Harry Roberts, jailed for his part in the murder of three policemen in Shepherd’s Bush in 1966, is to be released. Police unions and some newspapers have expressed their outrage.
Others are saying Roberts has “paid his debt to society” and so it is right to free him and they add that he poses no threat to the public. Roberts’ release is an insult to the families of the victims and it indicates a betrayal of society’s contract with its law-enforcers.
But all this is to miss the point.
Whether he is a threat to the public or not has nothing to do with the matter. Of course public safety is part of the policeman’s job, but this consideration must be kept quite distinct from the main consideration which is justice. One purpose of a jail sentence is to lock the criminal away so that he can do no further harm. Another purpose is his hoped for rehabilitation. But the main reason for putting an offender in prison is because the judge determines that the sentence fulfils the demands of justice.
The notion that he has paid his debt to society is simply false. A murderer can never be said to have paid his debt to society no matter how long he remains in jail. The murderer used to pay the ultimate price which was the forfeit of his own life because he had taken the life of another.
That is the only justice possible in the case of murder.
A life sentence – which should, and when the death penalty was abolished, we were promised it would – mean life. A whole life sentence is actually an act of mercy: for the murderer deserves death. The punishment should fit the crime. Everyone knows this: it is intuitive. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. This doctrine is itself an act of mercy and restraint, for it means only one eye for one eye or one tooth for one tooth. It is meant to curb excessive lust for revenge – the sort that would not stop at hanging the murderer but attempt to kill his whole family and burn down his house.
The fact that there is no death penalty for murder demonstrates that we live in a society which is fundamentally unjust.
After the injustice, the baloney…
We are told by the Parole Board that released murderers are “subject to the strictest controls” and that their lives are “managed” by Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA). These are not to be trusted, as proved by the fact that the number of freed murderers who go on to kill again is not negligible and, as successive spokesmen for the Home Office have been forced to admit, many escaped or freed criminals have simply been “lost.”
Roberts’ release means there is no justice.
And it is not consoling to understand that one lives in such a realm.