THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
The sheep and the wolves
Philippe Starck on designing a toilet brush

A toxic culture of blame

Many years ago, a driver in Liverpool was plagued by local children who would jump on his truck as he was manoeuvring. He was always chasing them away. One day a boy was clinging to the back when he reversed up to a wall and was crushed and killed. He was a kind man; a loving father and grandfather. He was never able to put the event behind him. Years later when his own son died in tragic circumstances, he said to his wife "this is my fault. It's a life for a life."

He attended the dead boy's funeral, running a gauntlet of relatives who spat on him as he walked into the church. I have always thought he showed great nobility that day. An inquest returned a verdict of accidental death. No doubt the grieving family cursed the coroner and jury too. The ignorant have never cared about intent. They just want vengeance.

Consider this more recent story. A young man was tired, drunk and emotional. Against the protests of his friends, he set out in his car to confront his unfaithful girlfriend. He collided with another car and two small boys died. Clearly his decision to drive while drunk was culpable, but he had no intent to kill. On television last night the mother of the dead boys equated it to "going out with a knife or gun to kill someone", saying "a car is just as deadly as a knife or gun." I am sorry for her loss, but she is no less an idiot for it.

I have no doubt that the young man now facing seven years in prison is consumed with guilt. He will never escape that. It is ridiculous to compare him with a murderer and demand a life sentence - as the boys' parents are doing, in calling for him to serve "14 years for each boy." Using the now standard cliché of the vengeful bereaved, they claim to be serving a life sentence themselves. As the driver was a minor celebrity in a powerful car, the pungent smell of ripe British envy is mixed into the emotional pot. Ludicrously, the story made the top of the regional TV news last night.

Consider this other story. When she discovered a fire, a woman rushed out into the street to call for help. The door closed behind her and she couldn't get back in. She cried helplessly as her two little boys burned to death inside. All attempts to break into the house to save them failed. She has now been arrested and may be charged with manslaughter. Two innocents have died and the ignorant demand that someone be blamed. They want vengeance, punishment - as though a mother's loss is not already a punishment too great to bear.

I am sure she blames herself for not grabbing the children as she ran out. Perhaps she was under the influence of drink or drugs. I do not know the facts and accept that she may be culpable in a number of ways, but that is not my point. Unless (as no-one suggests) she intended to kill them or was reckless as to whether they lived or died, she should not be criminally responsible for the deaths. Her criminal liability for anything she did that was wrong should not be increased by reason of the unintended deaths. Similarly, the young man's punishment for drink-driving or reckless driving should be the same as if the children had not died (not to mention the same is if he were not a footballer and not driving a Range Rover). The offence of causing death by dangerous driving should simply not exist.

There have always been ignorant, vengeful people. When did we start to listen to them? When did politicians decide that it was right to throw innocents to the mob in return for votes? Democracy is not a means of deciding what is right or wrong. It is only a way of selecting legislators who - within the legitimate scope of government authority - set out fair rules. Once those legislators sell themselves, we are none of us safe.

The kindest utterance in the English language is "There, but for the grace of God, go I." It is far too rarely heard in modern Britain.