150 years of not quite growing up

This year, 2011, is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. Expect a lot of excuses. The most obvious and already well-used is: ‘We are a young country.’ Up north, where the Germans are presently pondering whether to bail Italy and more junior members of the Olive Belt back into the Euro, voters might be forgiven for wondering: ‘But wasn’t our unification 10 years after Italy’s?’ Truth be told, Italy today is one of the hardest countries in the world to defend: rich, established, and perennially juvenile. It is like your school friend who never grew up. When we were 15, the guy seemed like an interesting maverick. Today he’s just a bit of a tit, and one who still lives with his mother.

It may also be that 2011, this great anniversary, heaps an unprecedented level of bad publicity on Italy. There is likely to be a general election — which Berlusconi will win. What can you say? ‘Aging, plastic-surgery deformed teen-worrier romps home as housewives make lunch with increaingly limited resources.’? Meanwhile, it is ever more likely that the murder case in Perugia, about which I have blogged repeatedly (look under the Italy to Avoid tab), will fall apart in a manner that exposes Italy’s nastiest demons. No one comes up smiling from this one. The police, the magistrates, the press: all, I suspect, are set to be exposed for a congenital lack of professionalism. I am as happy as the next man if mamma makes good pasta, but if your pasta enjoyment bites into your professional life such that you are willing to see two innocent kids go down for 25 years, then the retrogusto is just not good.

The first appeal of Knox and Sollecito has started on a different footing to the original trial. After the cringe-making final statement to the court made by Knox first time around, in which she thanked ‘the system’ for its hard work (I gave my verdict here), she was sent out by a new legal team to deliver a dose of reality just before Christmas. The Guardian reported that the [what pass in this system for] jurors were ‘riveted’ when reminded by Knox in a 14-minute set-piece speech that their country is not among the G8’s leaders in institutional standards and efficiency. The new tone, for me, is the right one: show a hopeful respect to the court, but at the same time remind it that the world is watching. This is an uncomfortable position to be in for anyone who believes in the rule of law, but in an institutionally deficient country I have yet to see a better approach. Certainly it is an approach that everyone I know in China who deals with the monstrous Chinese justice system agrees on. In Perugia, Knox and Sollecito have been granted a review of DNA evidence by the appeal judge.

Apart from being white, reasonably attractive and middle-class, Knox and Sollecito are also beginning to enjoy other kinds of luck. Early reports in the past couple of weeks said that a key witness who placed them, rather weakly, at the scene of the crime on the day of the murder, had been arrested for drug dealing. I figured a bit of marijuana and wondered how this could really undermine the (albeit marginal) testimony. Now a report in the UK tabloid Daily Mirror claims heroin dealing and that Curatolo has ‘testified’ in two other murder cases. One awaits more concrete information than you find in a Red Top, but the discrediting of this witiness, given the weakness of the other evidence, would have the potential to carry the case quickly into the arena of farce. At least for those who don’t think it is there already.

The great revelation for me in recent weeks has been the oped in The Independent written by a British doctor who now lives in Umbria and who was formerly caught up in a great miscarriage of justice in England. David C. Anderson likens that 35-year-old story to what is going on in Italy today. I remember the case myself, not least because it occurred close to where I was born. Anderson recalls how police sent down Stefan Ivan Kiszko for the murder of an 11-year-old child. A future Conservative Home Secretary of the 1980s (and capital punishment supporter), David Waddington was the defending barrister. A future Lord Chief Justice was the prosecuting barrister. The police and the justice system, seeking a swift reckoning for a brutal killing, decided Kiszko was the guilty party and fabricated evidence to make sure he was condemned. They were grotesquely unprofessional. Kiszko spent 16 years in prison and then died 6 months after the miscarriage of justice was acknowledged. He was one of the reasons behind the 1985 Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) which meant the police finally had to do things like tape record interviews.

That was the 1970s and Kiszko was a fat unmarried man in possession of a few pornographic magazines who had been falsely accused by teenage girls of exposing himself. In cases which I dealt with as a young journalist in 1990, the falsely convicted ‘IRA bombers’ known as the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six had been working class Irish men with Nationalist sympathies when they were jailed in the 1970s. But here, in Italy, today, in 2011, 26 years after the PACE was passed into law in the UK, they are still locking up middle-class white kids for murder on the basis that they were acting a bit weird and so might be part of a ritual Satanistic plot. It’s like a cross between The Crucible and Mediaset. No, it is a cross between The Crucible and Mediaset.

Anderson’s oped in The Independent also contains a hypothetical suggestion that seems to me explosive. Since the beginning of this case I have had no doubt about the professional incompetence of the police, the forensics team and the magistrates (though I would stress that I do not regard this as universal, merely common, in Italy). But I have always been troubled as to why Knox named the black bar owner Patrick Lumumba in her illegally extracted testimony during an all-night interrogation by 12 police officers without a lawyer. I can see the police brutality, the girl’s fear, and so on. But what I could not see is how a black bar owner would be offered up as the murderer by some liberal, west coast American girl with a vibrator. Anderson offers a potential explanation: he says that the police, conducting their illegal interview of Knox five days after the murder, must have already known that a black man was involved. It seems to me this would mean they had some early lead from the forensic investigation (Ivorian-born Rudy Guede’s blood, semen, DNA and more were all over the crime scene). So the police would have heard from the ‘scientists‘ that there was a black man involved, at the same time as what they had in their hand was two young whities they believed were behaving strangely. By leaning on Knox in the middle of the night, they could connect up the dots via a story about a black bar owner who Amanda Knox knew well. Knox, Sollecito and Lumumba end up together in a motiveless ritual Satanic murder plot. Except that then the police realised that what they really had was hard forensic evidence on Rudy Guede. So the prosecuting team needed to switch to Knox, Sollecito and Guede in a motiveless ritual Satanic murder plot. Anything else would require the capacity to say you were wrong. This is of course a hypothesis. But unlike Mr Mignini’s, it is plausible.

Separately, after much to-ing and fro-ing with lawyers and libel specialists, I will soon be able to bring you the full and bizarre story of my own legal entanglements in Italy. Although the accusations are frivolous by Perugia standards, you will note a striking pattern of behaviour by police and magistrates. This, for me, is the most important good thing that can come out of the Knox-Sollecito miscarriage of justice: that people accept that there is a systemic pattern of failure in Italian justice. It is not about the people, it is about the structure they are using.

Meanwhile, look at these:

The chief investigator boasts on television that physical evidence was unnecessary in the Perugia investigation because the Italian police’s psychological interrogation techniques are so advanced. You really could not make this stuff up. Please send it viral. There are 5,000 hits so far.


This site I had not seen before. It looks, at first blush, to be carefully and sensibly done, though it places, for me, too much emphasis on Mignini and too little on the systemic failings of the Italian justice apparatus.


They have translated a small amount of the above site into Italian, though I have not yet had time to look:


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