In the early Spring of this year, the armed agents of a foreign Government surrounded 33 British men, women and children. Using assault rifles, CS gas and tanks, they killed and burned 24 of these British citizens, destroyed their homes and all of their belongings, arrested the survivors and paraded some of them in chains before jailing them without charge.
Stories from 1993:
The Pope does not often speak up for convicted killers. But earlier this year, he joined Vaclav Havel, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Jesse Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Kenny Rogers, every Catholic Bishop in the state of Texas, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and a world-wide campaign by Amnesty International in pleading for the life of a young black man on Death Row in Texas.
It was late one Sunday evening last summer. The stumps had long since been drawn from the cricket pitch, all the spectators and picnickers had gone home and only a few of the village men still remained, leaning on the bar of the club house with their cans of Guinness bitter and packets of B and H, and, more or less as an afterthought, the talk turned to the new road. For five or ten minutes, they just knocked it around gently – how much noise would there be, how much smell, was it true that Bob and Jean on the edge of the village would be able to touch the trucks going by from the end of their garden?
Scenes from a city. England, the autumn of 1993.
In a McDonalds hamburger bar, two boys sit at a table. Jamie is eleven; he is small and slim with blond hair, pale blue eyes and a face with the kind of impish innocence that makes old ladies want to pat him on the head. Luke is 13, chubby with pink puppy-fat cheeks and a chunky little body whose roundness is exaggerated by the padded red anorak which he insists on wearing indoors and out, regardless of the weather.
Every evening in Watton is more or less the same. Around six, the children start to gather in the cafe in the High Street, sitting at the moulded plastic tables, pushing butt ends round the ash trays, until the cafe closes at seven and they move across the road to the pavement outside the Gateway supermarket, where they slump together in the doorway and watch the town go dark.
There is a woman in Nottingham, a half caste, who worked on the streets of the red-light area for years before finally she stopped and settled down with her man. She had a baby. And as soon as that happened, she found she was short of money. She couldn’t afford to buy clothes for the child and so, one night this summer, she went back out on to the streets. The man found out.
Kingsley Ofosu lived in Ghana, in a town called Takoradi which is built around a natural harbour on the edge of the Gulf of Guinea. His mother worked in the street market, selling tomatoes, and his father scratched a living in a mining town called Tarkwa 50 miles inland. He had two brothers who shared a bed with him and a third who slept on a mat on the floor. His family called him by a pet name, Cudjoe.
When Basil Tozer – historian of crime and caddish behaviour -produced his study of Confidence Crooks and Blackmailers in 1929, he was in no doubt about the importance of his work. “This book,” he wrote, “will, if read carefully, enable even simpletons to avoid being duped by rogues.” To help the simpletons, he spelled out the suffering of the unwary in cautionary tales of terrible significance. Like this one…
Until a few years ago, there used to be a gigantic old elm tree in the middle of Ramsbury. It was so big that it held an umbrella of branches over the whole village square and, according to Wiltshire legend, the hollow cleft in its centre had once been the home of a witch called Maud Toogood who warned that if the old elm ever fell, the village would fall with it. It was a natural monument to Ramsbury’s wealth and beauty.
Rachel Charles was nine years old when she went missing one warm November day in 1990 as she walked home after school, and when her body was found four days later, tucked under a pine tree a couple of miles along the coast, local people who had never even known her were terrified by the needless brutality of it all. It was a relief to almost everyone when the police arrested Michael Cook, then aged 38, and explained how he had abducted her and tried to have sex with her and then strangled her in his car when she started to fight him off. Cook was convicted of murder and sent to prison for 19 years.