Perugia versus Bristol

Sorry to keep banging this drum… It occurs that the recent high-profile murder case in Bristol (a British city I know well having been an undergraduate there) points up the differences between British institutional behaviour since important reforms of the 1970s and1980s, and the wholly unreformed conduct of the police and judiciary in Italy.

The Bristol case involves the brutal murder of a young woman who lived in Clifton, the posh part of town. Joanna Yeates’s landlord, a retired teacher called Chris Jefferies, was interviewed (like many people) and changed his story about what he saw on the day of the murder. Jefferies is eccentric (a friend he taught many years ago provides independent corroboration of this) and he sports a classic mad professor hair-do. Police arrest him. They are constrained by the system to interview him in the presence of a lawyer and to tape record the interview. He does not admit to murder and they do not have the evidence to charge him. They release him on bail — suggesting they still think he is pretty weird — but there is nothing they can do. The police continue their work. More than a month after the murder, a completely different man, a 32-year-old neighbour, is arrested for the murder and on 25 January 2011 is remanded in custody. The police and judiciary reveal no further details and remind a frenzied and all too often irresponsbile press of the Contempt of Court Act and the fact that the publishing further details could prejudice the court case to come.

Compare Perugia. Here the issue is also the brutal murder of a young woman. Here there are also people around the case who appear suspicious — in this case the marijuana puffing students Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. The police get suspicious. But while the system in theory requires them to provide access to a lawyer and tape record interviews, in practice the accepted standards of the day are such that they interrogate Knox all night without either a lawyer or a tape recorder. They and the investigating magistrates (who join in the illegal interrogation) force a confession. At this point, the police and the magistrates stop doing their jobs and start leaking their case to the press, which fills acres of newsprint with lurid details about a weirdo murder conspiracy. Since there is no independent state prosecution service, the case is immediately ready for court. When the trial comes, the process is already thoroughly polluted, and only becomes more so in a system where jurors are not sequestered and where judges are present in camera to ‘assist‘ the jury as it decides a verdict.

My view is that England was almost this bad in the 1970s. Add another 10 years for the almost, and the Italian judicial system today is half a century behind England (which still has plenty of faults of its own).

Separately, on a totally unrelated but spooky note, thieves have stolen the decomposing body of Mike Bongiorno, about whom I blogged at his passing It is front page news  in the Corriere della Sera (they have even translated some of it into English). When I raised the grave-snatching issue with a couple of locals in our preferred bar, the nonchalant response was that ‘It’s happened before’, with two specific cases cited. ‘The straightforward explanation is they’re looking for a ransom,’ said a middle-aged lady who wasn’t drinking alcohol. ‘Of course you can’t count anything out.’ Am I getting older, or is kidnapping stiffs something we should be less relaxed about?


Addendum, 24 February 2011. Here is another famous UK miscarriage of justice case from the 1970s — a complex, bitter-sweet one — that is back in the news.

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One Response to “Perugia versus Bristol”

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    Joe says: I already mentioned your site in the ‘150 years of not quite growing up post’ in January 2011.

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