The Corner

Still Searching for Justice in Woolwich

Earlier today in Woolwich, just south of central London, the two Islamist thugs who murdered an unsuspecting off-duty soldier, Drummer Lee Rigby, by running a automobile over him and then cutting him up with knives and a machete, were found guilty of his murder. It was the opposite of a surprise. The murderers themselves did not contest the actual events that constituted the crime; they merely claimed that as jihadists they were soldiers of Allah entitled to kill him in this way. Even if they had denied the course of events, however, the video evidence of the security cameras would have convicted them. That video evidence, now released by the court, clearly shows them murdering him.

They have been found guilty but not yet sentenced. Reasonably enough, the trial judge postponed sentencing until a higher court has issued a general statement on sentencing in the New Year. The general expectation is that they will receive a sentence that in practical terms means they will never be released. One should be cautious about such expectations, however — who knows what murderer rights the European Court of Human Rights will discover in the next few years. And this particular expectation rests on the strong public emotion that has surrounded this trial.

After the verdict David Cameron issued a statement saying that “the whole country united in condemnation of what happened.” It certainly seemed that way at Woolwich in the days following the murder. (See my posting earlier this week on Woolwich for the background.) But did the jury share in this national unity?

It did find the Islamists guilty of murdering Rigby (and thereby gave what little comfort it could to Rigby’s family). His father expressed some pride in the fact that his son had become a symbol of national unity. But the jury also acquitted Rigby’s murderers of the charge of the attempted murder of the police who arrived on the scene and shot them. But as my favorite (not-very-)left-wing columnist, Dan Hodges on the Daily Telegraph blogging page, pointed out, this was in complete contradiction of what everyone in the court had seen on the video evidence now publicly available:

Anyone who has seen the complete footage of the moment the armed response unit arrives in Artillery Placewill have watched three amazing scenes. The first is the manner in which Lee Rigby’s assailants split up, and charge directly at the officers. The second is the way both men are cut down by a rapid succession of shots, the one wielding a machete only moments before he reaches the vehicle. And the third is how as soon as the men have been disabled the police immediately rush to administer first aid.

That sequence of events imposes on the rest of us a plain duty to protect the interests of the police before and after this kind of life-or-death scenario.

In the safety of the court, however, defense counsel argued that the two murderers hoped that they would be killed by the police when they charged them and so they could have had no intention of murdering them, merely of being “martyred” themselves. That’s all very well, as the Brits say, and it was the job of the defense to argue their clients’ best case. But it was not the duty of the jury to accept such a flawed argument.

What would have happened if the police guns had jammed or misfired? Would the murderers have simply thrown away their weapons and given themselves up peacefully? Or would they have said (in the words of an IRA terrorist on hearing that a policewoman he murdered had been pregnant) “Hey, two for the price of one,” and added a cop to Rigby in his total of infidel victims?

Hodges thinks the second, and so do I. Indeed, the jury’s verdict goes a little way toward legitimizing the Islamist concept that murder becomes martyrdom when you are prepared to “take one of them with you.” It takes that argument seriously enough to allow it as a mitigating factor in what was otherwise a plain case of attempted murder. At the very least it suggests a feeble benevolence that always wants to strike a middle way — guilty of one murder, innocent of another — rather than reviewing the evidence dispassionately and reaching a tough-minded but honest conclusion.

I don’t think the crowds that laid wreaths where Rigby was murdered would have reached the same conclusion. They want justice with security rather than justice with finesse. It may require a few more murders before juries and establishments agree with them.

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