Were the Greeks right about justice?

The Sentencing Council, consisting of various legal authorities, has told judges and magistrates to consider, when sentencing the young, their ‘difficult and/or deprived backgrounds or personal circumstances’. To what end? To induct the young into proper moral behaviour, Aristotle thought that family discipline should go hand in hand with the community’s laws, customs and education. But it was also possible for the young to receive bad training, on which Aristotle thundered: ‘It makes no small difference whether we form habits of one kind or another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather, it makes all the difference.’ Aristotle took this view because he thought it

Britain’s prisons shame us all

Many years ago, for my Great Lives BBC radio programme, we recorded Jeremy Paxman’s championing of the life of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. It was an excellent choice and Mr Paxman persuasively laid out that great campaigner’s achievements in the reform of child-labour legislation and the lunacy laws. ‘As we look back baffled,’ I asked him, ‘by how civilised Victorians could even contemplate chaining the mentally ill to walls, or sending small boys up chimneys, what do you think future ages will lay, with comparable perplexity and horror, to our own age’s account?’ Paxman said he’d need notice of the question. I don’t. With no shadow of

The perils of Prague: Parasol Against the Axe, by Helen Oyeyemi, reviewed

An informal survey of friends, family, acquaintances and previous reviews suggests that the word most usually associated with Helen Oyeyemi’s fiction is ‘weird’. The author of eight novels has hardly shied away from unconventional storytelling, with books about everything from Brexit-through-biscuits (Gingerbread, 2019) to magical trains and a pet mongoose (Peaces, 2021). Her style is one of high and low: song lyrics jumbled up with references to medieval literature; nods to Shakespeare next to 1980s films. The result is either lauded – Oyeyemi was on the 2013 Granta list of best young novelists and her short story collection won a PEN award – or hated. In a TLS review, the

Tea and treachery: Sheep’s Clothing, by Celia Dale, reviewed

‘It was a nice way of living,’ huffs Grace, the fiftysomething anti-heroine of Celia Dale’s devilishly dark 1988 novel Sheep’s Clothing, republished by Daunt Books. Recently released from Holloway prison, and using a demure headscarf and twin-set as cover, Grace teams up with Janice, a former fellow inmate, to rob elderly women. Disguised as social workers, and armed with an illicit supply of sleeping pills, they are after pension money stashed under mattresses, trinkets in shoeboxes and polished candlesticks on mantelpieces. The victims, invariably women (‘even an old man could be surprisingly strong’) often welcome the thieves, happy to have someone to ‘talk at’ and a cup of tea made

On the trail of Gomorrah in Naples

‘Isn’t Naples beautiful? I’ve always dreamt about it. I always wanted this city all for myself; I didn’t want to share it… I alone deserved it because of everything I lost and I would have done anything to get it.’ So says Ciro Di Marzio – nicknamed ‘the immortal’ because he has survived so much mafia bloodletting – in the hit TV crime drama Gomorrah.   He is not talking about the churches or castles, the arcades or theatres or museums. He may have been out on the bay at night when the words are uttered, but the Naples he knows, grew up in and by then controls is the Naples of

What did King Charles say?

12 min listen

It was the King’s speech today. King Charles announced that the government would introduce new laws to, among other things, force criminals to attend their sentencing hearings, scrap most jail sentences of less than a year, and sell all new houses as freehold properties. Is it enough for the Tories to turn around their deficit in the polls? Katy Balls speaks to James Heale and Isabel Hardman.

How to train like Taki

Gstaad Here’s a tip for you young whippersnappers: don’t get old, but if you do, you can fool Father Time by training the smart way. By this I don’t mean you should follow all that bull that floats around online. I don’t use social media, but I’m told that a system exists, which reaches millions across multiple platforms, that spreads misinformation about health, and then some. The wellness industry means big moolah, and is as phoney as Hollywood morality. Take it from Taki: all you need in order to feel good and be able to enjoy yourself is a little exercise before breakfast, and some semi-hard training in the afternoon.

It shouldn’t be a crime to sniff a goshawk

I notice that the naturalist Chris Packham has been reported to the police for the ‘crime’ of sniffing a goshawk. I had not known that this was an offence – if I had known, I would not do it quite so often, or at worst, made sure nobody was watching me as I approached the birds, tumescent, in my anorak. Goshawks are diurnal, so night-time does offer the opportunity for a good sniff when they are asleep in their nests. The problem is they are also quite rare, largely due to persecution from gamekeepers and, no matter how you dress it up, snorting the scent of a more widespread raptor,

Why weren’t police forces investigating every theft?

Police must investigate every theft. This is the message from the Home Secretary as the government heralds an agreement from all 43 police forces in England and Wales to follow up on any evidence where there is a ‘reasonable line of enquiry’. In practice, that means the police should investigate low-level crimes such as stolen bikes, phones and shoplifting when there is reasonable lead such as a GPS tracker, CCTV footage or a doorbell video. As I noted earlier this month in a cover piece for the magazine, ‘investigate every crime’ doesn’t sound like a particularly novel concept. It raises the question: Why weren’t police investigating every theft? Over the

Daniel Penny and the problem with have-a-go heroes

I have always liked the phrase ‘have-a-go hero’. It sums up a certain type of person who can emerge from nowhere and coat their name with honour. One thinks, for instance, of John Smeaton, the baggage handler who was having a fag outside Glasgow airport in 2007 when two jihadis tried to blow the place up. After a couple of explosions, Smeaton, Alex McIlveen and others ran to find out what was up and, finding one of the terrorists on fire, proceeded to kick the guy in the nuts. Indeed, so hard did McIlveen kick the guy that he himself tore a tendon. But Smeaton, McIlveen and others rightly became

Starmer wants to steal crime from the Tories

It’s tempting to see Keir Starmer as a political wind-up merchant given the number of times he likes to quote people who annoy his own activists. Recently he adopted the ‘take back control’ slogan and today he approvingly quoted Margaret Thatcher. Hell, the man has even praised Tony Blair.  Labour sees an opportunity in the rising salience of crime among voters The Thatcher quote today was in a speech about crime. The Labour leader told his audience in Stoke that: ‘The rule of law is the foundation for everything. Margaret Thatcher called it the “first duty of government” – and she was right.’ He later accused the Tories of having

Why thieves are after your number plates

My day had started as it always does, with a near 40-mile round trip to school, then an hour’s walk in the pretty country park close to our home near Nottingham. As usual, I parked in the small car park and exchanged ‘good mornings’ and ‘beautiful weather, isn’t it?’ with the familiar faces I see most days – dog walkers, joggers and mums herding their kids to the village school. There was nothing out of the ordinary about my walk, which covers an undulating route on a track alongside the canal, through a small wood and past fields of sheep. Until I returned to my car, that is.  Straight away

Sadiq Khan’s strange stabbing statement

What an odd thing Sadiq Khan said following this morning’s stabbings in central London. Shortly before 10 a.m., three people were attacked by a man on a bike in Bishopsgate. The criminal is still at large, according to the Telegraph. This horrifying incident was no surprise to Londoners, so you would think that the Mayor would – from experience – strike the right chord. Instead, Khan had this to say: The good news is, it’s not a terror attack. And another piece of good news is the three victims of the stabbing are not in life-threatening situations, thank God. But it’s just a reminder of the dangers of carrying a knife… Where was

Will guns from Ukraine end up on the streets of Britain?

While visiting a Ukrainian militia this summer, I nearly trod on an anti-tank mine which was being used as a doorstop at the entrance to their HQ. ‘Don’t worry, it’s a broken Russian one that we found,’ said my breezy host, Eduard Leonov. ‘We’re trying to fix it so we can use it.’ Eduard’s militia isn’t exactly the SAS of Ukraine’s forces. It’s a volunteer army and he himself is a folk-singer-turned-fighter in his fifties. Eduard’s dozen-odd comrades are Dad’s Army age, yet even so they still have a formidable arsenal – everything from grenade launchers to Kalashnikovs. I thought about Eduardo when Scotland Yard issued their recent warning about

The lessons of New York’s carnage

New York I am seriously thinking of visiting a shrink (just kidding) as I now have definite proof that I am crazy. Instead of remaining in England and going to Badminton for the Duke of Beaufort’s 70th birthday bash, and catching a glimpse of the love of my life, Iona McLaren, I find myself in a rotten place where a small headline in the New York Post announces: ‘16 shot during bloody day in NYC.’ All I can say is that the Bagel’s salad days are over. The streets are awash with homeless druggies who are violent and perform their functions right out in the open, even on Park Avenue.

A character assassination of Rudy Giuliani

Lord help me I love a hatchet job, and you’ll have to too if you want to make it through Giuliani before donating it to Oxfam. This is not just any old biography – it’s a 480-page character assassination. Born in 1944 to an ex-con who broke kneecaps for a living and a mother who was about as ambitious as Margaret Beaufort, Rudy Giuliani excelled at school, qualified as a lawyer and started making his mark as a prosecutor. Across 12 days in 1986, he won convictions against the heads of four New York crime families (the fifth was murdered before he came to trial), a politician from the Bronx

We need to talk about tasers

Donald Burgess is the latest Briton to die after being hit by a police taser. He won’t be the last, but the circumstances of his death underscore the need for a wider debate about conducted energy devices. Police were called to a care home in St Leonards-on-Sea on 21 June, where they found Burgess threatening staff with a knife. One officer sprayed him with PAVA, an incapacitant spray that the National Police Chiefs’ Council describes as ‘significantly more potent than CS’. The same officer then struck Burgess with a baton while another discharged a taser, sending an electric current coursing through the man’s neuromuscular system. He was then handcuffed and

The price of courage: On Java Road, by Lawrence Osborne, reviewed

Lawrence Osborne’s novels are easy to admire. They tend to deal with characters trapped in morally questionable situations and their backdrops, from Macau to Greece, are often glamorous and exotic. Like any British novelist who deals with morality in foreign places, he gets compared with Graham Greene, but On Java Road, his sixth novel, owes much to Patricia Highsmith too. At its heart is a crime – the disappearance of a young woman in contemporary Hong Kong – but this, as much as anything, is a structural device on which to hang an examination of moral courage. What, Osborne asks, is required to protect democracy when doing so comes with

Naples will never escape the shadow of Vesuvius

Naples, the tatterdemalion capital of the Italian south, is said to be awash with heroin. Chinese-run morphine refineries on its outskirts masquerade as ‘legitimate’ couture operations that transform bolts of Chinese silk into contraband Dolce & Gabbana or Versace. The textile sweatshops are controlled by the Neapolitan mafia, or Camorra. All this was exposed by the Italian journalist Roberto Saviano in his scorching reportage, Gomorrah. Published in Italy in 2006, Saviano’s was nevertheless a partial account, in which the carnival city of mandolins and ‘O Sole Mio’ was overrun by Armani-coutured killer-capitalists. Marius Kociejowski, poet, essayist and travel writer, is alert to the city’s reputation for Camorra and pickpocketing crime.

Welcome to post-truth America

A couple more weeks in the Bagel and then on to dear old London. I’ve had a very good time partying with young friends here, but the place reeks, literally as well as metaphorically. The rate of violence is creeping up, with gangs shooting at each other even on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, right where the poor little Greek boy grew up. Where a commemorative plaque marking young Taki’s residence should have been put up long ago for services to American women, there was a corpse. The next day, it was forgotten, as an 11-year-old was gunned down in the Bronx. What used to be extreme radicalism is now