Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Common sense isn't very common

It is very seldom that something controversial happens in Kilmacolm.

Very seldom.

Yet last week our small town hit the national headlines as the case of pensioner Andrew McConn was picked up by, amongst others, the Daily Record and the Scottish Sun.

For those not familiar with the story, here are the basic facts. Mr McConn, aged 66, attempted to stop a vandal damaging his car. Using nothing more sinister than a bread tray to hit the young man over the head, he found himself being arrested and spent eight hours behind bars after being charged with assault.

It is important to note that at the time of the "assault", the youth had already begun causing damage to Mr McConn's vehicle. Mr McConn also only resorted to using a physically deterrent while he was facing aggressive and threatening behaviour, and had also already advised the youth that there would be legal consequences to pay for the damage caused.

Much has been made in the media about the unnecessary suffering of a "decent...have-a-go hero". Well, I'm sure Mr McConn is thoroughly decent. But that's not the point.

Mr McConn was charged with serious assault and while he was admonished at Greenock Sheriff Court last week, he had to pay hundreds of pounds in legal costs and obviously went through an unnecessarily stressful ordeal to clear his name. Apparently, social workers suggested he should pay the youth compensation, which doesn't seem the logical way to treat the victim of a crime. Ironically, the young man who caused over £1000 of damage to Mr McConn's car was, according to the Daily Record, "let off with just a warning letter".

There needs to be a commonsense approach. Admittedly common sense doesn't appear to be very common. But let's look at what the law actually permits: the use of reasonable force. Having worked for many years in mental health, where regrettably we do sometimes have to use reasonable force, I am more than familiar with what the law permits - and doesn't. So while I have little sympathy for the likes of Tony Martin (who shot trespassers as they were running away from his property), Mr McConn was simply using what most people would consider reasonable force to defend himself and his property.

Really, this shouldn't be a story at all. Mr McConn is the victim not only of an attack on his property but of an illogical and unfeeling justice system. Here was an open and shut case, where the vandalism was even caught on CCTV. Why Mr McConn and his family had to endure legal proceedings is anyone's guess. Not to mention a complete waste of taxpayers' money.

As a fellow Kilmacolm resident, I want our streets to be safe. Generally, they are. People should be commended when they help to ensure the safety of our community, especially when they act according to the law and show considerable restraint in the circumstances (as Mr McConn did). But it's also important that our justice system is respected and works in the public interest - and on this occasion not only has it failed in the latter, but has been made to look out-of-touch and inherently unfair. It's even provided useful ammunition to the "political correctness gone mad" Daily Mail reading brigade.

A final point on this - I noticed Labour supporters were commenting on the Daily Record website on this issue, blaming the SNP government for this outrageous situation. That is quite frankly ridiculous. Firstly, it is wrong to make a political football out of this. Secondly, the problem is not with the law, but the culture in which the law is applied. Legally speaking, Mr McConn acted appropriately but it was the authorities' inability to apply the law logically and view the "assault" in the wider context of the situation. It's not a political issue, but a matter of institutional practices and uncritical bureaucracy within the police service.

Please note that I am away for the remainder of this week and therefore am unlikely to be blogging again until Monday, when I return from the Scottish Lib Dem Conference.

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