Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Hoist by her own petard

A recent staple on French news programmes recently has been the investigations which have followed this summer's forest fires in Provence and Corsica. No sooner have the flames died down than the forensic crews are out in force, sifting through the ashes for DNA and chemical evidence.

It turns out that a significant proportion of these fires have been started deliberately, usually prompted by casual vandalism or outright pyromania (although Italy, also badly affected, has produced at least one example of enterprising part-time firemen, paid by the hour in emergencies, attempting to supplement their wages with the odd spot of arson).

Surprisingly - at least to those of us accustomed to the mills of British justice grinding very slowly indeed - the courts seem to be running through these cases at impressively high speed; almost before the ground has cooled, the papers are reporting that the culprits have been identified, arrested, tried, sentenced and taken away to begin prison terms of anything up to three years.

Thus it is that, a scant five days after the incident, we read of one particular exception to the general run of offenders:
A 69-year-old woman has been given a suspended sentence of three months with a fine of 3,000 euros for having unintentionally started a fire in Corsica.
It seems that the woman concerned was out walking her dog when it ran off into the undergrowth and would not come back when called. In a somewhat unorthodox attempt to scare the disobedient animal out of hiding, she fired a distress flare ('un pétard de rappel') into the bushes, igniting a fire which destroyed twenty acres of shrubland.

Realising that she had done 'something stupid', she called the fire brigade, apologised profusely to the emergency services and then went down to the police station in Ajaccio to turn herself in (or, as the French has it, 'pour se dénoncer', which sounds much more dramatic).  Four days later, she received her sentence - one wonders how long a similar case would have taken in Britain.

What makes this case particularly interesting is the reaction of a local association; reporting that several landowners have consistently failed in their civic duty to keep the village area free of undergrowth (the usual fire prevention measure on the island), it suggests that the woman was not entirely to blame for the fire - she was, it says, responsible but not necessarily guilty.

Discuss.

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