The man in the title has been publicly humiliated, and in some quarters ridiculed, on account of his caution for shoplifting. In that he treads a well-worn path. Although we generally only get to hear about the celebrity offenders – and there seems to be an abundant supply of same – they are apparently only the tip of an immensely larger iceberg of well-off retail thieves.
It seems there is a whole branch of psychiatry devoted to the understanding of such counter-intuitive behaviour. Its practitioners invite us to view these wealthy offenders with sympathy; to strain to understand and appreciate the pressures and stresses which have precipitated their wrong-doing. These include a wide gamut of misfortune, from bereavement or illness in a loved one, to a sense of psychic injustice stemming from unemployment or even plummeting TV ratings. The one thing that all these light-fingered victims of life’s outrageous fortune have in common is the utter opaqueness to themselves of the reasons for, or the mechanisms of, their pilfering. “I’ve been racking my brains to think why on earth did I do it and what was going through my mind at the time”, opines the Anthony Worrall Thompson whose recent divergence from the strait and narrow has inspired this post. It appears that his police caution was administered only at the end of a whole series of similar exploits, we’re reliably informed by BBC News, and the initial misdemeanours were not proceeded with.
And that is the crunch of the matter. I am in general sympathetic to trying to understand why people misbehave. That applies as much to the rich as to the poor. It’s easy to be dismissive, as if in some way having wealth insulates a person from all the other slings and arrows that life might throw at them. Obviously it does not.
On the other hand, life’s slings and arrows puncture the life chances of many, many other people who don’t even have the consolation of fame or financial strength to fall back on. And I suspect that the unemployed mother caught shoplifting would not be allowed to do it a further four times before the police finally became involved. And again, when they did become involved, would they have done no more than rap the offender’s knuckles? Somehow, I doubt it.
It is entirely right that we should listen to, and try to empathise with, the difficulties faced by celebrities or wealthy people no less than those of any other citizen. But no more, either. The criminal justice system is a place where money should never talk.