Miles Kington: The butcher of Carshalton's driving ambition

'What will happen to those Yugoslav tanks if the villagers try to set fire to them. They aren't insured!'
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There is a most extraordinary case going on in a British court this week, which may well have repercussions on what is going on in the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, because – well, perhaps it would be easier just to bring you an extract from the proceedings. It all started when the defendant, up on charges of driving without insurance etc, took the stand.....

Clerk to the Court: You are David Penney, of 15 Cheops Avenue, Carshalton?

Defendant: No.

Clerk: You are not David Penney, of 15 Cheops Avenue, Carshalton?

Defendant: Yes.

Clerk: Do you mean Yes, you are David Penney, of15 Cheops Avenue?

Defendant: No. I mean, yes, you are right when you say "You are not David Penney, of 15 Cheops Avenue?"

Clerk: Then who are you?

Defendant: Slobodan Milosevic.

Clerk: I understood this case was to be of David Penney, on charges of driving while uninsured?

Defendant: That is correct. I am up on a charge of driving while uninsured.

Clerk: But you are not David Penney?

Defendant: I am Slobodan Milosevic.

Clerk: And your address?

Defendant: Mail to the Presidential Palace, Belgrade, will reach me. Eventually. Yugoslav post is not what it was.

Clerk: I was under the impression that Slobodan Milosevic was in The Hague, facing a war-crimes trial.

Defendant: No. He is an impostor. I am the real Slobodan Milosevic.

Clerk: But the man in The Hague admits to being Slobodan Milosevic!

Defendant: Of course. He has his instructions. He is, however, an impostor.

Clerk: So then, you are the ex-president of Yugoslavia?

Defendant: In all respects.

Clerk: Why would an ex-president wish to appear in a small British court on a charge of driving while uninsured?

Defendant: I have never been to Britain and I wished to see your lovely country.

Also, I wish for other cases to be taken into account.

Clerk: What other cases?

Defendant: Many cases of genocide, persecution, mass murder etc. Also of giving orders for Yugoslav tanks to be driven while the drivers and the machines were uninsured.

Clerk: Why wish a small British court to hear such a roster of war crimes?

Defendant: In the hope that, while declaring yourself incompetent to hear war crimes, you'd drop the comparatively minor matter of driving uninsured.

Clerk: I see...

Judge: I think you would do well to confine yourself to the question of the defendant's true identity.

Clerk: I have asked him that already, Ma'am, and he insists he is Milosevic.

Magistrate: Push him a bit.

Clerk: Literally, Ma'am?

Magistrate: No, you fool. Ask him something in Yugoslav.

Clerk: I know no Yugoslav.

Magistrate: Nor, I suspect, does he. Call his bluff.

Clerk: Yes, my Lord... Mr Penney...

Defendant: Milosevic...

Clerk: Mr Milosevic... You speak very good English, do you not?

Defendant: Thank you.

Clerk: Where did you learn to speak such excellent, nay flawless, English?

Defendant: Since my fall from power last September I have had much time on my hands, so I have been devoting myself to an acquisition of the international language in which I might one day have to defend myself. That day would now seem to been arrived.

Clerk: To have arrived.

Defendant: Sorry. To have arrived.

Clerk: Why did you think you would one day have to face trial?

Defendant: I felt very guilty about those tanks, and not having insured them. Every time I sent them out to blast some village to pieces, I would think to myself: "Ma Vlast – what will happen to those tanks if the villagers attempt to set fire to them or throw stones? They are not insured!" You see, when you are president, you must count every penny.

Magistrate: Just a moment, Mr Milosevic. Just now you said "Ma Vlast", as if it were a Yugoslav expression. But surely it is Czech for "My Homeland", as in Smetana's famous composition?

Defendant: Yes, of course. But if I had used the Yugoslav expression, you would not have understood it.

Magistrate: Thank you.


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