Is a man entitled to use a gun to defend his property from burglars – and then shoot dead one of these intruders? I found that a difficult moral dilemma when the case of Tony Martin first arose in 1999.
Mr Martin, described as “eccentric”, lived alone in an isolated farmhouse, appropriately called Bleak House, in a quiet part of Norfolk. One night he heard intruders downstairs. So he took out his shotgun and let blast, killing 16-year-old Fred Barras, who came from a Roma family.
My childhood catechism taught that we are not allowed to kill – except in self-defence. So that’s the moral dilemma. If Tony Martin thought he was being attacked – and a psychiatrist diagnosed him with paranoid personality problems – and his intention was self-defence, then did he do wrong in resorting to his shotgun?
Rural people in deserted places are often frightened of crime, and feel helpless. Tony Martin said he had contacted the police previously, and had seldom derived any protection from them.
Thieves and burglars, moreover, ought to be deterred. They should not prey on vulnerable older people where they believe there might be “easy pickings”.
But on the other side of the case – a young boy, and an only son, lost his life. He was foolish and reckless to go along with a more experienced offender on this expedition, but who isn’t foolish at 16? In a televised re-examination, The Interrogation of Tony Martin, broadcast last weekend on Channel 4, it emerged that Barras’s last, childish word was “Mum”.
The verbatim re-enactment was sober and even prosaic – with Steve Pemberton as Tony Martin in 1999 and Tony Martin himself, now, in a coda (he served a term in prison, but was released on psychiatric grounds.) It offered the facts, and left the viewer to form a judgment.
I concluded that Martin was wrong to shoot the intruders, since it emerged that they were shot in the back as they fled. His lack of remorse for the adolescent’s death also told against him.
“Thou shalt not kill” prevails. Yet “Thou shalt not steal” was also among the canon.
I’ve never known a time when a British Prime Minister was so well-liked in Ireland. Every Dublin cabbie I encountered, moving around the city last week, said: “That woman has grit! Standing there all by herself and battling on!”
Granted, the Irish want a Brexit deal to succeed, but the appreciation of Theresa May’s doggedness seemed more of a personal tribute than a political comment.
At a reunion lunch of veteran feminists, I also heard praise for Philip, her husband, for being such a supportive spouse.
Many women leaders have benefited from a husband who has taken a back seat himself: the latter include Denis Thatcher, Joachim Sauer (Angela Merkel’s other half) and Peter Murrell (Nicola Sturgeon’s hubby).
Nick, husband to Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, sacrificed his own career as a cartoonist for her politics.
Theresa May might or might not survive as a political leader, but she has certainly won esteem for resilience and tenacity – as Philip has for his loyalty and dependability.
My updated credit card has arrived, and I note that this new one will expire in May 2023. This prompts the thought, “Will I still be in this world, paying for services and commodities by Visa, in 2023?” And thus does a talisman of Mammon become a messenger of memento mori.
Whether I would live to see a certain date in the future never crossed my mind in youth. But it is a persistent reflection in old age, as is the calculation of how much time is left to squeeze in long-held aspirations: visiting the Holy Land; seeing the Kunstmuseum in Vienna; crossing the Oresund Bridge ’twixt Denmark and Sweden; riding pillion on a motorbike …
Then I think of Psalm 90, which my late husband would often quote: “The days of our years are three-score years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
If I live to the expiry date of my current credit card, I’ll be thankful. If I don’t, I’ll be thankful for what I’ve had.
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