Absurdism, Books, Law

On Defenestration

On 12th December 1969 a bomb exploded at a bank in Milan killing seventeen people. There followed a roundup of left-activists that included the arrest of an anarchist railway worker called Guiseppe Pinelli. As it happened Pinelli had an alibi and was innocent of the crime, but the police interrogated him for three days and nights before he fell to his death from a window on the fourth floor of the Police Headquarters. Controversy has raged ever since as to the circumstances of how and why he tumbled to his death:

  • The Italian left accused the police of being responsible for Pinelli’s murder.
  • The police claimed Pinelli has committed suicide because he was deeply compromised in the bombing. At a news conference Milan’s Chief of Police asserted that Pinelli after confronted with the irrefutable evidence of his complicity leaped from the window crying ‘This is the end of anarchy’.
  • The first judge to carry out an enquiry ordered the case to be shelved in May 1970. He heard the original blast from his office a mile away: ‘No, I don’t think that was a boiler exploding. I think that was a bomb, and it sounded to me like an anarchist bomb’.
  • The original police explanation was abandoned and replaced with: Pinelli went over to the window to smoke a cigarette, fainted, and fell out.
  • Luigi Calabresi, the police officer who had interrogated Pinelli just prior to the defenestration, sued the editor of a newspaper, Pia Baldelli, for defamation after Baldelli had alleged murder. There was a libel trial in 1971.
  • In the light of contradictory police statements about the affair the Italian Ministry sent a second judge to open another criminal inquiry.
  • A new left wing version widely circulated after examination of the site of injuries on the body: Pinelli was killed by a police karate chop and was already dead when he was tossed out of Calebresi’s office window. Pinelli’s wife Licia sued Calabresi for her husband’s wrongful death.
  • Calabresi was shot and killed in front of his house in 1972. A huge crowd attended his funeral to honour him.
  • By1975 there was a judicial finding on the case: “The air in the room was heavy, oppressive. The window was open [Pinelli] went over to the balcony for a breath of fresh air, he felt dizzy, he put out his hands in the wrong direction, his body falling over the railings…all the evidence points in this direction”. In other words Pinelli had neither committed suicide nor been murdered but had suffered from what the judge called an ‘active affliction’. This ruling of accident satisfied nobody and was the subject of ridicule.
  • Three neo-fascists were convicted (not confirmed on appeal) of the Milan bank bombing, one of whom, called Giannettini, turned out to be a police agent-provocateur who had played his part in instigating the bombing. This theory was that neo-Nazis intended to destabilise Italy making it ripe for a right wing coup. On this view the state, trying to suppress left wing dissent with a spy embedded in the anarchist group, was able to organise the massacre, manufacture the public outrage, denounce the innocent, eulogise the dead and coin medals for the widows and orphans.
  • Three left wingers were arrested and later convicted on the flimsy evidence of pentiti of murdering (or ordering the murder) of Calabresi (not all confirmed on appeal).

Continue reading

Standard
Books, Law

Fallaciousness

How is one to give evidence of literary merit in a court of law?” asks Sybille Bedford in her short account of the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial (re-published this month by Daunt Books).

The story of the trial is well known. Penguin Books, the publishers of D. H. Lawrence’s novel, were charged with publishing an obscene book under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act and tried at the Old Bailey in November 1960. Despite the condescending patrician grandstanding of the prosecutor Mr Mervyn Griffith-Jones “is this a book you would even wish your wife or your servants to read”, “members of the jury for those of you who have forgotten your Greek, ‘phallus’ means the image of a man’s penis” and the moralising judge Mr Justice Byrne (and his scowling wife sitting daily with him on the bench) the jury acquitted.

Continue reading

Standard
Absurdism, Books, Law

A second year in blogging, a retrospective

A love of irony is a sign of health; everything absolute belongs to pathology
Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.

Language is an urgent political affair.
This year I have written posts from the battle lines of the language frontier:

  • Eminent speakers were silenced by self-righteous university student moralists;
  • Cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were shot for writing satire;
  • Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s play The Witch of Walkern was pulled because its language offended;
  • Petitions to Parliament tried to make various human behaviour (and speech) criminal acts;
  • The Holocaust was asserted to be too reverent a subject for the language of comedy.
  • Writings of the sociologist Emile Durkheim were excluded from the A-level syllabus for fear it could trigger harmful reactions in student readers; Continue reading
Standard
Film, Law

Bomb the ban

In Stanley Kubrick’s classic black comedy Dr Strangelove (1964) a US General is so upset about the fluoridation of water he starts a nuclear war and destroys the entire human race. It is on one view an excessive reaction. He could instead have petitioned the lawmakers to oblige suppliers to purify water. I see that Stop the Fluoridation of UK water supplies is one of the 4079 petitions currently open on the petition.parliament.uk website. The justification given is: “a study has revealed the dark relationship between lower IQ levels and sodium fluoride consumption”. There is no mention of General Jack D. Ripper so I have assumed that the petition is not ironic. At the time of writing it has 452 signatures. Continue reading

Standard
Books, Law, Rhetoric

Free speech is so last century

 

News from the campus barricades.

The results of the Free Speech University Rankings are in: 80% of British universities censor free speech. Using a traffic light grading system forty-seven universities were marked red* (including Oxford, Warwick and the LSE) forty-five were marked amber (including Cambridge and Imperial) and a mere twenty-five were marked green. What is going on? Here are some examples, alas there are many others. Continue reading

Standard
Books, Law

To Kill A Mockingbird

A black man, Tom Robinson, is wrongly charged with raping a white girl in a southern racist state in 1930s America. The town is convinced of his guilt purely because of the colour of his skin. A (white) lawyer, Atticus Finch, and a model of integrity, defends him whilst confronting injustice and prejudice. He exposes the girl at the trial as a liar, put up to perjure herself by her father. The all-male all-white racist jury, nevertheless, convict Tom of rape. The members of the black community observing the trial (corralled into the “coloured-only” seats on a balcony) stand as Atticus wearily leaves court to show their respect and gratitude. Tom is shot before his appeal is heard. Continue reading

Standard
Books, Law

Lady Chatterley’s Lawyer

Jeremy Hutchinson QC was the leading criminal defence barrister of the 1960s and 1970s. I have just finished reading a  book about fourteen of his famous cases by Tom Grant*. The book reveals a Zelig-like Hutchinson popping up throughout the twentieth century. Here he is representing at trial Penguin Books (for Lady Chatterley’s Lover) and Christine Keeler during the Profumo affair; here he is defending the spy George Blake and the Great Train robber Charlie Wilson; here he is battling Mary Whitehouse over the distribution of Last Tango in Paris; here he is representing a defendant charged with the theft of the World Cup in 1966. Here he is playing games on holiday with T.S.Eliot; here he is mentioned in Virginia Woolf’s and John Gielgud’s diaries; here he is married to the daughter of Coco Chanel’s lover ‘Boy’ Capel; here he is clinging to the wreckage with Lord Louis Mountbatten of H.M.S. Kelly after it was sunk by the Luftwaffe off Crete in May 1941; here he is in Los Angeles with Aldous Huxley; here he is building a brick wall with Churchill in the garden at Chartwell; here he is married to Dame Peggy Ashcroft; here he is being taught how to tie a bow tie by Lytton Strachey; here he is lunching with Charlie Chaplin. It is a remarkable fact that Hutchinson is still alive and well and living in Sussex, aged 100.

Continue reading

Standard