Anthony Daniels: Murder is murder, whatever the victim's character

We don't believe in the Immaculate Virgin, but we do believe in the immaculate victim

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Sentimentality is the tribute that indifference pays to feeling. It is to compassion what clichés are to thought. Unfortunately, there's a lot of it about.

Lampposts close to the site of fatal accidents are nowadays festooned with memorial flowers (always still in their cellophane wrapping), to show that the deceased's friends really, really, really, really miss him, and not just really, really, really miss him.

Whose job, one wonders, is it to take the flowers away again once they've rotted? Apparently, nobody's: I've noticed some memorial flowers round here (where I write this) that have been there at least three weeks, and now look shabby. Who would really, really, or even just plain really, want to be memorialised in this way?

Sentimentality has invaded murder trials, it seems. When the two young killers of Mr ap Rhys Price had been convicted, but not yet sentenced, the victim's fiancée was permitted to have a victim impact statement read out to the court.

What was the point of the victim impact statement in a case like this? It is unlikely that two young men who killed in order to feel big and possess themselves of a man's mobile telephone would develop deep remorse as a result of listening to it: indeed, it might flatter their psychopathic self-importance.

And one would hope that it did not influence the judge's sentence: for the point is not that the two young men murdered someone who was charming, well-educated, intelligent, witty, talented, good-looking, and with a brilliant future before him, but that they murdered.

Likewise with the personalities or character of the five prostitutes murdered in Ipswich. We have been treated to various public statements about how golden-hearted and caring they were, but is there anyone who, in the recesses of his own (perhaps not so golden) heart, actually believes this? Crack-addicted people seldom behave altogether well; indeed, they are notorious more for their self-absorption than other, better qualities.

We have been repeatedly told that they were "driven" on to the streets by their addiction. Actually, if they were driven by anything, it was the false belief that they were driven by their addiction and could not help themselves, a false belief that is assiduously peddled by the supposedly caring professions.

It is nonsense to say that addicts cannot help themselves; the fact is that many addicts abandon their habits spontaneously, without any assistance whatsoever. They do this when they decide that they have something else, and something better, to live for: the problem for many addicts is that they do not have this something. But that is not the same as an irresistible drive that comes upon them as a fit comes upon a man with a brain tumour.

It is true that most, though not quite all, crack or heroin-addicted prostitutes come from terrible family backgrounds but there is no background that means that girls who emerge from it can do nothing with their lives but become such prostitutes. If it did, there would be far more crack-addicted prostitutes than there are.

The problem with all the sentimental gush is that it makes us lose sight of what is important: that five young women were murdered, and that this would be equally wrong whether they had the most golden or the blackest hearts, whether they were as compassionate as St Francis of Assisi or as selfish as Uriah Heap. Their personal qualities are irrelevant. Murder is murder, and the law is the law.

We don't believe any longer in the Immaculate Virgin, but we do believe in the immaculate victim. The problem is that it is impossible for human beings to see everyone as a victim. The murderer of the five girls, whoever it is, suffers almost by definition from a compulsion equal in strength to that which allegedly drove the young women out on to the street; perhaps he even has a heart of gold. In fact, we can't keep the pretence up, so the world is divided into immaculate victims and villains who are responsible for their misdeeds. The world becomes for us a Victorian melodrama.

There is a bullying nature to modern sentimentality, such that one is almost afraid to dissent from it, for fear of being thought an Enemy of the People. Even the Queen was bullied into it after the death of Diana, when she was more or less forced to extol her former daughter-in-law in public. Now, either the Queen felt grief at her death or she didn't. If she did, we demanded to obtrude upon her grief; and if she didn't, we demanded that she pretend that she did, that she shared our ersatz emotion. Either way, it was shameful.

By the way, I have a heart of gold - as I am sure you have, too.

The writer is a former GP and a prison doctor

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