The violence of last hours. The violence of first hours


By Kenneth Roy

When we last published, Stephen Pollock, Jack Doyle, Susan McGoldrick, Alison Turnbull, Tanya Turnbull, Anuj Bidve and Catherine Wynter were still alive. Yet in the interlude between the end of one year and the beginning of the next, all these people, most of them shockingly young, were among the victims of Christmas and New Year murder.

Is it simply a distressing coincidence, or is there something about the brightly coloured idealised world we perforce inhabit for the last fortnight of every year which stimulates homicidal instincts in the desperate and the deranged? Only one Santa actually went mad – well, mad enough to go around killing people – and he came guns blazing down some Texas chimney, which was almost a relief in the circumstances. It demonstrated that the contagion of horrors was not confined to our unhappy province of western civilisation. But once the massacring St Nicholas had faded from view, most of the horrors seemed to be heading our way, some uncomfortably close to home.

There was no discernible pattern, except that the closer one got to the two key dates – the 25th and the 1st – the stronger was the possibility of finishing or starting the year as a crime statistic. People in a living room full of festive decorations were just as likely to be shot as someone walking down a dark street after midnight. There was no security, either, in being a baby-sitter inside what the press described as a ‘£200,000 terraced house’ in Hertfordshire. What was the use of this figure trying to tell us? That Catherine might still be alive if only the house had been worth more? Or less?

Renfrewshire (as it used to be known before Wheatley destroyed the identity of Scotland) was no place for young men: Stephen shot in Paisley one week; Jack cut down in Greenock the next.

There was an absence of fatal shootings or stabbings on Christmas Day itself. But Anuj survived barely an hour into Boxing Day. His photograph is one of the most haunting images of the fortnight. Gentle, warm, open, intelligent – no wonder his brutal death inspired such an outpouring of love. His family learned of it on a social networking site. It is unimaginable. Yet when they appeared on screen, in one of our rare moments of collective lucidity, they were uttering words of gratitude to the British people.

The simple human association. Most of us have been out too late for our own good in some strange town; most of us have been stopped by a stranger and asked for the time. It is often a slightly unsettling experience. The time. What is the time? The answer is that it’s usually later than we think.

All these images were overtaken by the police video of the knife practice. Faced with the constant repetition of this scene from the Stephen Lawrence case, a loss of faith is almost inevitable.

Anuj was a postgraduate student at Lancaster. As it happens I’m familiar with this campus. From a certain vantage point, you look down to the university playing fields and the West Coast railway line and then, far beyond, across the rolling plains of rural Lancashire. It is England at its most peaceful and reassuring. Did Anuj appreciate it too? I should think he did.

Across country, in County Durham, where Tony Blair was once an idealistic young MP, the taxi driver and his female companions had just returned from a ‘family night out’. A perfectly ordinary family, as the neighbours were at pains to assure the cameras, keeping themselves to themselves, lovely people. The proximity of the six guns – all licensed; quite in order – was probably not widely known, but Mr Atherton seemed to have recovered from his mental health ‘issue’ of a few years ago. Until he shot Susan, Alison and Tanya; and then himself.

So the decent, hard-working family – the sort of unit Cameron is forever banging on about – didn’t have a wonderful holiday either. It was shown to have the capacity, once the Christmas lights began to twinkle, to turn in on itself in violent anarchy as much as any loner-occupied bedsit. How apt that the photograph of one of the women depicted her in a party hat.

All these images were overtaken by the police video of the knife practice. Faced with the constant repetition of this scene from the Stephen Lawrence case, a loss of faith is almost inevitable: faith in the goodness of the human race, in the possibility of redemption, in humanity itself. The same day as we were shown the knife practice for the first time – or was it the next day or the one before? they merge into one – a young man appeared before the Manchester magistrates charged with the murder of Anuj and, when asked to state his name, gave it as Psycho. The year began as, perhaps, it intends to continue.

Of comic relief, there was a little. The establishment brought forth its seedy little honours list, where it paid to be a convicted fraudster who had done time, or someone who once had links to the drugs trade, or a major supporter of the Conservative Party, the three categories of award being barely distinguishable. And, in the same realm of low comedy, there was Cameron himself, and his assurance that no expense would be spared to bring the Olympic Games to a London armed to the teeth from the air and on the ground; his undertaking that these games would somehow restore Britain to its former greatness.

Naturally. We are all for the high jump after all.

A glimmer of hope? That too. On the first day, thousands of geese surged joyfully over the village. I have to admit: it did look as if they were getting the hell out. But their powerful direction suggested that they at least knew where they were going. Do we?


Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review