The police can’t say: “A good sort killed a bad sort…”

MANY of today’s front pages relay the story of the 78-year-old south London pensioner said to have killed a burglar.

Richard Osborn-Brooks is the sort of hero loved by newspapers: he defended himself, his property and his disabled wife, and now he is being held for murder.

While the newspapers were still putting their pages together, the never less than unsavoury Aaron Banks was already pushing that populist bandwagon down the eager hill of public opinion on Twitter.

Like many of this morning’s newspapers, Banks was upset by the injustice of the case.

To fill in for a moment, Banks is the man who funded the LEAVE.EU campaign and was once the largest donor to UKIP, until the party asked him to leave. Yes, this is the man even UKIP had to suspend in the end.

A man infamous for his intolerant views on anything and everything to do with race; the man who seeks attention through his racism and name-calling, often of Muslims.

Not a man you want on your side.

The eagerness to defend Mr Osborn-Banks is understandable. He is a brave everyman figure. He is any one of us grabbing what comes to hand: said in this case to have been a screwdriver.

Reportedly there were two burglars: one was fatally injured and the other was still at large at the time of writing.

Mr Osborn-Banks is, perhaps oddly, seen in the newspapers holding two pints of Guinness. Was this picture the only one available or are the papers trying to say something about his hearty ordinary good-blokeness? No idea, but it’s a question to ask.

This is the sort of case the newspapers love, from the Mirror, Express and Daily Mail to the Daily Telegraph: all splash on the story, ready to tap the well of injustice.

Let’s pause for a moment. While feeling every sympathy for Mr Osborn-Banks, what else could the police do but arrest him? The law must run its course, and in this case the law may well find that there is no charge to bring because of the circumstances.

It isn’t for police on the ground to decide that a good sort killed a bad sort. It isn’t for newspapers to decide, either. Newspapers like an instant cause or a ready injustice. They want exclamatory headlines, they want to kick up a fuss, because that’s what newspapers do.

Nothing wrong with that, but the law must operate above the emotive shouting.

The story as reported today is a heat-of-the-moment row about a matter that may be settled to general satisfaction at a later stage.

Those who defend their homes can be convicted, as happened to the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, who shot dead 16-year-old burglar Fred Barras in 1999. He served three years for murder, although the charge was reduced to manslaughter on appeal.

Mr Martin’s case led to acres of comment and he wasn’t an entirely sympathetic figure. He later said in an interview: “Why should I be bloody remorseful. Let’s put it like this. Those people had no business being here. They were just putrescence.”

Mr Martin killed Barras with an illegally held pump-action shotgun, Mr Osborn-Banks grabbed a screwdriver. With good sense the law will see a scale of difference there.

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