On Monday I reprised my old line that "in Britain everything is policed except crime" - and it got a little revival around the Internet in light of two stories. The first was that Peter Goodman, the nincompoop who serves as Chief Constable of the Derbyshire police, had ordered the Derbyshire Constabulary Male Voice Choir to admit women. A male voice choir is a completely different sound, musically speaking, from a mixed choir - just as the Spice Girls would be a different thing if it were ordered to admit Spice Boys. So, after six decades as a police choir, the Derbyshire lads have now had to sever all association with the constabulary. Well done, Mr Goodman!
The second story concerned a 78-year-old pensioner (in Britspeak) arrested on suspicion of murder after fatally stabbing a burglar who'd broken into his home. Even a so-called conservative publication, The Spectator, fretted that it was awfully unfair to the deceased, as there might have been a perfectly innocent explanation as to why he was lurking in another man's house.
And not for the first time, after all these years in New Hampshire, I was struck by the deference even so-called right-wing publications accord ne'er-do-wells. I would not presume to second-guess anyone who finds a stranger in his home and has seconds to determine if the intruder wishes the owner and his wife and children ill. In fact, I wouldn't second-guess myself: I'd act, and leave it till after I'd acted to ponder more benign explanations for his presence. In fact, in this particular case, predictably enough, the intruder was a career criminal on a "most wanted" list. No doubt the Speccie still feels the homeowner should have taken more care merely to trap or neutralize or wound the burglar. That's what the UK authorities call "proportionate response".
I wrote about this in my book The [Un]documented Mark Steyn, personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore. In this essay on "the absence of guns", I noted a spate of crimes against celebrities - Phil Collins, Ridley Scott, Germaine Greer, Britt Ekland - and then, by way of contrast, hailed a celebrity who intervened in a crime. Say what you like about Tom Cruise, but ever since his gallant behavior on a London street I have never mocked those scenes in the Mission: Impossible movies where he sprints down the airfield and leaps up to grab the wing of the departing plane. However, his defense of his London neighbor was done so in reckless disregard of those strictures on "proportionate response":
Celebrity news from the United Kingdom: In April, Germaine Greer, the Australian feminist and author of The Female Eunuch, was leaving her house in East Anglia, when a young woman accosted her, forced her back inside, tied her up, smashed her glasses, and then set about demolishing her ornaments with a poker.
A couple of weeks before that, the 85-year-old mother of Phil Collins, the well-known rock star, was punched in the ribs, the back, and the head on a West London street, before her companion was robbed. "That's what you have to expect these days," she said, philosophically.
Anthea Turner, the host of Britain's top-rated National Lottery TV show, went to see the West End revival of Grease with a friend. They were spotted at the theatre by a young man who followed them out and, while their car was stuck in traffic, forced his way in and wrenched a diamond-encrusted Rolex off the friend's wrist.
A week before that, the 94-year-old mother of Ridley Scott, the director of Alien and other Hollywood hits, was beaten and robbed by two men who broke into her home and threatened to kill her.
Former Bond girl Britt Ekland had her jewelry torn from her arms outside a shop in Chelsea; Formula One Grand Prix racing tycoon and Tony Blair confidante Bernie Ecclestone was punched and kicked by his assailants as they stole his wife's ring; network TV chief Michael Green was slashed in the face by thugs outside his Mayfair home; gourmet chef to the stars Anton Mosimann was punched in the head outside his house in Kensington....
Rita Simmonds isn't a celebrity but, fortunately, she happened to be living next door to one when a gang broke into her home in upscale Cumberland Terrace, a private road near Regent's Park. Tom Cruise heard her screams and bounded to the rescue, chasing off the attackers for 300 yards, though failing to prevent them from reaching their getaway car and escaping with two jewelry items worth around $140,000.
It's just as well Tom failed to catch up with the gang. Otherwise, the ensuing altercation might have resulted in the diminutive star being prosecuted for assault. In Britain, criminals, police, and magistrates are united in regarding any resistance by the victim as bad form. The most they'll tolerate is "proportionate response"–and, as these thugs had been beating up a defenseless woman and posed no threat to Tom Cruise, the Metropolitan Police would have regarded Tom's actions as highly objectionable. "Proportionate response" from the beleaguered British property owner's point of view, is a bit like a courtly duel where the rules are set by one side: "Ah," says the victim of a late-night break-in, "I see you have brought a blunt instrument. Forgive me for unsheathing my bread knife. My mistake, old boy. Would you mind giving me a sporting chance to retrieve my cricket bat from under the bed before clubbing me to a pulp, there's a good chap?"
No wonder, even as they're being pounded senseless, many British crime victims are worrying about potential liability. A few months ago, Shirley Best, owner of the Rolander Fashion boutique whose clients include the daughter of the Princess Royal, was ironing some garments when two youths broke in. They pressed the hot iron into her side and stole her watch, leaving her badly burnt. "I was frightened to defend myself," said Miss Best. "I thought if I did anything I would be arrested."
And who can blame her? Shortly before the attack, she'd been reading about Tony Martin, a Norfolk farmer whose home had been broken into and who had responded by shooting and killing the teenage burglar. He was charged with murder. In April, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment–for defending himself against a career criminal in an area where the police are far away and reluctant to have their sleep disturbed. In the British Commonwealth, the approach to policing is summed up by the motto of Her Majesty's most glamorous constabulary: The Mounties always get their man–i.e., leave it to us. But these days in the British police, when they can't get their man, they'll get you instead: Frankly, that's a lot easier, as poor Mr. Martin discovered.
That's a brief excerpt from "In the Absence of Guns", which appears in my book The [Un]documented Mark Steyn, personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore.
I'll be back later this evening to launch the latest of our nightly radio serials in Tales for Our Time. It's a corker, I think you'll agree. Tales for Our Time is one of our bonus features for Mark Steyn Club members. If you like the thought of classic audio fiction, there's still time to sign up and enjoy not only this brand new adaptation but our entire catalogue of cracking tales by Kipling, Conrad, Conan Doyle, H G Wells and many more. You can find more details about The Mark Steyn Club here - and, if you've a pal of literary bent who'd be tickled by our nightly audio adventures, don't forget our limited-time Gift Membership.