Daylight Robbery in Milan

Milan Central - Mussolini's Bambino

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday June 21, 2008

The best thing about this job is you have an excuse to read the Daily Mail every day: but sometimes, out of the corner of my eye, I worry that it might infect me.

Well, this is a voluntary exposure to the Daily Bile so think how I feel. It's all self-inflicted.

There has been much debate recently about civil liberties, freedom and fairness; this in itself is a good thing. David Davis's re-exchanging of vows with the electorate of Haltemprice initially injected some interest into the debate, although the subsequent decision of the Labour and Liberal parties not to stand has taken the shine off. (For the record, I feel the Labour Party made the correct call - just about).

In addition, a number of news stories - not all UK based - have highlighted the issue.

Firstly, we have the story in The Mirror et al, that a Housing Association in Surrey has decided to impose a curfew as part of its tenancy agreement. Draconian in itself but exacerbated by the close proximity of the homes to privately owned ones, whose children remain unfettered.

Now, part of the grumpy old fart in me thinks a general curfew might be a good thing in some areas, and the HA are within their rights to insist on certain levels of behaviour in fairness to all its tenants, regardless of the fact that there are more affluent homes as part of the same development. Indeed, even before the requirement for a percentage of homes to be set aside for social housing, HA tenants could find themselves close to existing homeowners. However, this appears to have been a badly thought out plan. What may have begun as an attempt to preserve social cohesion has clearly ended up being devisive and unfair. A less charitable view would be that - as some of those affected point out - they are pandering to the monied classes up on the hill.

As the scheme appears unworkable, I expect a climb-down to be undertaken and sanity to prevail. Otherwise, the posh kids will be able to claim the game once the referee blows at 9 p.m.

Next, we have the election charade (or Charamba to coin a phrase) in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Government Spokesman, George Charamba said today that the United States, Britain and other European countries could "go hang". Given Saddam's finale, Messrs C and M should be thankful they don't have oil.

Then, we have the case of potential medical student, Majhid Ahmed, from a deprived area, denied a place at Imperial College London on the grounds that he has a spent conviction for burglary.
The college is quoted as saying,
  • "The college requests information on a candidate's 'unspent' convictions only ... medicine, however, is focused on preparing students for a career that has particularly demanding requirements. Medical practitioners hold a position of responsibility in society, and must often deal with vulnerable people. The public must have confidence in the integrity and probity of its doctors.

    "Imperial believes that by carrying out and acting upon the CRB [Criminal Records Bureau] checks of potential medical students, it plays an important role in helping to uphold this trust."

The decision to uphold the bar on him taking a place comes despite references from charities and doctors he has worked with, together with straight A grades. As soon as I saw the story, I was reminded of a not-so-dissimilar case, that of Louise Woodward. (born in Elton, Cheshire not Cambridgeshire, Wiki people). For brevity's sake I shall merely point out that she has a conviction in the USA for manslaughter involving a child in her care. She then pursued a legal career, taking a degree in London and embarking on training. Indeed, I was somewhat surprised to see her at Liverpool Family Proceedings Court shadowing a solicitor, but hey ho.

The crucial aspect is that whilst criminal convictions (particularly dishonesty) can be a bar to practising law, the Law Society uses discretion.

Similarly, the General Medical Council yesterday confirmed that people can still become doctors if they have a criminal record. A candidate could be barred if thought to pose a risk, but evidence including references would be considered.

Not only does this smack of one rule for some, it sends out a clear message: we want to rehabilitate you, but don't get ideas above your station. I hope Mr. Ahmed gets further offers soon.

Finally, as 5CC pointed out some hours ago, it's that time of the year when The Daily Mail has a go at gypsies (or gipsies as it continues to print, not that it stops its salivating sickos using another spelling). As its intrepid fashion expert Liz Jones failed to find any swan-eating travellers at Glastonbury, it turns to its patriotic counterparts in Italy for succour:

Caught in the act: The 'gipsy' child thieves who could teach Fagin a trick or two

Sorry for shouting, but it is like being bellowed at by a particularly bigoted Mussolini-lookalike.
Of course, as usual, the 'story' is not quite what it says on the tin helmet.

Fagin, eh? Seen that somewhere before.

The Mail paints the picture: young kids pickpocketing outside Milan's railway station. Now, notwithstanding the fact that any seasoned traveller should be aware of such possibilities at every major transport station, and criminality is criminlality whoever perpetrates it, there is no justification for what follows:

  • Children, all below the age they can be prosecuted, are sent out by their parents to steal cash, cards and phones - in fact anything that can be sold on

nd the evidence is where? But this is Mail Land. Just use quotation marks and caveats sparingly and allow the moronic element of its readership to fill in the blanks like a journalistic paint-by-numbers.

  • Both youngsters are pickpockets and both are also almost certainly the offspring of Roma gipsies.
Berlusconi's solution is simple: fingerprint the Roma. And this gets some support from the Mail faithful:

  • It's not just Milan, parts of Britain are like this with organised mobs of children stealing in London and other cities. Unless immigration is controlled from Eastern Europe, expect more of the same.

    - Sue G, Perth, Australia, 1/7/2008 8:16

You see, even though Sue is half way round the globe, she sees all. Amazingly, the Mail sees no problem in printing such borderline racism (to be charitable).

  • We sent my parents to Rome as a gift for their Golden wedding anniversary. They had a miserable time fighting off these children and were not always successful. Even worse was the way the police seemed to collude with the Roma, beating the children and taking their pick from what was stolen. Very sad situation - mum and dad were so pleased to come home.

    - Elisabeth, Limoges, France, 1/7/2008 8:17

This doesn't even make sense. They collude with the children they then beat and steal from. Maybe lost in translation from our French expert.

  • Anyone who has had direct experience of gypsies will know quite how bad they are. All this hand-wringing from the usual liberal suspects is only to be expected.

    Go to it Rome - clear them out.

    - Geoff M, Brittany, France, 1/7/2008 8:18

Where the Mail fears to tread, another cross-channel racist steps up to the plate.

  • If Italy can get tough with these people why can't we - oh I forgot the Human Rights Act - they have a human right to rob us.

    - Declan, London, 1/7/2008 11:42

Declan thinks Italy is not part of the EU. Strewth.

  • UNICEF and the rest of the idiot do-gooders should butt out, whinging about children's rights. If they choose to rob, steal and thieve they deserve to be finger-printed. Moreover they deserve to be removed back to Romania.

    We need to put this idea on hold that immigrants should be treated with kid gloves because they don't know our laws. Rubbish. Either change your ways or head back to where you came from. Simple as that.

    - Chris Carr, Southampton, 1/7/2008 13:16

Carr is that peculiar breed of Briton, Thickus Shittus. Never mind reading the story, just make your own one up and hope nobody notices.The newspaper equivalent of John Redwood's Welsh National Anthem.

Fortunately, there are some sane comments:
  • If there are gipsy Roma families that are causing trouble or mistreating their children, they need to be dealt with like people from any other minority. Such cases shouldn’t simply be seen as an opportunity to gain votes or to sell a few more newspapers. Crime is the symptom of a greater problem, and if the problems aren’t dealt with then the problem persists. Ultimately society decides what kind of world we are going to live in. When people are excluded from society they make their own rules. I don’t say that is right it is just the way it goes. Catching criminals and punishing them is essential, but it doesn’t change any thing. Changing hearts and minds, changes everything.

    - Joseph G. Jones (The Gypsy Council Ltd, Secretary), Amersham Bucks, 1/7/2008 8:00

The Council's site is currently under reconstruction (imagine Mail comments about tarmac etc) but there is an interesting affiliated 'permanent site' here.
  • The comments here are disgusting. Fingerprinting children of a minority because they are from a minority? Even the Catholic Church has condemned it yet people here think it is common sense. Really quite unreal.

    - Kevin Boatang, London, 1/7/2008 10:05

There is daylight robbery in Milan: over £4 for a pint of piss poor Peroni.