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Tuesday, July 27, 2004
1/7 of a life should mean 1/7 of a life

It's so common to hear sophisticated voices complain about the sensationalism of tabloids, but I am starting to wonder if the lack of sensationalism in broadsheets is the greater problem. Scrawled across the front pages of all the broadsheets today is the profoundly misleading claim that the young thug who smiled as he stabbed 14 year old Luke Walmsley to death has been sentenced to life. How many decent, caring people do you suppose read no more, and went away believing that justice had been done, and that the boy's sadistic killer will be locked away for decades to come? In fact, the judge recommended a sentence of just a dozen years, a step up from the normal "life" sentence of six to eight years, certainly, but only one-seventh the life Luke Walmsley could have hoped to lead, and now cannot. In no time, his murderer will be back on the streets, at the ripe age of 28.

When the death penalty for murder was scrapped in this country, against the wishes of the great majority of Britons then as well as now, it was done with the promise that it would be replaced with life-long imprisonment - proper protection for those on the outside, and the maximum penalty save death for the murderer. That pledge has been broken ever since, and in case after case we see instead the punishment for the greatest of crimes drop ever further. Not in centuries has the price of life been so cheap.

If those running Britain's criminal justice system aren't serious about enforcing the law of the land, punishing those who violate it and protecting those who obey it, why haven't the liberal elite the courage to scrap the term 'life sentence' completely? If they really believe that murderers should be out after a couple of World Cups, then why perpetuate this lie that they are getting life? What is it about these callous space cadets that gives them the courage to close their minds to all the weight of common sense, of reoffending rates, of the settled view of history and the basics of human decency that all say the punishment should be proportionate to the crime, but none of the courage to admit that is what they are doing by giving their derisory 'life' sentences a truer name?

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