Thursday, July 02, 2009

Iconic Crimes

It's been strange to see recent mention two crimes that have featured in the media for over 40 years. The Moors murders still send a chill down the spine, and it was particularly sad to hear that the search for Keith Bennett's body - the last undiscovered victim of Brady and Hindley - is to cease. The police have exhausted all avenues of enquiry, including trying to identify the landscape from photos seemingly taken near a grave. Unless new evidence comes to light, or new technology opens up other possibilities, there are no further options.

Back in 1980s, information from Hindley and Brady enabled police to find Pauline Reade, but Keith's body remains undiscovered, despite extensive excavations on the moor. Hindley died in 2002, leaving Brady as the only living witness to the location. Keith's mother, Winnie Johnson, gave an emotional plea for more information from Ian Brady - the one person who might be able to help her. He has indicated that he can remember the place and could identify it, but won't cooperate with the police. At 76 Winnie Johnson just wants to bury her son before she dies. I hope she gets the chance.

The following day's news reported that the great train robbery of 1963 has surfaced with the question of parole for Ronnie Biggs. Biggs notoriously escaped from prison, escaping to Brazil, only returning to the UK as an elderly unwell man. He has just been denied parole by Jack Straw as he has been deemed "wholly unrepentant" (remarkably religious terminology for a legal decision). Although originally given a 30 year sentence, I think it is correct that Biggs has now served more time in prison than any of the other gang members, and he had a lesser role in the robbery than others. His escape, media profile and apparent enjoyment of his celebrity have obviously counted against him.

On the face of it, it's hard to see what damage an ill 79 year old is likely to do to society. Do we really need to spend money accommodating him in a cell that is in great demand? And what defines appropriate repentance? His is supposed to have expressed regret in a book published in the 1990s. On the other hand, justice needs to be done and needs to be seen to be done. A tricky calculation for the relevant authorities when it is appealed. Brady will certainly die in jail, but whether Biggs should seems to me a rather different question.

1 comment:

Michael Gradwell said...

I agree with you. It is correct that Biggs should be given the longest sentence of all the gang members. Generally I see the primary role of prison as rehabilitation. If it is punishment then we have created criminal universities in which the ones coming out are worse than the ones going in. As an individual it may make no difference whether Biggs is in prison or released, but I will make an exception in his case and say punishment is the most important aspect. This man celebrated his freedom and could do with some repentance