Vigilantes on the news and in the White House…

TWO items on the TV news stir a mood of moral queasiness.

The first concerns the fall-out from the stabbing to death of a burglar in south-east London. The family of the dead man have made an impromptu shrine outside the house where he died.

Locals keep trying to destroy this memorial. A burly man wearing a woolly hat, and armed with a pair of scissors, was shown on the BBC1 news kicking the flowers laid in memory of the burglar. It is likely his actions had the support of local people, but he still looked like a thug playing up for the waiting TV cameras and photographers.

“Families repair shrine…vigilantes tear it down,” is the sub-heading in this morning’s Daily Star (not a newspaper I usually glance at).

Unsurprisingly, we have heard nothing yet from Richard Osborn-Brooks, who was arrested after the burglar died, although charges were quickly dropped. He has yet to go public with his side of the story. Maybe he will talk to one of the newspapers that rushed to his defence.

Mr Osborn-Brooks defended himself as was his right, but he also killed a man and he may not be feeling good about that.

Whatever the case, a thuggish-looking man kicking away a tacky memorial to a dead burglar does not help. But neither does a shrine attached to the fence of the house he’d broken into.

Was the man attacking the memorial a vigilante, as the Star suggests? No idea, but he looks the part.

BBC Look North led with a report on a group from Leeds who are vigilantes – proudly and belligerently so. I am not naming this group because I don’t feel like it, but Google will supply the answer.

Like other such groups, this one entraps people they assume to be paedophiles. They take the law into their own hands because they believe police aren’t up to the job.

The police insist they should leave hunting sexual offenders to them. But a judge muddied the waters in Newcastle last year by ruling that members of such a group could continue to pose as children online to catch sexual predators.

As long ago as 2013, the Guardian reported police as saying that the actions of vigilantes can be damaging to abuse victims as well as innocent people wrongly suspected.

A middle-aged victim of a sting told the Guardian his life had been ruined after he was caught waiting for an 18-year-old he’d “met” online. He had been lured in by vigilantes who sent a text while he waited in a cafe, saying that “she” was 15. The man got up to leave but was accosted in the street by vigilantes accusing him of wanting to have sex with a 15-year-old.

It’s fair to say that this man was a fool who deserves no sympathy; but it is also true that he had been entrapped. Who do you want to trust – self-styled anti-paedophile hunters or the police who are trained to do the job?

Moral queasiness of a different degree arises today on the question of whether Britain should join an international response to the suspected chemical attack in Syria.

According to the Times, Theresa May is resisting calls to join any action until more evidence is produced. Over in Telegraph-land, Mrs Maybe has given her “strongest signal yet” that Britain would not allow the use of chemical weapons to go unpunished.

The Daily Mail says it feels “very queasy indeed” about stepping into the “quagmire” of the Middle East.

Whatever we decide, you can’t help but conclude that the poor people on the ground will continue to suffer horribly, whether the world wrings its hands or sends in Mr Trump’s missiles. And should we trust the vigilante in the White House?

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