Shropshire Star

Peter Rhodes on fallen women, wicked slave owners and the case against dragging villains into court

There is something of Hollywood about the growing campaign to force criminals such as the baby murderer Lucy Letby into court to hear their sentences being pronounced (Daily Mail: “Make Coward Letby Face Us!” etc).

The great William Gladstone – blameless?

What do we imagine will happen? That the villain, defiant at first, will collapse into tears of remorse as her/his wickedness is laid bare by the judge and a massive jail term is imposed. Will we finally get to see a killer or child-torturer suffering? Probably not.

I've sat through hundreds of court cases. I can only recall a handful where a prisoner reacted dramatically to the sentence. Time after time we hear that defendants “showed no emotion.” And why should they? The trial is over and they're probably already focused on the appeal.

But imagine how some thugs might react if they were physically dragged into the dock. Far from seeing contrition we might get a few hours of them screaming obscenities and, worse, blurting out appalling details of their crimes. Be careful what you wish for.

Anyone else think the John Lewis and Waitrose offer of free coffee for police, in order to deter criminals has just the faintest whiff of a protection racket? If one mug of decaff keeps a shoplifter at bay, what's the going rate to see off a mugger? Full English, perhaps?

The family of the great 19th century prime minister William Gladstone are the latest descendants to apologise for their forbears' involvement in the slave trade. It's not William who is accused of slave-related wickedness but his father John who was one of the largest slave owners in the British West Indies. In a statement, John's descendants say he was guilty of “a crime against humanity". They are in Guyana this week, making a public apology and donating £100,000 to a reparations fund. And thus, at a stroke the squeaky-clean reputation of the Gladstone dynasty will be restored. Well, sort of.

Truth is, that while William Gladstone is chiefly remembered as a great Liberal reformer and tireless campaigner against slavery, eyebrows were raised about his alleged fascination with prostitution. It was rumoured that Mr Gladstone not only saved fallen women but saved a few for himself.