How society has failed Frances Lawrence

Frances Lawrence has been doing the rounds on TV and radio today, expressing her outrage at the fact that her husbands murderer will not now be deported when he finishes his sentence. For liberals, issues such as these place us in a tricky position. No-one wishes to cause Frances Lawrence or her family any further grief, but what if pretty much everything she says is utterly wrong?

First of all, the Human Rights Act is a sideshow here. The real issue is that we are members of the EU and as an EU citizen Learco Chindamo has freedom of movement within the community. There has to be a compelling reason to not only send him back to Italy – a place he left when he was six – and not allow him to come back. Now, if he was a threat to the Lawrence family, or indeed anyone, then that might be a reason for keeping him in prison. But how is that a reason for keeping him in Italy?

Bizarrely, if the guy was a UK citizen, we wouldn’t even be having this debate. This isn’t, ultimately, about whether ‘criminals’ should have more rights than ‘victims’. This is a debate about whether ‘British criminals’ should have more rights than Italian ones. More than that, this is a debate about whether the perpetrators of media-friendly crimes should be treated more severely than the perpetrators of the majority of crimes that the media couldn’t give two hoots about. Chindamo would not be embroiled in this row if he’s murdered another black kid, as that is just black-on-black crime and therefore to be disregarded. If his victim had been Stephen rather than Phillip (I’ve seen at least one person get these 90s Lawrences confused), we’d have never heard of either the murderer or the victim.

He’s currently serving life imprisonment and having served 12 years is now entitled to parole. But that doesn’t mean he will automatically be released now. But more to the point, he’s spent his entire youth in confinement. This is not, as Frances Lawrence puts it, someone who is free “to pick and choose how he wants to live his life.” Iain Dale seems to think he’s had a light sentence. Call me a bleeding heart, but I most certainly don’t. His life has been thrown away – he isn’t going to just walk away. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve it; just don’t tell me that 12 years of imprisonment at an impressionable age is something you can just shrug off. Is it so outrageous to suggest that someone like Chindamo – who clearly had a young chaotic life – having served his sentence, should be allowed to try to rehabilitate in the country he has spent 21 of his 27 years in? Are there really no grounds for even an inch of compassion for this pathetic creature? Are we really so keen to create another Hindley-esque monster to tell campfire stories about?

What should the alternative be? There are plenty of Tories – including if I recall their own Shadow Home Secretary – who believe that what should have happened is that Learco Chindamo should have been marched off to a gas chamber on his 16th birthday (because obviously you don’t murder children in cold blood – that would be inhumane), as they do in many US states. Short of that though, at some point the guy was going to be released. If he’d been given a minimum sentence of 30 years, I can guarantee that Iain would have been writing in 2025 “So a headmaster’s life is only worth thirty years. That is perhaps just as big a scandal as the abuse of the Human Rights Act.”

Meanwhile, Home Office Minister Tony McNulty claims that by committing a heinous crime, Chindamo has “forfeited his human rights.” This is now familiar New Labour rhetoric. To counter the Tories’ call for no-one to have any rights at all, Labour prefer to say that only the innocent should have rights. But how far should this go? If Chindamo has forfeited his rights, then presumably torturing him in prison would have been fair game? Indeed, how far does ‘heinous’ go? Speeding and killing a child is pretty heinous. Pinching from pension funds is pretty heinous. Where do you draw the line? Get a judge to decide? They’re supposed to be the problem in the first place!

Writing as an atheist, and a rationalist, whatever happened to those very Christian concepts of redemption and forgiveness? Whatever happened to hating the sin but loving the sinner? I find it hard to see how a society can function without these principles and stay sane (even Sharia law has a certain crude concept of rehabilitation). Yet a lot of the same people who are first in line to denounce how ‘family (Christian) values’ have been lost seem to have no truck with the idea that such values ought to apply to them as well.

How did society fail Frances Lawrence? Fundamentally, by not letting her get over it. The media have lapped her up as a cause celebre, endlessly reinforcing her quiet sense of outrage by having to rehearse it to camera ad nauseum. The Home Office clearly mislead her by confidently assuring her Chindamo would be deported when they surely had scant grounds for believing it. And the criminal justice system has failed her by not letting her confront directly the man who destroyed her family. I suspect that half an hour in a room together would do both Frances Lawrence and Learco Chindamo a lot of good. It would enable Mrs Lawrence show Chindamo the effects of his crime and force Chindamo to confront his evil act. She’s correct to say that Chindamo’s lawyers reassurances that they are unlikely to meet in the street is missing the point, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. All the evidence I’ve seen suggests that restorative justice is of huge benefit to the victim. The right however would prefer it if victims held onto their sense of injustice. It saddens me that she will now be used as their preferred political football of choice for the next 48 hours. Scrapping the Human Rights Act won’t bring her husband back and it won’t get her justice.


  1. Well said – ‘restorative justice’ may well have helped the Lawrence family. Sad how some politicians are so willing to exploit Frances Lawrence in her continuing grief.

  2. “Writing as an atheist, and a rationalist, whatever happened to those very Christian concepts of redemption and forgiveness?”

    I was going to blog about this but did not get so far because I could not put together such a good opening paragraph about not wanting to further hurt the Lawrence family! But as a Christian you took the words out of my mouth in that sentence. The Lawrence family are well known as good Catholics – Philip was an alumnus of Ampleforth IIRC.

    And you are right, the HRA is more or less irrelevant here. It’s being blown out of all proportion by those who would do away with it without having a policy for what might replace it. The release of any prisoner may have implications for a victim’s family, but that applies to all prisoners, not just foreign born ones. So from the victim’s point of view this is not a special case. I can understand they might want to put as much space between them and the perpetrator as possible, but other than day to day management of their parole (no puttin him up in a half way house on the corner of the street in which they live – though stranger things have no doubt happened in the past) they have no right to expect such special treatment.

  3. I agree with you. Although Iain knows how the dog whistle works on this he also knows in his heart of hearts that deporting this man is not the answer. Otherwise he would surely have re-fisked this fisk by now. As Jock says it is not the HRA anyway.

    McNulty is floundering and not up to the job. But please don’t imagine his burblings hold too much weight in the LP or the PLP.

  4. “Meanwhile, Home Office Minister Tony McNulty claims that by committing a heinous crime, Chindamo has “forfeited his human rights.””

    As I point out to people repeatedly they are called Human Rights not “Rights of people we happen to thing are nice enough and worthy enough to have them”.

    To paraphrase Larry Flynt – if they protect the them then they protect everyone else because they are the worst there is.

  5. Dosn’t seem to me that Frances Lawrence is the sort of person to have been pushed about by politicians in this. Her presence in all the media and willingness to speak about it says as much.

  6. Well said, James.

    The authoritarian right (and its tabloid cheerleaders) are doing their damndest to undermine a basic principle of English law: criminals are punished, not to provide “justice” for victims (whatever that may mean), but to maintain and preserve the Queen’s peace (ie, protect the public).

    Learco Chindamo is in jail, not to make Mrs Lawrence feel good or to satisfy her desire for revenge, but because the law considers that the whole community needs protection from those who kill other human beings.

    In English law, it makes not the slightest difference if Chindamo killed a devoutly Roman Catholic headmaster or an alcoholic down-and-out with no family or friends. In Sharia law, by contrast, it makes every difference. If the victim pardons the criminal, then the criminal walks free. If the victim wants him dead, then he dies. Indeed, quite recently, a Saudi man pardoned his son’s murderer so he could get into Paradise more easily. The killer was freed.

    Is this the kind of “justice” we want? Frances Lawrence and the right-wing groups making use of her appear to be calling for something that at the very least incorporates aspects of it.

    We had a similar furore a few years ago over the release of Robert Thompson and Jon Venbales (the killers of James Bulger). The tabloids (some of whom came perilously close to inciting the murder of Thompson and Venables) were saying that the two killers should be locked up for as long as James Bulger’s mother wished (so she, and the dead James, could have “justice”). As I said at the time, are Mrs Fergus (or the shadowy groups manipulating her) going to pick up the bill?

    The politicians, once again, prove themselves utterly craven in the face of tabloid clamour (“clamour” is the term employed by Lord Goff in the Thompson and Venables case). And that is precisely why we need an independent judiciary and a Human Right Act.

    Frances Lawrence is one of the least qualified people on Earth to say what should be done with Learco Chindamo, because she is completely lacking in objectivity (obviously and understandably).

    Mrs Lawrence is being set up by sections of the media as some kind of secular saint whose words may not be criticised. What we do need to bear in mind is (1) her history of expressing socially authoritarian opinions which she knows full well the media will broadcast far and wide, and (2) her close association with right-wing groups, such as the Police Federation and the ex-MP Harry Greenway (well-known for his homophobia and collection of antique canes).

    Has Iain Dale ever argued that Tony Martin should have been kept in jail to provide “justice” for the late Freddie Barrass and his family?

    Get my point?

  7. Chindamo should have lost all his so called human rights when he comitted this appaling murder. As far as I am concerned everyones human rights are to go about their lawful business. Period. A leopard never changes his spots and neither will Chindamo. With scumbags like him the answer is to give them a fair trial and then hang them or close to this. Failing that a life sentence should mean just that like in the USA. I hope Chindamo rots in hell. Will the governments of this country ever WAKE UP!!!!. My sincere good wishes to the very brave Mrs. Lawrence and her family.

  8. “A leopard never changes his spots and neither will Chindamo.”

    Leslie Grantham was convicted of murder and served 10 years in prison. He seems to have changed his spots since (whether acting in Eastenders constitutes a useful contribution to society is perhaps an arguable point 🙂

  9. Just back from holiday long enough to read this. An excellently argued piece, James. I think Iain Dale has introduced a red herring which even the Tory spokespeople/David Cameron haven’t mentioned – the length of original sentence. The item under discussion is the deportation decision and as Laurence Boyce commented: “If Chindamo is still a risk, he should be kept in jail, not sent to Italy.”

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