David Aaronovitch column

Share
Related Topics
When Andrew Rickards of Gloucester pleaded guilty to serial shoplifting earlier this week, his solicitor - a Mr Jon Holmes - told the world that his client was "neither needy nor greedy. He is an old fashioned kleptomaniac." Mr Rickards subsequently asked for 2,308 other offences to be taken into consideration.

My first reaction to the solicitor's attempts at mitigation, was an "old- fashioned" harrumph! People nick things - I thought - because they're avaricious and amoral, or because they wish to contribute, in a pleasant and individualistic way, to the demise of capitalism. Or a combination of the above. It is precisely our recognition of this that has made the concept of kleptomania so old-fashioned.

But then I looked at the list of things that were discovered at Mr Rickards' house, and began to wonder. There were - inter a good deal of alia - 32 bottles of cod liver oil, 35 cans of tuna and 131 tins of pilchards.

No simple illicit desire for the goods themselves could possibly account for these thefts. What was propelling Mr Rickards' hand to the shelf full of fish products - and then back into the carefully slit carrier bag he used for his blags - was not a wish for the things themselves. Indeed it must have been immensely irritating to have all these tinned goods forever cluttering up his kitchen. The only conclusion was that the Holmes analysis was correct - Mr Rickards had been in the grip of a compulsion.

Once upon a time such compulsive behaviour was thought to be a purely female problem - like neuroses or anorexia (one of our recent queens was supposed to have stolen regularly from Harrods). But looking through the cuttings I saw that the last great kleptomaniac prosecuted in Britain had also been male. Two years ago an East Anglian theology student turned poultry worker, Duncan Jevons, was discovered to have stolen 42,000 books over 30 years - a rate of over three a week.

Mr Jevons also showed signs that the problem was not a desire for material gain. The 100 volumes of the complete works of St Thomas Aquinas, as whipped from the Catholic Centre Library in London, may be explained in terms of Mr Jevons's interest in religion. But the second full set of the Encyclopedia Britannica (both from the same library in Suffolk) is not so easily rationalised. Nothing was to be gained, other than satisfaction of the need to steal (accomplished in this case by carefully lining the volumes up on the inside windowsill of the library, leaving the window open - and then stealing the books from the outside).

There are two observations to be made here. The first is that a remarkable lack of vigilance on the part of shopkeepers and librarians must attend the career of the successful kleptomaniac.

It is easy to see, for instance, that the trusting Catholic book-keepers might have missed the fact that the first couple of volumes of Aquinas had gone walkies. And the next score or so may just about be explicable, given high shelves and small librarians. But after 60 had gone, someone really should have noticed. And when only two were left, leaning sadly against each other in acres of space? Roughly the same, I feel, goes for the pilchards.

My second thought is even more profound. Mr Jevons, by his own admission, populated his house with the books. Mr Rickards - also living alone, and powerless - did something similar (though less intellectual) with canned goods. These were compulsions then, derived less from opportunity than from a need to fill the aching void. So, my thought continued, if I had an aching void (which you can see from my photograph, I do not) - what compulsion might I fill it with?

One woman journalist friend of mine, asked this question, plumped for compulsive letter writing, where you think up a grievance and pester every newspaper, MP, councillor and TV station with copies of your voluminous one-way correspondence. Each failure to reply properly can become a casus scripti for a new outbreak of writing.

For myself, I considered stalking, then dismissed it as too energetic. And abusive phone calls are easily traced these days. So, in the end, I settled for jigsaws. What would you have done?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches