Breaking, entering and checking out the wall colour

`My wife had seen a rather nice cream in the hall and thought we ought to have a look'

A MOST extraordinary trial is going on at the moment at the High Court, in which a married couple is accused of the crime of breaking and entering a neighbourhood house. The extraordinary aspect of the trial is their defence plea, which is that they merely wished to have a look round. But perhaps a brief extract from yesterday's proceedings will give a better idea of a case which promises to make legal history.

Counsel: You are Mr and Mrs Whittle?

Whittle: No. I am Mr Whittle.

Counsel: But when you are with your wife you are Mr and Mrs Whittle?

Whittle: No. I am still Mr Whittle when I am together with my wife.

Counsel: I see. Are you often together?

Whittle: We have been together now for 17 years.

Counsel: So, you've been married for 17 years?

Whittle: No, we've been married for 19 years.

Counsel: How is it possible that you have been married for more years than you have been together?

Whittle: I had to go abroad on business for two years from 1987 to 1989. During that time we could hardly have been said to be together.

Counsel: I see. What sort of business took you abroad?

Whittle: I had to go on a weekend sales trip to the Lebanon.

Counsel: And that took two years?

Whittle: Yes. During my weekend in Beirut I was captured and held as a hostage for two years by a militant Palestinian organisation.

Counsel: I am sorry to hear that.

Whittle: Not as sorry as I was, or indeed my wife was.

Judge: Mr Wildebeeste, I fail to see the point of this line of questioning. If Mr and Mrs Whittle are up on a charge of breaking and entering, why are you delving into his commercial history?

Counsel: The idea is to confuse him with apparently random questions, my Lord, until when he is off guard, I can swoop and disconcert him with strategically placed queries, like a picador weakening a bull.

Judge: It's not working yet, is it? Counsel: No, my Lord.

Judge: I think you'll find that it's the banderillero who swoops in the bull-ring. The picador merely shuffles around on a condemned nag.

Counsel: You're right, my Lord.

Judge: Carry on, smarty pants.

Counsel: Now, Mr Whittle, on 17 July last year, were you and your wife together?

Whittle: We were.

Counsel: You were not on some mysterious trip to the Middle East?

Whittle: No. we were at home in our small Hampshire village of Fenton Bresler.

Counsel: You were not at home all the time, I believe?

Whittle: No. We were also in the house of Sir Edgar and Lady Truelove, the Manor House, which is 500 yards from us.

Counsel: Had you been invited to go in there?

Whittle: No.

Counsel: So you had broken and entered the Manor House?

Whittle: No. We merely entered. No breaking was involved. The front door was open.

Counsel: What on earth possessed you to enter someone else's home without permission?

Whittle: Well, at that particular time, we were planning to repaint the hall, sitting-room and staircase of our own home, and my wife and I could never agree on what colour paints we wanted. The problem was made worse by the fact that modern colour cards, however well printed, never give the real effect of what the paint will look like in real life. Ask any painter or decorator.

Counsel: I intend to.

Whittle: My wife happened to mention that she had seen a rather nice cream paint in the Trueloves' hall when she had been there for a WI meeting, and thought we ought to have a look at it. So the next time we were passing we took our courage in both hands and knocked on the door to ask the Trueloves if we could have a look. There was no answer. We tried looking through the window. The light was not good enough. I tried the door handle. It turned and the door opened. Without quite realising what we were doing, we went in and had a look. We were still in the house when the Trueloves returned.

Counsel: But not in the hall, I think? You were found upstairs in the bedroom?

Whittle: Yes, well, that was because we didn't really like the colour in the hall. It was a bit on the yellow side, a bit drab. Quite apart from anything else, it reminded me uncannily of the wall colour of the room in which I was kept hostage for two years. So my wife said she thought there was a nicer shade of barley cream on the landing upstairs, and we just popped upstairs to have a look...

More of this fascinating case some other time, I hope.

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