Growing up in Africa, i was made to believe that criminals were a savage lot whose place in society – if they were ever caught or if the imprisoning officers were trustworthy enough not to accept bribes – was behind cells.
But behind this atypical belief was a very sad story that not all suspected thugs turned out to be real criminals. Some, especially in Uganda’s capital Kampala, turned out to be innocent civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And there were those, who despite numerous warnings from authorities, made a habit of making away with what didn’t belong to them thereby endangering the lives of the innocents as well as their (criminals) victims.
Years on and in Europe, i have to put up with a similar case, this time though, from the other end of the story where a victim of the robbery ends up in prison with the criminal – walking free.
Just yesterday, a UK millionaire businessman who fought off knife-wielding thugs who threatened to kill his family was jailed for 30 months – while his attackers continue to walk free.
Call it strange yes, but it is actually very true. Munir Hussain, his wife and their three children returning from a mosque during Ramadan, stumbled on three intruders, wearing balaclavas, in their home in High Wycombe.
The family were ordered to lie on the floor of the living room with their hands behind their backs. But as the thugs tied up four of them, Mr Hussain’s teenage son escaped through a window and managed to shout for help.
Realising the heist was about to go all wrong, the thugs made a splint. Mr Hussain then threw a coffee table at the third man, 56-year-old Walid Salem, hitting him in the face.
Meanwhile his brother Tokeer was chasing the other offenders down, and he did manage to bring one of them to the ground in a nearby garden.
What followed was described in Reading Crown Court as self-defence that went too far, leaving intruder Salem with a permanent brain injury after he was struck with a cricket bat so hard that it broke into three pieces.
Judge Reddihough noted Mr Hussain’s ‘courage’ but said he had carried out a ‘dreadful, violent attack’ on the intruder as he lay defenceless.
Salem was the only intruder caught after the incident on September 3, 2008, but his injuries meant he was not fit to plead after being charged with false imprisonment.
Salem, who has a string of 50 past convictions, was given a two-year supervision order at a court hearing in September this year.
But how careful should one be when stealing or when handling those he suspects to have or were in the process of stealing from him?
Munir Hussain was given a 30-month sentence, because Judge John Reddihough decided he had been subjected to more provocation than his brother, Tokeer, who was jailed for 39 months.
Judge Reddihough said Munir Hussain’s family had been subject to a ‘serious and wicked offence’ and praised the bravery of his teenage son who escaped to raise the alarm.
The judge told them: ‘It may be that some members of the public, or media commentators, will assert that the man Salem deserved what happened to him at the hands of you and the two others involved, and that you should not have been prosecuted and need not be punished.
‘However, if persons were permitted to take the law into their own hands and inflict their own instant and violent punishment on an apprehended offender rather than letting justice take its course, then the rule of law and our system of criminal justice, which are the hallmarks of a civilised society, would collapse.’
Sentencing the brothers, whose mother had died just before the incident, the judge added: ‘This case is a tragedy for you and your families.
And i say it is a tragedy to everyone of us – including criminals.
For as the judge continued, “Sadly, I have no doubt that my public duty requires me to impose immediate prison sentences of some length upon you.
This is in order to reflect the serious consequences of your violent acts and intent and to make it absolutely clear that, whatever the circumstances, persons cannot take the law into their own hands, or carry out revenge attacks upon a person who has offended them.”
Sadly, this appalling and at the same time interesting story didn’t make Thursday 14, December 2009 10:00 BBC News!
Like my friend Scott said, “Anyone breaking into my home won’t just be ‘offending’ me – they’ll be risking their life.”