Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Case of Ched Evans

A post on this particular subject has been brewing for a while, so I thought I'd finally give it some air.

I imagine most people are familiar with this sorry tale, but I'll give a brief summary for those who aren't. Ched Evans is a former professional football player who was convicted of raping a 19-year-old woman. He appealed against this conviction, but the conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal. He was sentenced to five years in prison in April 2012, and was released on parole in October 2014 after serving half of his sentence.

Evans was accused of raping the victim along with another footballer, Clayton McDonald. They both admitted having sex with the woman, but testified that it was consensual. The prosecution argued that the victim was too intoxicated at the time to consent. McDonald was acquitted. Evans was convicted. Evans continues to maintain his innocence - he argues that he had sex with the woman, but that it was consensual, the same grounds on which McDonald was acquitted. His conviction is currently under review by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates potential miscarriages of justice.

As the matter stands at the current time, Evans was duly convicted by fair trial in a court of law. Beyond reasonable doubt, he is guilty of the rape of a 19-year-old woman. Until the outcome of the CCRC investigation is known, these have to be taken as facts.

Following his release from prison, Evans has once more been seeking employment as a professional football player. He entered discussions with Sheffield United, his former club, to discuss the potential for a re-signing. Many people argued that it would be inexcusable for the club to sign a convicted rapist, and significant public pressure was brought to bear on the club from members of the public, sponsors and celebrities. Eventually the club stated that it would not be signing Evans.

Subsequent interest has also been expressed from Hartlepool United and Oldham Athletic, with the same public outcry. Both have now backtracked from their offer of work to Evans.

That is a cold statement of the facts thus far. Here's my opinion.

Rape is a despicable crime for which there is no excuse. It is a deplorable and unjustifiable physical violation, and it is absolutely correct that it carries with it a significant criminal sanction. Evans was found guilty of this crime, sentenced, and lawfully released under parole conditions. Notwithstanding the outcome of the CCRC investigation, he thoroughly deserved his sentence.

However, Evans has now been released on parole. In order for this to have happened, The Parole Board must have been convinced that he no longer represents a danger to the community, i.e. he is highly unlikely to rape anyone else. In other words, he has been punished for the crime he has committed, and is now at least partially rehabilitated.

The next phase of his rehabilitation is his re-integration into the community. This has to happen to ensure that he becomes and remains a law-abiding, contributing member of society. An essential part of that re-integration is being gainfully employed. However, because of the understandable social stigma attached to his crime, Evans is being presented with significant obstacles to this.

There are those that argue that he should be barred from professional football. They argue that because he is unrepentant, he should be shunned at every turn, blocked from any occupation that could allow him to contribute to society in any meaningful way, and effectively reduced to a capacity of a menial labourer, as he has no other real skills.

This kind of civil death is a mild form of outlawry. People propose, not that Evans is put beyond the protection of the law, but that he is permanently excluded from society, and treated as an outcast for the rest of his life. This was often the social treatment of convicts in Victorian times, which forced them into perpetual poverty. Their only recourse was to therefore further their life of crime in order to survive.

As the facts currently stand, Evans has committed a despicable crime. He was duly convicted for that crime, and has served the sentence required by the authorities. He has now been deemed fit to return to society, and he wishes to contribute to that society in the only manner which he knows how, i.e. playing professional football. He is unrepentant precisely because he does not feel he has anything to apologise for - he disputes his conviction, and maintains that the accusations were malicious, and that he is the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

Those who apply pressure to clubs looking to potentially employ him, targeting them with boycotts and so on, are of course perfectly free to do so. I would like to ask them to consider the logic of what they are doing. They maintain that they are boycotting organisations who condone rape, but employing someone who has committed a crime does not mean that you condone that crime. It means that you are prepared to look past it and give them a second chance. Should an attitude of forgiveness be punished? Do we want to live in a society which ostracises people for their past acts in perpetuity, or do we want to live in a society that is firm but forgiving?

If we purport to be a society which is rehabilitative and forgiving, then we must try to rehabilitate and forgive people who have committed any crime - even rape or murder. That doesn't mean we refrain from punishing those who have done wrong, but it does mean that once the punishment is over, we must try to help them put their past behind them and move on. Constantly reminding them of their previous actions, and continuing to shun them on the basis of past actions already dealt with, is wrong.

What Ched Evans did was morally reprehensible, and without justification or excuse. However, under the laws of this land, he has been punished for that crime, and thus should not be subject to any further punishments. He should be allowed to work, subject the conditions of his parole and the requirements of the Sex Offenders Register. And people who decry those prepared to give him a second chance should think very carefully about punishing forgiveness.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

What do Lefties Have Against the Car?

Happy New Year and all that bollocks.

Noticed a few rumbles online recently about various people of a dubious political slant i.e. left wing, wanting to get rid of cars in city centres. They say it'll make things easier for cyclists and pedestrians, reduce congestion, encourage use of public transport, reduce pollution and increase public safety.

All very well and good. However, it's a shit idea. Utterly terrible. Perhaps the worst idea since someone suggested to Herod that if he just killed all the first-born sons in Bethlehem, he'd be King forever. It's absolutely bloody typical of this London-centric, out-of-touch-with-the-rest-of-the-country politics which makes my piss boil.

Banning cars in city centres would be a really good idea, if every city in the country was like London. London has a tube station pretty much every 200 metres, and an overlapping bus system. It also has an extensive overground train system. The Underground is set to be extended, with the ambitious Crossrail project nearing completion. Millions of people use public transport in London every day and manage to get to school and work and home again without too much trouble.

Newsflash: every city in the country is not like London. Most cities do not have an Underground, or a Metro. Most cities have one train station, which is only really useful if you want to travel to other cities. Most cities have bus networks, but they are of variable reliability, and may often require a couple of connections in order to get people where they need to go. Many people have children, and need to take those children to school. Some of those children, being rather small, can't walk very far or ride bicycles. Even if they could, or if they used public transport, it would probably add the better part of an hour to the school run.

The car is an absolutely fantastic invention. It gives people freedom of movement to an extent never seen before. I, for example, am able to live two blocks away from my mother and grand-mother. I can get my kids to one of the best schools in the county, nearly two miles away, in about ten minutes. I can get to work, twenty miles away, in thirty minutes. I can reach other members of my family, three miles away in about fifteen minutes. I can get into my local city centre to go to the cinema, have a meal, go for a drink, eight miles away, in twenty minutes. The reason being - because I have a car.

It would be virtually impossible for me to live my life without my car. It is absolutely essential to me - I am paralysed without it. This is what life is like for virtually everyone I know. Banning them is an act of sheer lunacy, even just in city centres. All it would do is create chaos for millions of people, and damage the economy by driving people away from the cities.

If you want to encourage use of public transport, how about you change the way car ownership is taxed. One reason I don't use public transport is that because, when you take into account that I have to have my car taxed and insured even if I don't use it, it costs me £50 a month just for the privilege of it sitting outside my house. When I use it, the only additional cost is the petrol, which is a damn sight cheaper than public transport. So make the cost of running a vehicle proportionate to its use. Abolish Vehicle Excise Duty and Insurance Premium Tax on motor insurance. Stick it onto fuel duty, so that the people who have inefficient cars and use the roads more pay more. You'd probably find that, once people realised it would be cheaper for them to use public transport, they'd use it more.

How about you change the way public transport is organised? Instead of allowing central and local governments to issue monopolies to companies to run bus routes or train services, open them up to competition. Allow any company, provided it is properly licensed, to run whichever services they like. Once people have the choice about getting on one train five minutes later and the ticket is £5 cheaper, see what happens to prices.

How about you actually build decent public transport systems in cities that aren't London? There's only three cities in the UK that have a light railway - London, Glasgow and Newcastle. A further nine have tram systems. That's pitiful.

If you want to encourage people to use bicycles and walk more, fine. Build proper cycle paths which cyclists don't have to share with cars. If you want to increase safety, how about introducing speed limiters on all new vehicles? After ten years, make it compulsory for all vehicles. Fit wireless receivers to the speed limiters, so that variable limits apply in different areas. This would also reduce pollution and probably insurance premiums as well (see above comments about no point in using public transport if you're paying £50 a month to have a car sat on your drive). Encourage the development and take-up of automated vehicles - we already have the technology for landing planes, I'm sure we can sort it for driving cars.

If you want to further reduce pollution, introduce tax breaks for companies manufacturing ultra-low-emission vehicles, and for owning them. Encourage councils to assist homeowners with adapting gardens into driveways, helping with rear access to properties, so they can actually charge electric cars overnight. It also helps get cars off the road when they're not being used, which would go a long way to easing congestion in cities.

So, no, don't just ban cars, one of the most spectacular inventions since the wheel, which affords people more freedom of movement than they've ever had before. There's plenty we can do before we even consider that.