A vigil took place today for Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones who were murdered in London on Friday by a maniacal terrorist. I was driving at the time when the radio presenter announced there would be a period of silence in their memory. I quickly pulled over. Silence can be very powerful and so it was today. It meant much more than the noise from politicians as they seek to exploit this hideous event.
In attacking politicians over this matter, I am aware that I too could be criticised for exploiting this tragedy. Given that my daily blog readership is often in single figures, I doubt whether I will have a great effect on the electorate. You’ll have to take it from me that I am not trying to exploit the tragedy when I say that the Conservative party in general and both Boris Johnson and Priti Patel in particular have tried to exploit the murders. They are politicians from the gutter.
Patel blamed the last Labour government for the deaths of Merritt and Jones, whilst Johnson blamed everyone but the government that had been office for nearly ten years. I was more taken by the comments of Jack Merritt’s family. They said: “We know Jack would not want this terrible, isolated incident to be used as a pretext by the government for introducing even more draconian sentences on prisoners, or for detaining people in prison for longer than necessary.” Let’s put this into context.
A couple of days after their beloved son, who was only 25, was murdered by a crazed maniac, they offered a voice of calm while all around them were losing their minds. Jack Merritt was doing what he loved and what he believed in when he was taken. Better than anyone else, better for sure than some here today, gone tomorrow politician, they were able to express a better way forward.
During my life, I have come across people who work with prisoners and I have tried to understand the complexity of their work and how they do what they do, whether it is within the prison service, the parole board or as part of the probation service. They are not a part of some surveillance team, watching and following prisoners 24/7. They are helping people see the error of their ways and to direct them to a better life. It is not an exact science. It could not be. Much of it is on trust. The alternative is what, exactly?
The dog whistle politicians demand prisoners who get a life sentence literally serve all of the rest of their lives in prison. No need for rehabilitation. Chuck them in a cell, let them rot behind bars. Come to think about it, how about abolishing parole and probation altogether? Let all criminals serve their full sentences, whether it’s for murder or a straightforward act of affray. Because, in the eyes of the populist politician, that’s how to win votes.
I winced when the religious leader at the inevitable service today called for people to offer forgiveness. “Forgive this evil maniac for killing two young people and wrecking the lives of many more people,” was the gist of it. I am not sure I could ever forgive Usman Khan and I am glad he is dead, yet I see the point, if not of forgiveness, of redoubling our efforts to change people’s lives, even those who have carried out the most awful atrocities. If we give up on rehabilitation on certain groups, how can we bother to rehabilitate anyone else?
I’m not sure what I am calling for, actually, beyond not doing things in haste. I am not sure I would have reacted as thoughtfully as Jack Merritt’s family but I am not them and they are not me. There is a lot in what they have said, though.
Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones died as a result of things going horribly wrong and we must never forget that they, and their families, are the real victims in this. The irony is that they were actually trying to improve the life of the man who then murdered them in cold blood cannot be lost on anyone. For all that, their deaths must not have been in vain.
I have a son of Jack Merritt’s age and I simply cannot comprehend what his family are going through. I don’t even want to think about it.
Somehow, we need to learn to love again, for good to triumph over evil, for hope to triumph over hate. The death of these beautiful people might not be a bad place from which to start.