Richard Ingrams' Week: Was Norman Kember really naive?


There are certain categories of top people who, in the old days, hardly ever spoke in public. They included not just members of the royal family but civil servants, sportsmen and generals as well.

From their own point of view, this was probably a good thing because, as the late Denis Thatcher used to say, "Whales only get shot when they spout."

Colonel Tim Collins enjoyed considerably more than 15 minutes of fame when he made an eve-of-battle speech to his men prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. As a result, he has since become a B-list celebrity spouting away on TV and even publishing a book.

This week, speaking at the Oxford Union, the colonel launched a savage attack on Norman Kember, the Christian pacifist who was recently released after four months' imprisonment at the hands of a group of Iraqi kidnappers.

"Norman Kember was quite frankly naive. He got what he deserved. Any lunatic who climbs into the lions' den should not be surprised if they get eaten when they try to be a Daniel."

The colonel repeated the official line about how Norman Kember had been rescued by our gallant SAS men, although after the initial press euphoria it had emerged that, in fact, some kind of backstairs' deal had been struck with the kidnappers, possibly even with money being paid to them before they were allowed to escape. Of gallantry there was little need.

When it comes to being naive and lunatic when going to Iraq, who fits the description better - Norman Kember or Tony Blair? But would the colonel be brave enough to make that particular allegation at the Oxford Union?

Almost all 'rights' turn out to be utterly trivial

The question of human rights is one that has been debated by philosophers for hundreds of years. What are rights in the first place and who has them? Does it make any sense to speak of children's rights or even animals' rights.

Almost all the rights discussed nowadays turn out to be utterly trivial. Thus the question arose this week of whether school teachers who confiscate mobile phones off their pupils are infringing their human rights (no mention was made of the fact that Government scientists have several times warned that children should not use mobiles for the good of their health).

By chance, the issue coincides with yet another story about a married couple found guilty of abuse whose children have been taken away from them by order of the courts and social services even though it is fairly obvious to everybody else that their injuries are the consequence of a hereditary illness which causes brittle bones.

Even if the parents were now to be vindicated, it is unlikely that their children would be returned to them. It must be a sign of a society that is beginning to lose touch with reality that people can solemnly debate whether teachers have a right to deprive children of their mobile phones whereas the state has the unchallenged right to remove children permanently from their parents with no questions being asked.

* The rights of birds were again upheld this week when a retired GP was prosecuted and found guilty of illegally shooting a seagull.

Dr Boughton of Dartmouth had suffered long in silence as the birds turned his garden white with their droppings while their squawking kept him awake at night.

The final straw, however, came when a seagull flew past his open window where he was eating his lunch and deposited a dollop of bird-poo in his wife's salad.

That was enough for Dr Boughton who went out and shot one of the seagulls with his airgun, hanging the corpse on an apple tree where he was hoping it would act as a deterrent to fellow gulls.

But in so doing, he had infringed the rights of seagulls. The RSPCA was informed of the incident and took him to court where their lawyer Paul Taylor accused him of being motivated "by a general desire to reduce the seagull population".

If that was true, it would seem that the doctor was not doing very well at it, considering that only one seagull out of several thousand had paid the supreme penalty. Despite this, he was found guilty and was given a conditional discharge.

This sad and silly story will do little to deter seagulls, but it might just possibly deter people from giving money to the RSPCA in future.

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