From Laszlo Csatary to Whitey Bulger: Nasty old men don’t deserve a break just because they’re old

Justice moves from slow to arthritic when OAPs are involved
  • @MsEllenEJones

Nazi war-crimes suspect Laszlo Csatary lived to 98, but was still sprightly enough to evade justice. He was finally tracked down after 54 years on the run, but died this week before he could be formally sentenced. The comparatively youthful Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, 83, has just been convicted of 11 murders, 19 years after he went on the run. Is this proof that there is no escaping justice? Or a reminder that while your reckoning may one day come, there will likely be several decades of freedom and intercontinental travel beforehand?

Justice moves notoriously slowly, but if the defendant is aging and their crimes recede into the past, then slow becomes arthritic. There are logistical issues which make prosecuting historic crimes difficult – the witnesses who are no longer around to testify, for instance – but there is also a cultural resistance to revisiting the past that is not so easily accounted for.

In an interview last week Eddy Shah made the outrage-provoking suggestion that underage girls must “take the blame” for their abuse. He has since clarified his stance, but comments made in the same interview comparing Operation Yewtree to a “witch hunt” were much less widely condemned and required no clarification. Whether expressed in a public statement or as a vague, unarticulated emotion, there are many who feel uneasy about the police pursuing men in their 60s, 70s and 80s over incidents that happened decades ago.

If the public is guilty of any misty-eyed behaviour, it is not, as Shah and others have suggested, under-16s who are most often sentimentalised; it is the over 60s. Elderly men are variously excused as too frail to be threatening, belonging to a different time when different rules applied, or victims of a kind of PC reverse-discrimination, which places the victim’s desire for revenge above a common sense assessment of threat.

Cases as notorious as those of Bulger or Csatary reveal these defences to be specious. But the fact that even here prosecutors must work against a palpable resistance to revisiting historic crimes, suggests resistance to “raking up the past” was never really about defending the right to a fair trial in the first place. Once we get to poking around in long-buried history, it isn’t the “innocence” of OAPs that is most threatened by corruption; it is everyone else’s cosy memories.

At the very close of the Bulger trial, after testimony covering multiple murders in gruesome detail, the prosecutor still deemed it necessary to remind the jury: “This is not some Robin Hood story about a guy who kept angel dust and heroin out of Southie.” It seems while time may have withered Bulger’s body, the nostalgic reverence that protected him is as strong as ever.

We all think we’re special, Jennifer

“I always knew I was going to be famous,” said famous actress Jennifer Lawrence in a recent interview with Vogue. “It wasn’t a vision. But as it’s kind of  happening, you have this buried understanding, of course.”

Of course. And since many famous people have reported similar non-vision visions in interviews, it seems unfair to pick on Lawrence. Is she aware, however, that psychologists have a term for this particular form of clairvoyance?  It’s called the “Forer effect” and refers to the high rating of accuracy given to flattering statements that are in fact widely applicable.

The only difference between Jennifer’s vision and that of other little girls is that hers came true. Jennifer, you may not actually be psychic, but you are certainly adept at cold reading. You even fool yourself.