Every detail of the murder of Tom ap Rhys Pryce seemed calculated to provoke my middle-class anger. With every word, I could feel my heart turning into a bubbling, lid-flipping cauldron of fury, and when I looked at the faces of his killers — Carty and Brown — I felt something I have hardly ever felt in my life.
I simply wanted them to pay. I thought how hard the 32-year-old Cambridge graduate had worked, how happy he was that he was going back to see his fiancée. I thought how she had been due to try on her wedding dress, and of the wedding plans strewn around his corpse.
I thought what a nice chap he sounded, and how brave he had been to fight back with his bare hands in those last dark moments in Kensal Green; and then I thought of Carty and Brown, and how they had stabbed him and kept stabbing him in the head and the arms and the torso, even though he had already given them everything they wanted, which turned out to be nothing but a mobile phone and an Oyster card; and I thought how they composed moronic rap songs about killing and stabbing, and then I looked again at their blank, expressionless, remorseless faces and I am ashamed to say I was overcome with hatred.
I wanted them to die. If you had asked me then and there whether I was in favour of capital punishment for Carty and Brown, I would unhesitatingly have said yes.
Then I read the statement from Adele Eastman, his 31-year-old fiancée, about how she wished she had been at his side to hold him as he died, and the newsprint swam. It was only later, when I had recovered, that I brooded on her generosity and realised that she was right about one thing.
We can be angry about Carty and Brown, and the way knife crime is increasing. We could wish London was run by someone other than this nincompoop Livingstone — and quite frankly the streets of London are now so violent that I would vote for Dirty Harry if the Tories could persuade him to stand.
But it is one thing to be angry; it is another to give way to hatred. Adele Eastman says there “will be no place for hatred” in her boyfriend’s memory, and she is right. The minute we stop to think, we see how ugly our feelings are, and the hopelessness of bringing back capital punishment.
Not only is it barbaric; there is the insuperable objection that innocents might be killed, and in any case it would involve the diversion of zillions of taxpayers’ money to the human rights lawyers. We have to think of some other way of exacting vengeance on Carty and Brown; and as I look ahead at their “tariffs” of 21 and 17 years, I am not filled with hope.
They will not have a nice time in jail. Although they are unquestionably nasty, they may meet people even nastier than they are; and yet there is no guarantee that their punishment will at any stage make them face up to what they have done.
What we all want is for them to understand the sheer horror of their actions. We want them to open their souls and be suddenly harrowed and grief-stricken for the life they have taken away; and we want them to feel this remorse with all the intensity of someone facing his own execution.
Instead of slouching through their term of incarceration, feeling vaguely misused by society, we want them to repent and to change.
It is very difficult to see how this change might happen, except through one route; and that brings me to the current controversies about religion. Bourgeois Britain is going through a bit of a panic about the role of God in society, largely fuelled by nervousness of Islam. Attacks are made on faith schools, or on BA staff who wear the cross, and the idea seems to be that we can only voice reservations about one religion if we bash them all impartially.
That is why Richard Dawkins is having such a soaraway success with an atheist tract called The God Delusion, and why Robert Kilroy-Silk can be clapped on Question Time when he calls all religions “fairy tales”.
Alert readers of this column will know that my own faith is a very feeble tinsel object. I sometimes think there might be some kind of celestial radio signal, but it is about as intelligible as Radio Tirana. There is a smart-aleck schoolboy side to me that exults with Dawkins as he teases the believers and demonstrates the biological absurdity of the incarnation, and I remember my fierce 11-year-old joy at reading the account of how the Darwinians destroyed the Creationists in that debate at Oxford.
My only thought, as I stare at the faces of Carty and Brown, is that, if we throw out religion, then we lose a useful tool in changing lives. You and I lead comfortable existences, full of pleasure and interest, and generally so heavily regulated that we do not face that many moral challenges. We may feel that we do not have much of a spiritual void to fill.
But look at these creeps, the shambles of “sperm fathers” and gang warfare and violence. It’s not so much that they have been deprived of love, but that they have been deprived of authority of any kind, and our feminised paedophile-obsessed culture means there is less and less chance that they will find a male role model in the classroom.
However ludicrous it may seem, religion sets boundaries; it suggests to bad and loveless people that they are loved. It provides a framework.
Of course it would be nice if Carty and Brown were not recruited to some militant Islamic group; it would be nice if they turned to the good old milquetoast Church of England. But it doesn’t really matter. We can’t just string these people up. We can’t flog them. We are forced to incarcerate and hope for the best.
Before we go all the way with Dawkins and chuck out religion, we should look at the savage and remorseless faces of Carty and Brown, and reflect that, if we are to have any hope of changing them for the better, then God is a useful card for society to keep up its sleeve.