Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

They made a pig's ear out of finding right punishment for Vicky Pryce

An article in a national newspaper last week suggested that Vicky Pryce (the wife who took three points for her husband, got "nul" points from the judge for doing so and then whinged about it) might find it hard to do her time.

She's been given eight months – that'd take her up to October. But it's likely she'll get out in two, if she doesn't cause trouble when she's inside. She'll be out on licence by April (oops ... don't mention licences!).

She's on an open farm prison, so what sort of trouble she might cause is hard to fathom. Not weeding the raised beds properly? Giving cheek about the silage plans for next autumn? Refusing to claim EU subsidies on the basis that the last time she signed something for someone else, look where that got her?

Eight weeks. On an open farm prison. Free to wander 'til 11pm in the grounds, free to telephone when she likes, addressed by her first name and expected to join in farm and household tasks like feeding animals, weeding, mucking out pigs and helping with a spot of cleaning.

This is punishment? There are people who pay money to go to ashrams in India to do this sort of thing for eight weeks and consider it a yuppy, middle-class, slightly self-indulgent holiday! Julia Roberts was in a film about it – Eat, Pray, Love. Maybe Vicky could make a movie of her time inside – Sign Here, Love.

Soul-draining punishment or soul-warming enlightenment? It's all in the marketing, I suppose.

Yes, she's away from her children and can't leave the place, so that is a punishment, but apart from that? Her brother worries because she's not terribly strong, physically. But they're hardly gonna whip her if she's not great at the manual labour and she's not banged up 23 hours out of the 24 with a dodgy stranger as she might be in a tough prison. THAT'S punishment.

But mucking out porkers, for telling porkers? Where's the sense?

Surely punishment should fit the crime, no? This woman's a successful economist. Why not have her using her skills to aid community groups or charities for free? Some level of freedom privation could be thrown in too if needs be. But at least someone would be getting the best of her talents out of her. She's not exactly musclebound – can't see her being a very efficient farm worker. So you have to wonder who comes up with sentences and what they're designed to achieve?

One woman who served several months in the same open farm prison for financial fraud has said it was the best thing that ever happened to her because it made her rethink her priorities and re-evaluate her previous life as a high-flying city executive.

What does Vicky Pryce need to re-think? Not to stick by a selfish husband? Not to seek revenge publicly when he behaves according to type and leaves her for another woman? Not to lie and expect to get away with it?

She could get all that and still be doing something more useful than pig mucking out. But maybe the justice system geniuses have it all worked out.

Maybe spending time with pigs means their intelligence will rub off on her and she'll learn a valuable lesson. I mean, when's the last time you ever heard of a pig taking points for her husband, eh?

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