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November 19, 2010

"The ear-biting incident was not without interest": Theodore Dalrymple discovers that Yeovil is a hotbed of crime and disorder - just like any other English town

Posted by Theodore Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple discovers that all is not well in Yeovil - and concludes that social solidarity is not all it might be in our green and pleasant land.

For many years I disdained local or regional papers because I thought them merely parochial and without interest for people of culture such as I. But this was only snobbery, of course: for small events can be, and often are, emblematic of much more than themselves. If this were not so, literature would have no significance.

And so, while staying in Yeovil recently, I bought an edition of the Western Gazette. A picture on its front page caught my attention, that of a young man with those symbols of true individuality, iron spikes in his ear and dark blue dragons or lizards tattooed on the side of his neck. The headline beside it read "Murder trial told victim stripped".

Was the pictured man what F. Tennyson Jesse, an eminent writer on murder of the first half the twentieth century, and great-niece of the poet, called "the murderee", or the alleged murderer? The caption made it clear: according to the prosecution case, he

was violently bundled into a vehicle, driven to a remote field, bound, violently beaten, stripped naked and left for dead in a muddy country lane.
Also on the front page were short summaries of stories on the inside pages: "Sex fantasist jailed" and "Man's ear bitten off". It seems that Yeovil is one of those curious towns (of which there are many in Britain) in which the vestiges old gentility coexist uneasily with a very coarse underlife.

What a picture of English life the Western Gazette conveys!

Even the lesser offences reported, that do not make it to the front page, are not without interest:

A Yeovil man who took a car without consent, drove it without insurance and while disqualified and made off from a petrol station without paying has been sentenced.
What did he have to say in his own defence, through his lawyer, and by way of mitigation?
He thought his driving ban had expired. He was subjected to a ban for two years and was on the tail-end of that ban.
In any sensible criminal justice system, such a mitigation would be taken as an aggravation and attract a higher sentence, for it implies that the culprit thought that, once his ban was over, he had permission to steal cars and petrol. This makes him, if not dangerous exactly, at least a hazard to the property of most citizens.

On the other hand, if he didn't really think that the end of a driving ban gave him leave to steal cars and fuel, but was only trying to obtain sympathy, he was expressing his contempt for the criminal justice system. In this case, I don't think a plea of justification should be allowable.

Then, on the pages opposite there was the story of the "commercial burglar". He broke into a leisure centre to steal money from the machines in it, causing 1000 of damage to obtain 70. (He is, of course, a hero of crude Keynesianism, having added to our flagging aggregate demand in this fashion.)

While on police bail, he broke into the house of a taxi driver who had been in a relationship with his partner's mother, and stole a cash box containing 600.
To demonstrate that he was not a specialist, but something of an all-rounder, he assaulted his partner in the stomach, though he did not injure her; perhaps this was but a rehearsal for that now traditional British form of contraception, the kick in the uterus after conception.

A man stabbed outside the King's Arms, as reported on page 2, was not so lucky. He and several others were peacefully breaking into a pub after midnight from which he had been banned, presumably for misconduct, when the publican took a bladed instrument and stuck it through the door which they were trying to break down. The bladed instrument (which must have been pretty formidable to go through both door and abdominal wall) entered the man's abdomen, and he very nearly died of blood loss, his life being saved by the local hospital. The victim's comment, after the publican pleaded guilty to causing grievous bodily harm, was:

He had no reason to do it. He had bouncers there and the law was on his side if I did go into the pub.
The ear-biting incident was not without interest. A young man with a conviction and a reprimand for previous assaults had an argument with two other young men in a bar, one of whom he head-butted and the other of whom's ear he bit off. The lawyer defending him said that the man's ambition was to be a teacher, and his tutor spoke highly of him.

I am, of course, all in favour of discipline in the classroom, but this man might possibly take it a little far. The judge blamed the bar for offering an all-you-can-drink night for 16. While I have no objection in our current circumstances to a rise in taxation on alcohol in order to reduce consumption, intellectual honesty compels me to admit that biting off someone's ear is not a direct pharmacological effect of alcohol.

I come now to the crime de resistance: the murder. Here it must be understood that as yet no one has been found guilty of it. The prosecution case is that the victim was believed by the several accused to have stolen from them, namely gold (I assume in the form of bling). The victim and the accused had a confrontation in a petrol service station, the police were called, and, according to the story in the Gazette, Mr Rowlands was arrested, though not for having stolen the gold, and spent the next six months in prison.

When he was released, he was lured into a car where he was stabbed in the arms and legs, requiring hospital treatment. Some time later he received a charming text message from one of the accused that said:

I am going to open your skull right up.
Later that day he described himself to a woman friend as "a dead man walking". And then, indeed, he was killed in the brutal fashion described above.

One murder doesn't make a massacre; nevertheless, this weekly chronicle of events in Yeovil, which as a town I have no reason to believe is worse than anywhere else, suggests that social solidarity is not all it might be in our green and pleasant land. The lesson that Kenneth Clarke would draw from it is that we have far too many prisoners.

Theodore Dalrymple is a writer and worked for many years as an inner city and prison doctor.


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