The silent man of Swansea and St Margaret of York: muteness, malice and mercilessness

An unusual trial took place in Swansea last week. Forty-eight year old David Hampson was convicted of breaching a criminal behaviour order and sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment. Mr Hampson’s peculiar modus operandi is to stand in the middle of a busy Swansea street and stop the traffic. It is annoying but not terribly serious behaviour. But he has been doing it since 2014. For his first offence he was given a conditional discharge, a magisterial slap on the wrist. He immediately re-offended again, and then again, and in due course was convicted in the Crown Court of the more serious offence of public nuisance. In an attempt to stop him once and for all, he was imprisoned and made the subject of a criminal behaviour order. This meant that if he obstructed traffic again he would face a possible maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. It made not the slightest difference. As soon as he was released he proceeded to stop the traffic again, “draping himself over a Royal Mail van with his arms outstretched and his face pressed up against the windscreen.” Continue reading “The silent man of Swansea and St Margaret of York: muteness, malice and mercilessness”

The more effective torture is, the more important it is that it should be banned

The question, as counsel love to say to witnesses wrestling with an unfair question, is a simple one:

If a nuclear time bomb is ticking away at an undisclosed central London location, is it morally permissible to torture somebody to discover its location so that it can be disarmed?

In real life the chances of any choice being as clear cut as the “ticking bomb” scenario are all but non-existent. The situation bears little more relationship to reality than a school debate about whether Stephen Hawking or Alan Bennett should be the first to be thrown out of the balloon.

Would we be sure that there really was a nuclear bomb?

Would we be sure that we had the right man?

Would we be sure that torture was the most effective way of extracting the information?

Nevertheless, if the dilemma is posed as starkly as a straight choice between water-boarding an individual, or a nuclear holocaust for millions, the answer to whether we should inflict torture is surely an unequivocal “yes”. In such an hypothetical situation it would be absurd to scruple over the infliction of pain on an individual if the certain consequence of doing so was death to millions.

Does it follow then, that the law should allow interrogators, such as those employed by the CIA, or even MI6, to use torture? Continue reading “The more effective torture is, the more important it is that it should be banned”