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Comment: Justice too important to be reduced to a popularity poll
Keith Hurdle’s drunken, spittle-flecked racist tirade at a female Japanese Tube passenger was a repugnant spectacle – but he did not deserve to go to jail for it.
If our justice system allowed Raymond Clark, the bus driver convicted of killing 18-year-old Jan Henney with his careless driving, to walk free from court but incarcerated Hurdle for a vile but ultimately moronic outburst, it is perversely unbalanced.
Hurdle’s real crime was that his rant on the Bakerloo Line was filmed by another passenger, uploaded to YouTube and then went viral on social media after being picked up by celebrities such as comedian Ricky Gervais.
That is in no way to trivialise Hurdle’s idiotic racism. The footage of him drunkenly haranguing Kuniko Ingram rightly caused revulsion in the thousands who viewed it online.
In the clip, the 52-year-old from Carpenders Park loudly informs the carriage his uncle died at the River Kwai and then holds Mrs Ingram personally responsible for Japanese war crimes in the Second World War, including the torture of the aforementioned relative.
During his slurred diatribe, Hurdle describes the Japanese as a “vicious bunch of f****** c***s” and a “nasty people” before ordering Mrs Ingram in turns to get out of the country and off the train.
An aggravating aspect to this already repellent exhibition of bigoted rhetoric was the simple fact a larger man was bullying a smaller woman without provocation.
In court, Hurdle was visibly embarrassed when the video was replayed and blamed the episode on the booze he had drunk while watching England’s world cup qualifier in the run-up to the incident. However, magistrate Jane Hepburn told Hurdle his actions were of “an extremely unpleasant nature” and jailed him for 12 weeks.
Conversely, in the case of Raymond Clark, he did not set out to cause anyone harm. It was one poor decision to drive into the wrong side of the road to get around a parked car that led to his crime.
In his trial, the pensioner from Croxley Green appeared a tragic figure, whose momentary lapse of judgement had cut short a young woman's life and has no doubt burdened the rest of his days with unimaginable guilt.
The judge in Clark’s case saw fit to suspend his 24-week jail sentence. After the trial Jan’s father, Dave Henney, expressed his anger at the sentence saying Clark had “got off lightly” while his family were left “serving a life sentence”.
The fact that the crime which resulted in the end of a life was dealt with more leniently should offend anyone’s sense of justice.
My fear is that the reason behind these otherwise inexplicably disproportionate outcomes is that in Hurdle’s case, the magistrates sought to make an example of him on account of his notoriety.
If courts are allowing themselves to be influenced by social media opinion and celebrity, it is a pernicious development.
A dispassionate and balanced justice system is the foundation of a free society.
One of the words the ancient Athenians used to describe their fledgling democratic system was “isonomia” or “equal law”.
Their judicial system, which treated citizens according to their actions and not their status or wealth, was a radical institution that marked the city state out from other more primitive and tyrannical forms of government.
As such, the impartiality of our own judicial system is something that should be cherished and guarded.
In a fair society, criminals should be judged by their crimes and the impact on the victims – not by the number of “hits” the video of their crime receives.
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