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Oscar Pistorius has been sentenced to five years in prison - but what then?

His rehabilitation needs to be in the line of something humble, not red carpets all the way back to the VIP suite

Rosie Millard
Tuesday 21 October 2014 11:14 BST
Oscar Pistorius at the High Court in Pretoria
Oscar Pistorius at the High Court in Pretoria

Banged up. Who would have thought it? The golden boy, the Olympic hero, the valiant disabled athlete, acquitted of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp but guilty of culpable homicide. And in a packed Pretoria court today, he was sentenced to five years in prison.

Of course, people are saying he will do less – out in a matter of months, according to some – but still the fact is there. Pistorius will go to jail. No matter that he is sorry, no matter that his career is over, no matter that his reputation is destroyed; the fact is that you cannot blast a shotgun into a locked bathroom door, no matter who you think might be within, kill someone, and get away with it.

Judge Thokozile Masipa, who presided over the whole extraordinary case, and who sent him down today, is a fair woman; and Steenkamp’s mother said it was a fair sentence. In such an unequal society as South Africa’s, it was vital to show that there is not one law for the rich and famous, and one for everyone else. There is a single line, and Pistorius crossed it.

Of course, the interesting thing – particularly this week, to us, in the light of the Judy Finnigan/ Ched Evans furore, is what will become of Pistorius when he is released? Will he be allowed to return to the athletics track? Will he be adored and held on high? After all, like Evans, he will be a criminal who has have done his time.

I very much hope he will not be rehabilitated and allowed to enter the rarified world of the sporting celebrity. I hope that the message will be that if you fall from grace with such devastating speed, and bring ruin upon yourself through violence, that such things cannot be rectified after a few months, or years even, in chokey.

Of course prisoners should be rehabilitated, but surely Pistorius’ rehabilitation needs to be in the line of something humble, not red carpets all the way back to the VIP suite. His return to freedom ought not be conjoined with a return to form. We have all seen the penitence of famous people who went to jail – Jonathan Aitken anyone? – and perhaps cautiously applauded their return to the public eye. But neither Aitken, or (say) Chris Huhne ever returned to the glittering heights of power and the former careers they once enjoyed. Furthermore, let us not forget the facts of the matter. Shooting fatal bullets into a bathroom door is not the same as lying in court, and rape is not the same as shielding yourself from a speeding ticket.

Is the sentence too short? In the summary of wise Judge Masipa, “a non-custodial sentence would send a wrong message to the community; on the other hand, a long sentence would not be appropriate as it would neglect the element of mercy.” Alright, show mercy on the man. Let him out after he has found out what it is like to be incarcerated in prison for a while. But afterwards, please do not treat him like a child who has been long enough on the naughty step. Should he spend the rest of his life in freedom but in penitence? It would be remarkable, but it would be appropriate.

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