… and one law for the poor?
The sad tale of Muriel Stewart, the church organist who swindled her church and bank to the tune of £145,000 , has got me thinking. You can read the full details here in the Belfast Telegraph but, briefly, she worked for the bank and the church, stole the money over a period of time, was caught and wound up in court. “So far, so good,” I hear you say, “The forces of law and order are doing a grand job… locking up criminals … just what they should be doing.”
But… and it’s a big but.. Muriel isn’t going to spend time behind bars because, in the words of Judge Marrinan, “I also believe from a report from a qualified psychiatrist that a custodial sentence would seriously damage your mental health.” Now the good judge did say he reckoned her behaviour was “shameful and disgraceful.” At least he got that right. And Muriel has walked away with a 12 month suspended sentence.
So what’s the beef I have with the decision? In short, I just wonder if this judge is as lenient with defendants who steal stuff from local stores? I somehow figure that if the defendant was from a different social background then their heels would not have cooled until the cell doors had banged behind them! Of course it helped that this lady sold some land to repay the money. But what sort of message does this send to others? By any chance would it be: “You can do what you like – just don’t get caught. But if you are caught just pay teh money back and say you are wile sorry and away you ‘ll go.” Of course, there are massive examples of others getting away with gigantic swindles – take the on-going pension crisis as an example. Do we want to live in a society that operates a lenient law for some while filling the jails with others who just don’t happen to have the required “social standing” to lose that Muriel had.
Now, don’t get me wrong here, I do feel sorry for this defendant but I always thought the criminal justice system was supposed to “even” things out and treat us all the same. This case illustrates, yet again, that we have one law for the well off and another for the poor.
What do you think? I’d love to hear from the judge on this one but I don’t suppose he’s logged on yet!