Norman Scarth, 85-year-old war hero, abused at Her Majesty’s pleasure
For whatever reason, Norman Scarth, a naval war veteran who helped defeat the forces of Fascism and Nazism, decided to make a covert audio recording of a particular hearing. His Grace doesn’t know why, but neither is he concerned: Mr Scarth broke the law; of that there is no doubt. But six months incarceration for an 85-year-old is rather like subjecting Oscar Wilde to a few years' hard labour: it breaks the man. And when you consider that some of our former MPs who fiddled the taxpayer of tens of thousands of pounds were sentenced to less, there is slight disquiet and sense of disproportionality.
Like millions of Europeans today, Mr Scarth is dissatisfied (an understatement) with the powers that be and with the increasing loss of freedom and democracy. And it appears he has form. Two years ago a senior judge branded him a ‘sordid public nuisance’ who shouted ‘anything, however offensive, insulting, threatening, racist, homophobic, sexist, or downright barmy’ in order to get a local election result overturned. Richard Mawrey QC told him that he was a ‘crazed old man’ who subjected voters to ‘manic abuse’:
Judge Mawrey described Mr Scarth as a man convinced he was the victim of a conspiracy, which was tested further upon conviction of wounding in 2001 and served four years in prison, followed by two years in a psychiatric hospital.And so we are in the intractable dichotomy of one side believing that the politicians, police and courts are overly authoritarian, subverting democracy and limiting freedom, while the other contends that the state authorities are upholding democracy in the righteous exercise of power.
He said: “In Mr Scarth’s universe he is the noble fighter for justice and the rule of law who, despite appalling levels of official persecution, has refused to be silenced and continues the struggle, bloody but unbowed. In the real world, inhabited by the rest of us, Mr Scarth is a disturbed, clearly paranoid and occasionally violent old man who is a persistent minor public irritant.”
His Grace would like to remind Richard Mawrey QC of the words of Lord Justice Sedley on 23rd July 1999, who championed the rights of people to express their views, and quoted Socrates and two famous Quakers in doing so. There is no breach of the peace if what is said is merely offensive. Lord Justice Sedley said: “Free speech includes not only the offensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, providing it does not tend to provoke violence.”
The world has seen too many examples of state control and censorship of unofficial utterances. Mr Scarth may well be offensive, irritating, contentious, eccentric, heretical, unwelcome and provocative, but it is His Grace’s judgement that society is all the better for such people: freedom reigns while they spout their views. We draw the line at prejudice, irrational discrimination or incitement to violence. Or we used to, before Labour introduced the concept of ‘hate speech’.
That aside, His Grace has been informed that Mr Scarth is having a hard time of it. His friends and supporters are becoming increasingly concerned for his wellbeing and safety. His Grace will set aside the irrational ramblings of his treatment being akin to a ‘gulag’ or ‘worse than the gas chambers’, for such absurd hyperbole does not help the cause. As we know, the blogosphere is replete with all that is hyped-up, exaggerated, fabricated and distorted.
The issue here is that Norman Scarth is apparently being treated inhumanely. While we bend over backwards to accommodate Islamic prayers and keep bacon off the menu; while we free the Lockerbie-bombing mass murderer on compassionate grounds; while we rush out to buy Kentucky Fried Chicken for escaped prisoners encamped on the prison roof – all to preserve their inviolable ‘human rights’ – we incarcerate our own war veterans with little regard for their humanity and dignity. Mr Scarth clearly believes that he is serving his country by his actions: the prison authorities are allegedly depriving him of medication and torturing him by keeping him in solitary confinement in a cold cell and forcing him to exercise for an hour every day or not at all. At 85, an hour of exercise is beyond his physical ability.
Mr Scarth is due to spend Christmas behind bars, and not scheduled for release until 25th January 2012. Here is his address should you wish to write to him:
2 Gloucester Terrace
His Grace is informed that the prison authorities filter the mail, so it cannot be overly political in nature (though it is not at all clear what must be censored). He is also informed that the only politician to have shown any interest in this case is the Liberal Democrat John Hemming MP. Good for him. We are constantly told that our prisons are so bursting at the seams and that we must consider plea-bargaining and early release for murderers, rapists and paedophiles. And yet this frail, old man is doing time because he recording a court hearing. Was there really no alternative?