if ill fitting) suit somehow doesn’t have to follow the same rules as everyone else?

The perfect criminal takes more than they need. They feel no shame and no regret. If anyone dares to question it, the newspapers can be expected to justify the crime. The police will find there’s nothing to investigate, or that it isn’t in the public interest. The perfect criminal can steal and kill in plain sight with no consequences, because the system belongs to them. After all, if you have taken control of the electoral commission, it’s hardly likely that body is going to question any aspect of how you run an election. 

The perfect criminal is the one who can send you to prison for protesting against their crimes. Currently that doesn’t extend to writing blog posts.

Crime and Community

Last week when I posted about writing a murder mystery, HonourTheGodsBlog came in with some powerful comments. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I’ve no first hand experience of how murder impacts on people. I was however a teen in Gloucestershire during the Fred West case, and that certainly had a widespread impact on many people in the area, not only those who were directly affected.

Crime is something we tend to treat as a very individual issue – with individual perpetrators and individual victims. It remains difficult to do anything about situations of negligence that harm people in more subtle ways. If a person steals because they are hungry, then framing the crime as the theft, and not the hunger has significant implications.

I’ve poked around in this as an issue before – it’s something I raised in the novel Letters Between Gentleman – which had a Victorian setting. The deaths of workers in factories and as a result of industrial processes was widespread, but it wasn’t considered to be murder. That’s a political choice with a lot of implications. We’ve seen considerable improvements in labour laws, but we aren’t currently looking at the enormous damage to health and quality of life caused by work stress and insecure work. It’s not like beating someone up in an alley, except that in some ways, it’s exactly like beating someone up in an alley.

We don’t treat wage theft by companies with anything like the attention we might give to someone who stole from the till. Politicians don’t end up in court when their policies cause people to starve to death, or freeze to death, or die homeless on the streets. Even when the lines of cause and effect are perfectly clear, we don’t treat these deaths as crimes or as murders. We’re more likely to take to court someone who killed accidentally and do them for manslaughter than we are to challenge someone whose policy has demonstrably killed multiple people. 

The difficulty is that murder is framed as the intentional killing of a specific person. We aren’t really set up to deal with the deliberate killing of non-specific people. We’ve got international laws about doing it based on race, but nothing to hold to account someone whose deliberate and knowing choices result in the deaths of thousands of elderly people in care homes. 

Learning and Punishment

When young children get things wrong, it is because they don’t know better. The younger the child, the more obvious this should be. They may not grasp the cause and effect issues. They may have been curious, or bored – both of which are innocent conditions. If a small child messes up, they need educating, not punishing. 

At some point, a person becomes capable of malice and deliberate cruelty. But what if we saw this primarily as an education problem, not a reason for punishment? I have no qualms about the idea of using short, sharp interventions to reduce the amount of harm or danger in a situation, (better you do something unpleasant than they tease the dog until it bites them, for example) but on the whole, what is punishing a child really about?

Are we punishing them for not having understood why something was important? Should it be their responsibility if they haven’t grasped why something matters?

Punishment has more to do with asserting authority and teaching obedience than it has to do with helping a person learn, grow and do better. Children will tend to respond to arbitrary authority either by increasing their resistance to it, or by hiding better. Punishment leads to fear and/or resentment. A child who has ‘learned’ to behave through punishment is likely to have learned about what to hide to survive, but they won’t necessarily think there’s any other value in what they’ve learned.

I think much the same is true of adults. Punishment does not discourage people from committing crime. Education and opportunity are far more effective on this score. If people don’t understand their rights and responsibilities, locking them up won’t fix that. Punishment doesn’t restore anything to the victim, either. It doesn’t actually achieve much for anyone and it has a high financial and social cost. What punishment does allow, be that at home or in a society, is for some people to have power over other people. Punishment has much more to do with the assertion of power and the reinforcing of hierarchies than it does with solving problems or fixing behaviour.

Punishment teaches that the person with the most power in a situation can dish out punishment on their own terms. The person with the least power is the person it will be easiest to punish. The rich and powerful are often very good at avoiding punishment, while any crime punishable by a fine was only ever intended to hurt poor people. What punishment leads to is the understanding that having power is more important than being right, or good. This does nothing to tackle crimes motivated by desperation. It also fuels the kind of crime that is driven by the desire to have power over others.

Community and Crime

I’m working on a book about darkness (You can get regular instalments of my progress over on Patreon – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB ). The relationship between darkness and crime, light and crime prevention is something I’ve been looking at. I recently came across a study that suggested some really interesting things. Apparently lighting tends to reduce crime in areas, but that the crime reduction applies to the day as well as the night, so the impact of light improvement isn’t actually about visibility, necessary.

This got me thinking about other studies I’ve seen about the way tree planting impacts on crime. I’ve blogged about this before. Put in trees and crime reduces. We’re less violent when we have trees. It strikes me that these things may well be related. In both cases what might be happening is a feeling that a space is valued, and by extension, the people in the space are valued. Investment in community infrastructure could well have an impact on peoples’ sense of self worth.

Quite a lot of crime is opportunistic and not especially planned. What kinds of feelings do you have to have about a place and its people to go in for opportunistic crime? If you felt more engaged, more involved, more like part of a community, would that work the same way? Regeneration projects tend to increase feelings of involvement and engagement, especially when people are involved and not just having it done to them.

What happens when we see ourselves as connected? What happens when we’re given opportunities for cooperation and have shared spaces we can use communally? Perhaps how people treat spaces and each other isn’t intrinsic to said people, and has more to do with how the space impacts on them. We are influenced by our environments, and the spaces we spend time are full of messages about who we are and what we can expect. Most of those messages are absorbed unconsciously. If your environment gives you constant messages of isolation and worthlessness, what are the odds of you feeling warm, positive and generous towards your surroundings and fellows?

Planting trees. Having well considered street lighting. How we shape our shared spaces may be key to the kinds of relationships we have with each other.

How not to be a victim

So much advice about safety and avoiding crime is about how not to be a victim. We teach girls how to avoid sexual assault while investing little or no time teaching boys that is their responsibility not to assault girls. Victim blaming, and misplacing the responsibility has massive consequences.

Part of what we teach when we teach people to stay safe, is that it is the victim’s behaviour that causes or attracts the crime. If I was assaulted when walking across town alone at night, it would be understood that I had been assaulted because I was walking across town alone at night. We tell each other that it is just common sense to take safety precautions without examining what the safety stories actually do.

If your clothes, or where you happen to be make you a target, then we’re telling each other that the criminals can’t help themselves. They have no defence against a woman in a short skirt, or a person who is alone and looks worth mugging. We apply this more to the victim of sexual assault than we do to the mugging victim. We tell a story that says crime is responsive. It can’t resist your open window, your unlocked car, your low cut top. If you can’t expect people to avoid temptation, you tell a story that we’re all basically awful and that perhaps any of us would do the wrong thing given the chance. That’s affirming to those who are inclined to harm others.

This is an especially pernicious idea when it comes to sexual assault. We are too quick to ask what a person could have done to avoid being a victim. Every time we do this, we send out a message that we don’t really expect people to resist temptation. Every ‘stay safe’ message carries a subtext that the woman who isn’t staying safe is pretty much asking for it. Every time we ask what the victim was wearing, we give credence to the idea that clothes justify assault. We reinforce the idea that we cannot expect men to control themselves if they see a woman in a sexy outfit. We keep perpetuating the idea that anyone faced with an attractive woman in an appealing outfit might feel the urge to do something criminal to her. We normalise it.

Too often, we lose the key facts here. 100% of rapes are caused by rapists. All abuse is caused by abusers. Theft is a consequence of people stealing – not of what security measures you had in place. We don’t talk about the likelihood of your attacker being known to you – that you are more likely to be harmed by someone you trusted than by a stranger on the streets. All those safety measures we are encouraged to take don’t work if you’re dealing with someone you thought you could trust.

It’s hard to live fully if you have to organise your life to avoid becoming a victim. Many women are doing this. We need to be much clearer that the responsibility for crime does not lie with the victim, but the perpetrator. Here in the UK, we really need the police to stop telling people what to do to stay safe (invariably aimed at women) and to start being a lot clearer about the legal responsibilities of perpetrators and the things that you are not allowed to do to another human being, no matter what they were wearing at the time.

The best way to avoid being a victim, is not to have anyone feel entitled to attack you. Until we dismantle the things in our culture that create those feelings of entitlement to attack, no amount of doing things to try and stay safe can actually guarantee your safety.

Druid in conflict

I’ve seen too many occasions of Druids, or people in the wider Pagan community getting into conflict and results being messy, damaging and often aggravated by the wider community. Last year I feel we got it more right than not around Druid Camp issues, so, drawing on a range of experiences, I want to talk about how we handle conflict, because mostly we get this wrong.
Something happens. Usually the two or more people involved know what it was, but they may understand it in very different ways. Thanks to the internet, some aspect of the conflict goes public. One party will likely claim to be a victim of the other. The second party almost always then says that it is the other way round and they are the victim. Now, thus far what we have is pretty normal human behaviour in conflict. I’ve been there. Hurt, angry, in pain, suffering, maybe wanting to lash out, or get some justice, or even the score. It would be nice if even in our darkest and most wounded moments we all could behave like super enlightened people, but realistically, we won’t. Some slack cutting and patience with hurt people helps a lot. We all go there, sooner or later.

However, everyone not directly involved has a lot more scope for calm, clarity and reason. What do we do? We pile in, take sides, make accusations, and most often we demand evidence. We don’t seem to ask what on earth kind of evidence could be presented to us on a social networking website such that we would believe it. Often our own history and baggage comes into play, or our feelings about one or both people. Loyalty to friends is a good thing, but increasing the conflict in a situation is not, so if you are the friend of a person who is hurting, sabre rattling is not going to help them, and picking fights with those who are on ‘the other side’ will only serve to spread the pain, widen the divide, and reduce the hope of resolution.

From the outside, we cannot know what happened. It may be crossed wires and it may be that it could be fixed, with some intelligent intervention and a bit of good will. It could be honest misunderstanding, or confusion, or misinterpretation or a whole bunch of things of that ilk that do not mean either party is evil. Most often the problem is that two flawed human being accidently banged their shortcomings together. Sometimes it is clearer that there could be a genuine victim and a genuine aggressor, but when all you have is one word against another, that’s difficult to tell, especially which way round it is. There may be times when you think you know what you’re seeing. This is why we have the police and law courts and juries – a flawed system that cannot, it should be noticed, handle many of the conflict-of-story cases. But it’s what we’ve got, and trial by public speculation is not a reasonable alternative.

If there is a criminal issue, then you have to treat it like one and encourage the party claiming to be injured to make an approach to the police. If it’s not a criminal level of problem, then what you have is an issue to deal with. Anger and escalation can take you from a dispute into a criminal situation – threats, libel and so forth. No one benefits when those lines are crossed.

No matter who was right and who was wrong, you have two people with problems. Both will need help and support. It may be that one of them has done something appalling, but that doesn’t mean they need demonising. It means they need support from their community to seek help, learn, change, grow or make amends. Druidry is supposed to be about restorative justice. We need to look after the more deluded and messed up members of our communities, too.

So, when you hit a conflict situation, try and avoid using language that will inflame it. Don’t bother demanding evidence, that’s pointless and just makes people feel worse. They can’t give you evidence on facebook. Live with it. If the accusations have a criminal element, it should be a police matter, and it is appropriate and productive to say this. Then, if people are mouthing off, they may be startled into getting some perspective and if they aren’t, they will feel supported in taking necessary action. Where possible, encourage people to step back, and get calm before they do anything stupid. Angry hurting people make mistakes that they would not make as calm people. Try to establish calm.

If you are in a place to listen respectfully to both sides such that you can figure out what is happening and put it straight, there may be useful work to do. I mentioned issues around Druid Camp before, and that was handled well by the wider community, on the whole. Problems were aired and dealt with, all parties had good support, lessons were learned.

It is not an expression of modern Druidry to want to be judge, jury and executioner. It is not Druidry to enter a space of conflict and make it worse. We have to walk our talk with this stuff, we have to take care of our communities and deal with conflicts in responsible ways.

A funeral for Mary

We’ll have a funeral for Mary
Who was buried in the jail
Procession now and fine tombstone
With mourners come to wail.

Who spoke for you, dear Mary,
When you languished in the cell?
The world bar one accused you
Promised you the fires of hell.

Only Henry, ever trusting
Only Henry, your sweetheart
Did not doubt in your virtue
Stalwart, steady, took your part.

Plain Miss Jones declared against you
Thinking she would claim your man
If they punished you for murder
Jealousy would see you hang.

Old Miss Blunt, forever sleeping
Cannot say who struck the blow
If a thief came through her window
Or her servant from below.

Storm and strife struck you that evening
Plans and dreams all stripped away
As you old mistress was slaughtered
For your blood the neighbours bray.

Only Henry, ever faithful
Would not think the worst of you,
Fought to keep you from the gallows
Never doubted, ever true.

They took you to the scaffold
You sought mercy at each turn
Blamed for a brutal murder
But your truth they did not learn.

Now they’ve found the men who slew her
Eagerly did they confess,
And Miss Jones is chased to exile
Your poor bones do others bless.

Now your Henry, always loyal
Leads your funeral parade
Your wronged corpse resurrected
Only finds another grave.

This is a true story, Mary from Littledean was hanged in Gloucester jail for a crime she was adamant she did not commit. Some years later the real murderers were found, but of course by then it was too late for her. When I read the story in Lyn Cinderey’s ‘Paranormal Gloucester’ I thought it sounded like it should be a folk song. Perhaps one day I’ll put a tune to it. In the meantime, my thanks to Lyn for the inspiration. I’m anti capital punishment, for all the reasons this poem flags up.

Confessions of compassion fail

Forgive me blogosphere, for I have sinned. It has been 24 hours since my last confession. Give or take. I have failed to hold a compassionate attitude towards my fellow human beings. I have allowed myself to feel anger and resentment towards my government, and to assume that their behaviour represents the prejudices of the rich against the poor. Am I any less prejudiced than they? I cannot begin to imagine the burdens and trials that immense wealth must bring, or how hard it must be deciding to cut benefits rather than going after corporate tax dodgers.

This morning I have succumbed to anger, and considered writing a class-war tirade against those who have so much and begrudge the smallest generosity to those who have almost nothing. But am I any better? I, who would take away from those who enjoy the fortunes they have inherited, the educational advantages of rich parents and a leg up from the Old Boys Network. I would, if given the power, cut them down to size a bit and require them to have standards of living more commensurate with that of some of their less affluent neighbours. I do not wish to see them suffer, I would not wish them the poverty of benefit dependence.

And of course they must have good reasons for removing housing benefit from the under twenty fives. I’m sure they’ll make an exception for the ones who have no living parents to run home to, the ones who have been in social care all their lives, have no family they can safely return to, and whose educations have probably been undermined by being moved about a lot. They don’t mean those people under the age of twenty five, do they? Only the undeserving ones. So who would those be? The ones who didn’t get to go to the top school or get the best results and cannot find jobs? The ones who selfishly went to university and are now burdened with debt, and unemployed, and want to live somewhere they might find work? Inconsiderate swine, scrounging off the people who never had to lift a finger to get their head start in the world. Despicable! Or all those girls who went out and got themselves pregnant (stop a moment consider what that phrase means) and only got pregnant to get a council house and more benefits. Because we all know when you’re poor, undereducated and female, the only way you can get on in the world is through pregnancy and benefits. Living the high life on a few hundred pounds a week. Doing outrageously self indulgent things, like eating, and buying clothes for your child. Everyone knows that poor children don’t really need shoes. It’s character building for them to go without. Wouldn’t you agree, Mr Cameron?

Oh, guide me, wise ones, how do I feel greater compassion for the rich and spoiled men who want to ush in a new Victorian era? I admit, I like steampunk, I have worn a corset, I own some George Eliot novels. But the Victorian era illustrates so well what happens when the only way to make ends meet legitimately, for the poorest, means long, exhausting shifts, or multiple jobs, because the wages won’t pay the rent. Sound familiar?  It means families crammed into too small spaces, and children sent out to work. Chimney sweeps, at all, Mr Cameron? When being poor and decent means a life of drudgery, slavery and misery, people consider their options. The Victorian era was not a crime free period. It was also a time when prostitution rates were terrifyingly high. Forgive me, blogosphere for I have imagined that spoiled, wealthy rich boys might enjoy the idea of there being more prostitutes. Just because historically they were the ones paying the most to use women, boys, children, doesn’t mean that’ll hold true now, does it?

In the Victorian era, Christianity and its values still had a lot of influence. We have generations who have grown up being told that materialism rules, that wealth matters, that they are entitled to health, education and a job. What are they going to do when you pull the rug out from under their feet, Mr Cameron? Perhaps you don’t know that wealth is not created by the rich, it is derived from the labours of the poor. Real wealth, that is, not the kind of imaginary money games your old school chums and buddies are playing in ‘The City’. What happens, Mr Cameron, when people can no longer afford homes, and can no longer afford to feed their children? Perhaps you think this century’s people are sufficiently tamed with ciabatta and television. What progress we have since the days of bread and circuses! Perhaps you think a host of magical pixies will come and make it ok. Maybe you’re hoping for a pandemic to kill off the weakest ones and cut the running costs. I notice you’re closing hospitals. I guess the more people just do the decent thing and die, the easier it will be for you to balance the books. How hard this must all be for you!

But I think you’ll find this isn’t a nation of sheep, and that even sheep will fight back if they think you’re going to kill them, or harm their offspring. The future you are making, Mr Cameron, is not one in which people generally are likely to love or respect you. There’s nothing like desperation to make people do unpleasant and antisocial things. Remember Marie Antoinette? Mussolini hanging from a lamp post. The fate of those who betray their people is not always a happy one. I really hope we don’t end up there. Perhaps I can feel just the teensiest bit sorry for you after all; maybe that fine education of yours didn’t cover the causes of revolution.

Justice, the follow up

I’ve been pondering Red’s comments on Contemplating Justice, again and felt it needed more response than a note back. I’ve also had input from Tom, whose take on the justice issue I want to share.


Red commented about the primacy of relationship in her understanding of things, and a dislike of the authority inherent in the language of justice, and its incompatibility with anarchic principles.


My first feeling is that anarchy, like communism and many other beautiful ideas only work when all the people involved are working consciously and ethically in the same way. Wonderful aspirations, but not consistent with how many people are. It only takes one user or abuser to make such an approach fail. My second feeling is that relationship is not always quite such a straightforward option. In the Stone age village in my head, the whole community exists in relationship, but I’ve never lived in that situation. I’ve probably not known the people who stole from me. Often my only ‘relationship’ in threatening circumstances comes from being on the receiving end of something I don’t want. For the kidnapped child, the raped woman, the guy stabbed by a stranger, there has been no relationship with the attacker, no chance to avoid harm, and personally I see no reason for someone who wounds or kills a stranger to get away with that unchallenged. I recognise this means that I want there to be a degree of authority and power able to respond in some way to those who are not able to manage their own behaviour well for the rest of the tribe.


All life causes harm, but my thoughts around making justice an inherent part of relationship, had everything to do with my own desire to reduce the harm I cause. Red spoke of beetles accidentally squashed.  I mostly walk and cycle. I stop for beetles. No doubt I squish a few, but it’s not a bad example, the intent and effort to avoid causing harm is, for me at least, a recognition of the injustice that would be inherent in my killing something by not paying attention. No matter how hard we try, we will cause harm, but the more attention we pay, the less accidental, needless, pointless, careless harm-causing there should be. I think it’s got to be worth a shot.


But where there is no relationship outside of the harm-causing event, I do think community action, authoritative intervention is called for. Every three days a woman is killed by her abusive partner. Every ten days a child is killed by an abusive parent – and that doesn’t count death by neglect, that’s just murder figures. Relationships they could manage? I doubt the children had much say in it. Numbers for child murders by postnatally depressed women have been radically reduced by support and medication. I feel I have a duty to support a system that in any way tries to prevent that kind of thing from happening in the first place. That kind of justice – preventative justice – is increasingly part of how I understand my druid path. That’s not about individual relationship, but about whole community relationship and how we support each other. With so many people involved, we have no hope of doing that without some degree of structure. I believe we should hold a degree of responsibility for each other’s wellbeing. And yes, this is justice by humans and for humans. That which is human is also natural and we are not the only creatures able to reward or punish each other.


Tom pointed out to me that culturally we tend to view things in terms of success and failure, and that this impacts on our understanding of justice too. I am a clever person, I know this because I have lots of money and have never been a victim of crime. Victims are too naïve to protect themselves, bring it upon themselves, or are stupid. Take 2: I am successful because I have earned  lots of money off the backs of other people’s work. I am cleverer than them and therefore entitled. Take 3: I am successful, I have a lot of money because I have miss-sold a lot of products and gambled with other people’s savings, and thank you, yes I will take that bonus this year as well. Take: 4 I am successful because last night I broke into your house and stole all your valuable electrical goods, and I am too smart to be caught by the police.


We are so quick to blame the victims for not doing enough to protect themselves from crime. We are willing to see it as predators and prey, as it being natural to predate. The weak are fair game, because they are weak. Success is all about the bank balance, not about being a good human being. And until we’ve tackled that, as a whole culture, it’s going to remain very hard to think about justice at all.