Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Lindy McDowell: Canoe pair stole cash, but they didn’t kill

Canoe pair stole cash, but they didn’t killAt a time when the headlines are dominated by reports of crimes of violence — the savage beatings of little old ladies, teenagers being knifed to death on the streets — how comforting to see the courts clamp down hard on the real criminals in our midst



This week Mr and Mrs Canoe were sentenced to six years each for attempting to defraud an insurance company of a quarter of a million quid.

Nobody died (despite initial reports). Nobody was injured.

True, Anne and John Darwin were a right couple of con merchants. But at the end of the day the only people they really hurt were their two sons. And themselves.

And, no, I’m not suggesting they should have walked free.

But, let’s be honest. If Anne Darwin’s husband had disappeared (presumed drowned) and we’d subsequently discovered she’d killed him in a fit of pique, would she have been likely, in today’s Britain, to have been sentenced to more than the six years she’s got for fraud?

In current terms the pair have received what amounts to a life sentence.

But while it’s proof that there may indeed be life after (faked) death, bizarrely it seems that after murder and murder attempts there’s more likely to be bail, mitigating circumstances taken into account and ultimately compassion shown to the perpetrator.

Why is this?

Why do the courts appear to care more about the money belonging to big business than they do about the lives of human beings?

As for the media, coverage of the canoe case this week has been savage in regard to the diddling Darwins. Initially it was treated as quite a comical story. The middle-aged frumpy pair do not look like a 21st century Kray gang. There was a sense that this had the makings (as it undoubtedly still has) of a Hollywood movie.

But this week, with the sentencing, the mood changed entirely.

Anne Darwin, in particular, has been universally lambasted as a bad’un. A real evil witch. It says everything that she and her husband and their insurance fraud have managed to push Radovan Karadzic off the front pages. Radovan Karadzic the war criminal, that is. The Butcher of the Balkans. The canoe couple really eclipse that boy?

And, no, I’m not suggesting the Darwins should have got off scot free. But let’s be honest. If they’d both been MPs there’s a distinct possibility that, over a couple of years, they could have scooped much the same amount off the taxpayer in dodgy expenses claims. And no questions asked.

Ah, but, cry the moral commentators of the day, they lied to their sons!

Come on. If telling lies was a justification for incarceration, half the country would already be behind bars. Starting from the Government down.

The same UK Government that keeps telling us the jails are full. Which is why it can’t lock up violent madmen.

Would it be too much like common sense to suggest that people who defraud big business be hit where it will really hurt them?

If conmen and women are that keen on cash, take their ill-gotten gains from them.

And then some.

The Darwins, for example, should be made to forfeit the proceeds of the inevitable movie and book. And, ok yes, bang them up for a time to punish them for breaking the law.

But let’s also ensure that those who commit crimes of violence are hit that much harder.

There are real monsters in our midst who, you can’t help feeling, are treated far too lightly by the courts.

In sentencing terms they, too, should be up the creek without a paddle.

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