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

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The wages of sin

'Death by misadventure' is, predictably enough, the verdict of the coroner in the case of the would-be thief restrained by members of the public outside an Oxford jeweller's shop.

During the hearing, a Home Office pathologist said that death was caused by 'brain damage due to prolonged cardiac and respiratory arrest'.

The deceased weighed 18 stone and, though only 33, had serious coronary heart disease which meant that death could have occurred 'at any time', according to the pathologist:
“If I was to come across an individual with that amount of heart disease who died in bed I wouldn’t hesitate to give that as the cause of death, assuming there were no extraneous factors."
The adrenalin surge, one imagines, associated with preparing to commit a potentially violent robbery and wielding a sledgehammer would in itself present something of a risk to someone in Townsend's condition even without the stressful consequences of his actions, whether arrest and imprisonment or a speedy getaway under hot pursuit.

And if he read the local papers, he was probably not unaware of the chance that the general public might intervene and restrain him. Only six months earlier, with a strikingly similar modus operandi, four men with mopeds attacked a jeweller's shop in nearby Banbury with a sledgehammer in broad daylight.

While three of the robbers escaped with thousands of pounds worth of watches (and have yet to be caught - unless, of course the two cases are connected), the fourth was chased along the street by onlookers as numerous passers-by - including an elderly lady with a walking stick - tried to impede his progress.

He was finally caught by two men, both in their 50s, who, with the occasional help of other bystanders, sat on him for seven minutes until the police arrived, ignoring his repeated threats that they would 'end up dead'.

According to the presiding judge, passing a sentence of five years in prison,
“This was a determined smash and grab raid on a high street jewellers and it failed only because of the courage and presence of mind, not only of those working in the shop, but also a number of members of the public.”
Restraining the perpetrator in a case like this is effectively society policing itself and I doubt that anyone - with the exception of career criminals and woolly-minded liberals - would think it better than standing back and allowing crime to take place unhindered.

While Clint Townsend's grieving family gave made their presence felt at the inquest with numerous questions and are 'still considering the coroner's verdict',  the sad fact remains that this 'loving father' - and potential role model - set out to commit a criminal offence, and to do so in a busy shopping street a few months after passers-by chased and pinned down the author of an identical crime in a nearby town.

Knowing that this public reaction could be a distinct possibility, an overweight man with a heart problem who dons a full-face motorcycle helmet and smashes a shop window with a sledgehammer in broad daylight must surely bear at least some responsibility for the tragic outcome.


  1. Miscreants are victims, Macheath - they can't bear any responsibility.

  2. Ah yes, JH, I should have remembered Ambush Predator's First Law of Criminality.


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