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Peter Rhodes on otters, trials without juries and the lurking menace of TB

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

The hungry juggler

I referred a few days ago to the golden rule of spotting scam emails. If it begins “Dear Customer” or similar, be wary. As a rule, genuine emails will contain your name. A reader tells me he has received a long email from EasyJet, described as “personal,” explaining and apologising for the “highly sophisticated” computer hack which compromised the personal data of nine million passengers. It begins: “Dear Customer.”

Lockdown-reading corner. I've just finished H E Bates's novel, Love for Lydia. Not many laughs in that. The image of poor Lydia wasting away is a useful reminder that while a pandemic may be something new, well within living memory British people lived in mortal dread of tuberculosis, with thousands packed off, coughing blood, to isolation hospitals. If it didn't kill you, TB could weaken you for life.

Once virtually eliminated, TB still affects about 5,000 Brits a year. Like coronavirus, TB preys on males, the elderly and the poor living in sub-standard housing. We can only hope that in focusing so many resources on Covid-19, the NHS doesn't take its eye off this older and deadly contagion.

I have watched dozens of juries at work, served on a jury, been the foreman of a jury. Those experiences have not made me a great fan of trial by jury. In normal times the judgment of “Twelve good men and true” is probably the best solution a democracy will accept, but these are not normal times and a backlog of 40,000 criminal cases has built up.

So here's a plan. Until the backlog is cleared, instead of trying to make courtrooms safe and socially-spaced for the jury, why not scrap juries for a while and have trial by judges sitting alone? I can foresee some resistance from defence lawyers who specialise in persuading gullible juries that hardened criminals are as pure as the driven snow. As a rule, juries do not recognise the faces of defendants and can be easily swayed. But a judge may well remember the bloke in the dock as the rapist he jailed for life ten years ago and I dare say that may influence his views. This may result in more convictions. Oh dear, how sad, what a shame.

I don't want to spread alarm but the ground is parched and there's no rain forecast for at least the next week. Remember all that water, millions of tons of the stuff, that fell on us six months ago? I hope they've put it somewhere safe.

Meanwhile, buried under the avalanche of coronavirus reports, scientists may have found the answer to a puzzle that has bewildered us ever since humans first encountered otters. Why do they (the otters, not the humans) juggle pebbles on their tummies? Having studied these creatures at length, researchers at the University of Exeter have concluded that otters juggle pebbles when they are hungry. We can all sleep soundly tonight.

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world

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