Barely-comprehensible charges

My literary endeavours continue, with some encouragement. At the play-reading session a couple of Fridays ago my little piece Forget it, it’s History went down well, thanks in no small measure to the two excellent readers, and there’s a plan to perform it in July at the Partington’s one-act play festival. Another celebratory glass of wine seemed in order. I’ve revised the draft of another novel, which might be fit for submission somewhere some time this year, drafted more of the potential radio play, and written up my research on our local conscientious objectors during the First World War. To give myself a change of mental air, I’ve found myself tutoring a man who is trying to master calculus in a hurry – no small challenge. The rust is being brushed off my mathematical knowledge, such as it ever was.

It’s so relaxing to have taken early retirement.

The weather continues mostly mild and very wet; birds sing, flowers bloom, and the winter has given us a rich harvest of mud, much of which adheres to the fat dog when I take him for walks.

Now to the purpose of this blog: there’s something I want to rant about. Maybe some of my readers will wish to share the rant, others to defend the target of my ranting. So here goes.

Sometimes, items in the news arouse my ire, or at least indignation. On February 8th I encountered the following snippet in our national news. A Finnish national living in London was arrested at Stanstead Airport, and charged with… (take a breath before you read this, and then read it again, as I had to do)… Engaging in conduct in preparation for giving effect to intention to commit acts of terrorism.

Now, I have a lot of admiration for, and a lot of gratitude towards, our security services for protecting us against the lunatics who set out to take innocent lives in the name of something or other. They do a great job and long may they continue. But what could the average native English speaker make of this extraordinary mish-mash of a criminal charge, let alone a foreign national?

Okay, let’s try to unpick the morass of words.

Someone in authority believes that the Finnish national might have intended to commit one or more acts of terrorism. Okay, that would be grounds for questioning.

The said authority also believes that the said Finnish national was preparing to put this intention into effect. Definitely grounds for questioning, assuming the belief has substance.

Ah, but wait: he isn’t accused of preparing to put the intention into effect. He’s doing something (“engaging in conduct”) that suggests he’s preparing to put the intention into effect. What, exactly? Being at Stanstead Airport?

I can only hope the Finnish national has a native English-speaking lawyer with a sound background in linguistics and linguistic philosophy, who is capable of explaining to his client what on earth the charge is supposed to mean. I believe that if I’d been charged with this quasi-offence, I’d have burst out laughing. How is one supposed to take it seriously?

If – and it’s probably the case, since our security forces seldom act without due cause – the Finnish national has planned to so something seriously antisocial, then he deserves to be dealt with appropriately for all our sakes. But why not just charge him with planning a terrorist act? At least he’d probably have understood what was meant.

Okay, rant over. Back to the literary endeavours!

1 Comment

  • I think I thought I heard you say he might have thought of perhaps instigating preliminary actions (almost) to purported happenchancery of imminent (or eventual) ne’er-do-welledness — maybe? (And, no doubt, looking pretty shifty as he planned to nearly do so…)

    But I jest. Of course I entirely agree with the amazing network of security that tracks down these potential risks — but, yeah, yeah, no, just say it like it is.

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