Woody Allen said of crime that the hours were good and you meet a lot of interesting people. I don’t know about the hours, but you do come across some fascinating types in my line of work. Among the strangest are those who resort to extreme violence at the flick of a mental switch — people whom, if they possess a gun, simply cannot avoid firing it.
I’m a criminal barrister, and I remember a case in which a man changed his baby’s dirty nappy and went to put it in the bin. It was raining, and he was barefoot, so he lobbed it from a distance. Unfortunately, it sailed over the bin, and the fence, and landed messily on his neighbour’s doorstep.
The neighbour, whom I shall call Smith, feigned fury but he was secretly delighted; no hole was ever burned in a pocket like that burned by a loaded revolver. He marched out of his house, full of righteous indignation, and knocked on the offender’s door. When the man answered, Smith shot him in the face.
Listen to Gary Bell discussing the criminals he's defended
In another case, a young wannabe gangster — Green — was sitting in his friend Brown’s flat watching the football with a third man, White. In Green’s pocket was a recently acquired pistol, which he intended to use in pursuance of his ambition — to wit, forming one half of the new Krays (the other half to be his brother). He waxed lyrical about this for some time, until, during a break in play, he went to the loo.
At that, White leaned over and changed the channel to EastEnders.
‘He won’t be happy that you’ve turned the football off,’ said Brown.
‘Pah,’ said White. ‘He don’t scare me.’
A few moments later, Green returned to find, to his consternation, that Wayne Rooney had been replaced by Dot Cotton.
‘Who switched the football off?’ he demanded.
‘He did,’ said Brown.
Green pondered for a moment: was that reason enough to shoot someone?
‘I told him you’d be angry,’ said Brown, helpfully, ‘but he said you didn’t scare him.’
Well, that changed everything; our hero pulled out his gun and shot White in the chest.
White survived, and made for the door, but he was apprehended by Brown, who had picked up a carving knife along the way. Now he stabbed White in the throat — as you do.
All that remained was to dispose of the body. Green’s brother hurried over with a chainsaw, they dismembered the body in the bath, and went to dump the resultant meat at a landfill site. They might have got away with it, too, but for the fact that they were seen en route amusing themselves by making hand signals out of the car window with the dead man’s severed arm. The wannabe gangster followed his heroes, the Krays, in receiving a life sentence.
The funny thing is, these people aren’t psychopaths; they wouldn’t shoot you for no reason.
It’s just that they don’t need much of one.