Overheard in a pub toilet recently: one side of a phone conversation.
“No, listen to me.”
“No mum, you’ve got to do it. Listen, she’s a psychopath. She was going to burn the house down.”
“No, no, you don’t understand. I can’t do it myself. I can’t face prison.”
“Please, mum, do it for me.”
“If I do it I’ll end up hitting her. I can’t do time for her, mum.”
“No, please. No, no. You’ve got to dump her. They’d send me to prison, you know they would.”
“You know what she’s like, mum, and I can’t do it. I’m not doing time again mum.”
I left, as quickly as I could, unsure whether to laugh or be afraid.
The big news of the day: convicted child-killer Ian Huntley will not get parole until at least 2042. It’s even bigger news here, because it counts as a Local Story. After lunch, it was all anybody in the office could talk about. According to legend, Huntley had done some business at the office a few years ago, whilst he still lived in the area. There’s no trace of it in our databases, but naturally everybody who has worked there since that time claimed they had a distinct memory of him, even though he would have been instinguishable, then, from almost everyone else who has rung the doorbell.
“Oooh, they should lock him up for good,” people said, “after what he did.” “Forty years isn’t enough!” said other people. Everyone seemed convinced: there was no way a 40-year-plus sentence was long enough for him. Everybody was very sure of themselves.
I kept quiet at the office, because I’m doomed to never feel sure of myself on issues like this. No doubt all these people talking are far more experienced than the judge, and no doubt they all know far more about Ian Huntley than the judge does too. Unfortunately, I don’t. I have no idea about criminal sentencing, and I’m entirely willing to admit that Mr Justice Moses probably knows much more about it than I do. All I know is that forty years and more is a very, very long time.