One law for the rich, another for Mr Bhatt and his baseball bat
That’s what we all love about our country. It’s the rule of law, innit. No one is above the law. Everyone is equal under the law. No one can take the law into his own hands. That’s why there will be at least a handful of reasonable people who think that the police did the right thing when they cracked down on my friend the newsagent Harendra Bhatt.
For about 18 years, Mr Bhatt has run a kiosk outside the Tube, and for 12 of those years I have watched him at his work. He is a model of politeness. As soon as he spies some Islington Lefty approaching, he has the Guardian ready furled. If someone forgets their change, he calls out “change!”, and his general affability ensures that he does pretty well. It is only recently, after witnessing more and more muggings on the pavement in front of him, and after being robbed by junkies armed with a carving knife and after despairing of the police response, that he has equipped his kiosk with a baseball bat.
This piece of sporting kit is now in police custody, but I have seen the sleeve. To judge by the packaging, it is a full-sized baseball bat, manufactured in India, and presumably mainly intended for the self-protection of subcontinental newsagents.
Harendra insists — and I have no reason to doubt him — that he acquired the bat only as a last resort. He is a smallish man of middle years, and he was at his wits’ end, he says, about how to deal with the aggressive beggars. They intimidate the folks making use of the cash machine, he says, and they even go across and beg at the Tube ticket office. They recently smashed into his kiosk and stole about £50 in cash and £50 worth of chocolates, and when he came back one night to find that someone had tried to set his shop on fire, he says he was told by the police that the incident was not a high priority.
So when a drunk pitched up his kiosk at about 5pm the other day, he had little hope that the forces of law and order would spare the time to come to his aid. The thug asked for money. Mr Bhatt told him to go away, or he would call the police. The drunk then started shaking the kiosk to and fro — not too difficult: it is really just a plastic Wendy house. Mr Bhatt begged him to desist.
The drunken thug then started heaving computer magazines into the street. You or I might not bother to buy a computer magazine, but this attack now amounted to damage to Mr Bhatt’s property, and a serious nuisance. Having flipped a final copy of Computer Weekly to the pavement, the drunk started shaking the door of the kiosk, and then battering it as if he wanted to come inside. At this point Mr Bhatt finally came out of his kiosk, with the baseball bat. He says he warned the yob to go away.
The man persisted in shaking the kiosk and was plainly about to attack the plucky newsagent himself — and so what was he supposed to do? Let him get on with it? Turn the other cheek? Mr Bhatt says he applied the baseball bat once, hitting the thug on the shoulder and then — POW! — the police miraculously appeared.
Making up for all the times in which they had been Macavity-like in their absence, they now flooded the scene of the crime. They pounced. They leapt on Mr Bhatt, wrestled the implement away from him and carted him off to the cells, where he remained until his release at 1am. He now must wait until January 23 to hear whether he is to be charged with possession of an offensive weapon and common assault.
Now I suppose there will be law-abiding readers out there who will say, yes, well, a bit tough, but then Mr “Baseball” Bhatt was wrong to take the law into his own hands. Fiat iustitia et ruant coeli, they may say, if they are feeling pretentious. To which I say: oh yeah? Pull the other one, matey. If you are really telling me that it is always the “British way” to enforce the law, then may I ask what Mr Bhatt is to make of the recent government decision to quash the investigation into alleged corruption involving BAE?
May I direct you to the immortal words of Lord Goldsmith, as the Blairite junta rode rough-shod over the criminal justice system. “It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest,” he said. Now if I were Mr Bhatt, I would be inclined to think there was one law for hapless newsagents, and another law for anyone allegedly involved in greasing the palms of Saudi princelings.
You use minimal force to protect your own property — and you’re nicked, chummy. You allegedly bend the international anti-bribery rules rules in the name of flogging fighter jets to Saudi Arabia — go right ahead, my son. It is unbelievable that Goldsmith can use his hermaphrodite status — part law officer, part-politician — to keep the British cops off the well-upholstered backs of a load of arms dealers; and what makes it all the more outrageous is that the same British cops are urged to prosecute people such as Mr Bhatt.
That’s right: as soon as the crime is reported, the police find themselves under terrific pressure to do something — whether it is laying formal charges or issuing some reprimand of the kind that stays on your criminal record forever. If the police fail to prosecute or otherwise chastise Mr Bhatt for his suspected crime, their ludicrous “sanction detection rate” will go down, and for that the Government is to blame, and the target culture that is driving the public services wild.
This Government makes the law an ass by hauling the police off the BAE business; but it makes the law look like a seriously mentally defective ass in encouraging the police to persecute brave and vulnerable newsagents such as Harendra Bhatt.