The Law is an Ass By mark anthony

Although the thinning hair, grey beard and curmudgeonly demeanour might suggest otherwise, I was young once and I did all the rebellious, youthful things. I turned 16 in 1981 at the height of the New Romantic fashion. I had preposterous hair, wore a deerstalker hat to college, and firmly believed that the “freezing breath on a window pane, lying and waiting” lyric from Vienna by Ultravox was high art and deeply meaningful.

I wore pixie boots on my feet, eyeliner and mascara on my eyes, and a sodding great earring in my ear. My wardrobe was a heady mix of 1940s-style suits for nights out, and pullovers roughly 10 times too large for the daytime. I drank WAY too much – early training for a career in journalism – and spent several nights in several jail cells, sleeping off the booze or recovering from some ill-advised fisticuffs.

Yet through it all, I knew right from wrong. Although I never actually said the words out loud, on the occasions when I did find myself being hauled off or clipped around the ear by a local bobby, I knew it was a fair cop. Partly, that is because of my relatively strict upbringing (my father only found out about my tattoos and my motorbike when I was in my 40s); and partly this was due to a respect for and a fear of authority.

While I realise that this makes me sound like my dad, a respect for authority is something that has apparently been consigned to the past. And like the passing of Elvis Presley, John Lennon and David Bowie, the world is poorer for its loss.

To make matters worse, a respect for authority has been joined in the history books by a willingness to take responsibility for ones’ own actions. In today’s blame and claim society, everything is the fault of someone else.

Case in point, the news this week that a company has been fined a staggering £1.2 million after two teenagers were seriously injured having illegally entered a site. Wolverhampton Magistrates' Court heard how three 13-year-old boys got in through a hole in the fence next to playing fields. Two of the three boys climbed on top of a train, and while standing on the roof, one suffered a devastating electric shock from the 25,000 V overhead power lines. He sustained 40 percent burns and life changing injuries. The second child sustained burns to his hand and a broken arm. The third child was not physically harmed.

Damningly, the Office of Rail & Road investigation discovered that the company knew that members of the public were often gaining unauthorised access to the site, with 35 incidents documented between July 2012 and June 2017.

As a father of four and now a grandfather of two, I feel for the injured boys and their families. I really do. But let us not lose sight of the fact that they gained access THROUGH a fence designed to prevent access; a physical manifestation of the term “Keep Out”. In my day, such people were known not as thrill-seekers, adrenaline junkies, urban explorers, YouTubers or Instagrammers. They were known as trespassers; and their activities were themselves illegal. In my day, it was the trespassers that were prosecuted, not those upon whose land they had encroached, regardless of the outcome.

Surely this latest ruling sets a dangerous and – frankly – preposterous precedent? Based upon this outcome, anyone caught trespassing – for nefarious reasons or otherwise – can now simply throw themselves to the ground, claim injury, and then wait for the settlement cheque to arrive from the unsuspecting contractor’s land upon whom they had decided to roam.

We have reported in the past about the willingness of the young (and the not-so-young) to seek Internet fame and notoriety by filming and photographing themselves atop a building under construction or demolition. At the time, I suggested that it was only a matter of time before someone arrived for work on a demolition site to find the splattered remains of a thrill-seeker spread across their place of work.

The thought of being greeted with such a tragic sight is bad enough. But following this latest court ruling, that could be just the beginning; and a demolition company could find itself facing a hefty fine for its inadvertent part in that tragedy.