Miles Kington: Nick, nick, nicking on heaven's door

'We believe in going to houses to convert people to God, and, if they're not in, to take their belongings'
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The Independent Online

A most extraordinary court case is taking place in London, in which a young man accused of burglary admits that he did it, but pleads justification on the grounds that God told him to do it. What happened was that... but perhaps it would make more sense to bring you an extract from the trial itself. Here is the moment when the man takes the stand.

Counsel: Your name is Josiah Palfrey?

Defendant: Yes.

Counsel: That is your own name?

Defendant: I didn't steal it, if that's what you mean. Laughter in court.

Judge: I will not have this unseemly laughter in court! You may laugh when I make a joke but not otherwise. Laughter in court. That was not a joke! I was being perfectly serious. Complete lack of laughter in court. That's better. Carry on, Mr Radish.

Counsel: Thank you, my lord. Now, the charge reads that on 16 July last you did enter No 9, Deepdene Avenue, and therefrom steal items including blank videos, garden gloves, ironing board covers, tea cloths, kitchen scissors, oven gloves and so on and so forth.

Defendant: That is correct.

Counsel: What is correct?

Defendant: That is indeed the charge.

Counsel: Yes... Right... Now, do you deny that you stole those items?

Defendant: No. But it was justified.

Counsel: You were justified in taking these items from 9 Deepdene Avenue?

Defendant: Certainly.

Counsel: But when can it ever be justifiable to take people's possessions?

Defendant: Oh, very often. When a man is brandishing a gun or spear, it is justifiable to disarm him. When a woman has a dog that she is failing to control, it is permissible to take the dangerous dog from her. When a man is too drunk to drive, I believe I would happily take his car keys from him. When...

Counsel: Yes, yes, but none of these conditions applies here, does it?

Defendant: No. I was merely answering your question as to whether it is ever justifiable to take someone's belongings.

Counsel: Whereas in your case, you simply walked into the house and took these things?

Defendant: Not quite. First of all I rang the bell.

Counsel: To make sure that nobody was at home?

Defendant: On the contrary. I very much wanted someone to be at home so that I could ask them if they were aware of the works of Jesus.

Counsel: In order to convert them to active Christianity?

Defendant: Exactly.

Counsel: And if they were not at home?

Defendant: To take their belongings.

Counsel: This does not strike me as a very Christian attitude.

Defendant: It is the only attitude permitted by my movement.

Counsel: May I inquire as to the name of your movement?

Defendant: Certainly. Our movement is called the Jehovah's Burglars. Mild sensation in court.

Judge: There will be no mild sensations in my court! Let us either have no reaction at all or complete stupefaction! There is no reaction at all. That is better. Carry on, Mr Radish.

Counsel: And what are the beliefs of the Jehovah's Burglars?

Defendant: Basically we believe in going to people's houses to try to convert them to a belief in God and a better life.

Counsel: And, if they're not in, to nick their stuff?

Defendant: Oh, no, not at all. We believe that, as so few people are interested in God and the good life, it's a bit of a waste of time having all this workforce knocking on people's doors, so we also do stuff on commission. For instance, for a fee we will hand out leaflets, or even do a bit of canvassing at election time.

Counsel: Which party do you canvas for?

Defendant: Whichever party pays us, of course.

Counsel: I see...

Defendant: Or we offer to do window-cleaning or gutter-clearing or gardening jobs or car-washing...

Counsel: For free? In order to spread the gospel?

Defendant: No. We charge for that.

Counsel: And where does the burglary come in?

Defendant: Because we do a lot of selling door to door, and we like to prepare the ground by cleaning people out of the stuff that we sell, so that we can sell them more stuff.

More of this riveting case tomorrow, I hope.