Is it Right to Prosecute?

 Today I was going to write about my Democratic values and what they means to me. Fortunately you have been given a reprieve. Instead, I will relate a nasty incident that happened to me not more than a couple of hours ago and ask your opinion on a moral dilemma.

Lunchtime today I was minding my own business, having lunch in a fast food restaurant when a man came in. A rough sort with a skin-head and workman’s clothing. He sat down at the adjacent table and started to hurl abuse at the person sitting opposite me. When that person got up and left the restaurant, he rounded on me throwing verbal abuse (which I shall not repeat here) and then bits of his food at me and then asking me to apologise for it.


I merely said ‘I have nothing to apologise for’ and tried to ignore him. He went on with his abuse and proceeded to ask me if he should apologise. Sensing trouble I simply told him his apology was unwanted.” and continued to ignore him.

He had up until this point been eating like some vile animal with it all over his hands. He was slurring his speech and acting erratically. He then started throwing it in my direction. He was drunk or high on drugs and he was clearly not thinking properly and slurring his words. Every thing he said was abusive and nasty. He then started throwing his whole tray of food as well as an unrepeatable string of abuse. Then he started getting agitated when I asked him politely to stop and jumped up on his seat hurling a tray of food. At this point I had to push past him and call security. The mangers came and restrained him. They in turn called the police and the man was restrained and arrested.

I was asked to give a statement with a view to prosecution.

It took an hour and a half plus a further half hour of waiting around, so the whole incident took some two and half hours.

The Police clearly wished to press charges. I didn’t.

Why, you may ask?

Well here is the moral dilemma:

The man was plainly drunk, or high, or both. He was clearly not of sound mind and had no cogent deliberate malicious intent. I did not know his circumstances though I could simply assume he was a builder who had a drink problem and had been binging all morning before stopping off for some food. He was clearly threatening, though a combination of my quick thinking and the police response clearly prevented any harm being done. It could have been far worse and it could have been a vulnerable member of society who was abused or hurt.

Was I tempted to retaliate to his physical threats?

Of course; but the balance of probability was that I would only have been implicated in a fracas that would have landed me under arrest. I was sober and cogent, he wasn’t. Clearly I had an advantage in those circumstances that the ugly runt didn’t.

Of course I disliked the guy, but I didn’t want to make it personal. I could have been anyone in the restaurant, so I wanted to be arbitary about it. A cool-off and some help with his problem was in my mind sufficient warning to him and a reminder to act appropriately in public.

So I made the police statement, making it clear in no uncertain terms that I did not wish to press charges (I had after all only suffered verbal abuse and some minor food stains) and that I believed the man needed help rather than a fine and a criminal record.

The Police tried to convince me otherwise in that there is only really one method of handling disorderly people and that was to throw them upon a judges mercy. A bit harsh for a simply disorder offence.

Now do not get me wrong. I didn’t like the fellow. I had no sympathy for him, but on balance neither did I know his circumstances, nor what had given rise to his behaviour. Had he just lost his job? Had his wife left him? Was he suffering from alcoholism or a drug addiction? Was he simply the nastiest person I’ve encountered in broad daylight?Without all of the facts I certainly could not justify having someone hauled off to court on account of a ‘moment of madness’ with all the long-term problems that might add to his situation, when there might be other reasons, all of this being really only be cry for help.

I did say that I would change my plea if other circumstances came to light and this wasn’t an isolated case. This seems to hold no water in our legal system, which seems to want to brutally apply the full force of the law at every turn. Hints were dropped (which clearly  they should not have been) and clearly this man had a past record. I know he was taken away, that it took five police officers to restrain him and to get him into a police cell and that he would be there a good few hours before they eventually thought to release him. God knows what reminders he got not to behave badly.

What I got was a computer illiterate PC with an inability to spell and a talent for creative writing who I had to firmly reign in. It is easy to see how ‘justice’ can easily become state retribution if you don’t stand your ground.

I hope that is a lesson enough, but it seems my view is not the one held by others.

What was interesting was that two Muslims guys on the other side of the same restaurant instantly started to blame me for the whole affair, on no evidence other than their own opinions that I should simply have ‘run away’ rather than ignoring the guy! I then pointed out that my belongs and my lunch was over there and they became less interested but no less convinced, despite the man standing on his chair throwing food about and threatening physical violence in front of dozens of witnesses.

So, do you think I was right to act as I did?

To state that I did not wish to bring charges, or do you think I should have taken the matter as far as it would go, bearing in mind that I would make a ‘friend for life’ doing it?

People like this should be given help. Prosecuting them doesn’t help them; that’s my view.

Please understand I am not afraid of taking the hard option, but I do believe in fairness and in giving people a second chance. Zero tolerance leads to mistakes and damaging lives for the sake of a few harsh words and actions are no balance of justice.

Author: Paul

Spiritually me. For the Glory of the Most High. Visit my Facebook Page at

17 thoughts on “Is it Right to Prosecute?”

  1. Soutie, which is why South Africans use their cars to cross the street in Jo’burg, presumably? (At least that is what we shown when I was there before Democracy). Never locked a car door when in it, until I went there.

  2. Sorry Paul,

    Prosecute the arsehole to the full extent. Trouble is the judge will be as wishy washy as you and he will get off with a slapped wrist.

    I recall the escaped mental patient who was throwing chips at a young couple on a bus. The fellow asked the nutter to stop so the nutter fatally stabbed him.

  3. You should pay another visit, I lived in Jhb 20 years ago, my wife was born in Jhb as was my son (Millpark clinic)

    It’s got worse since ‘democracy’

    Having said that, my wife visits twice a year, never a problem (not that problems don’t exist.) All about being careful!

    Back to your post, I would simply have thrown him out, if the management wouldn’t do it I would have. You say it took 5 police officers, where from Keystone?

    You seem to have sympathy for this mans plight and behaviour, not me, the sooner we show them where they are not welcome the better.

  4. I could have simply punched him through a wall, but I didn’t want to be the one subjected to rough justice. I realise that many people can’t see two sides to everything. This was a case of drink or drugs talking not an deliberate evil act. I am not a washy Liberal but I do believe in fairness and punishment fitting the crime. I wasn’t physically attacked, so a night in the cells is sufficient justice for the crime, besides they stick needles and all sorts into you these days.

    Had he started a serious fight, well I think my punctuation would be better than his, that’s all I’m saying. I have conducted a citizen’s arrest in the past, tackling a mugger. On that occassion he received the full weight of justice for a clearly criminal act.

    This is part of what is seriously wrong in the UK. I will now seriously consider advice on getting out. I am fed up with feeling like a second class citizen in my own country, but I’ll discuss that on Oz’s blog if I may. When even the police can’t spell, you know you’ve got fundamental problems with your social system.

    Soutie, I still have some wonderful memories of the Drakensberg Mountains and of course the more civilised parts of Cape Town.

  5. When I’m sitting in a fast food outlet in London (?) later this year and an unknown man starts abusing me and throwing food at me, I’ll remember who to blame… you Paul.

    Walking away and doing nothing does not solve the problem. Being drunk or on drugs is so excuse whatsoever. No one put the drink or drugs in his mouth – he did.

    So his wife has left him, or whatever? Does the fact that someone has mistreated you give you the right to mistreat a complete stranger? No it does not – go and abuse the wife and throw your food at her…

    If the man is a ‘nutter’, then he isn’t going to get help while he’s allowed to do what he likes and walk away. Next time it might be bricks he hurls instead of food..

  6. Bo, I can see that perspective. In the end a long night in a cold cell will most likely remind him of his social responsbilities. If it doesn’t I’ve offered to prosecute, but not without giving him a chance to reform once he is sober enough to understand what he did.

    No one was physically hurt but it makes me feel sick to think we live in a society that has come to this. I am losing faith with the entire fabric of British society, even while part of me want to help fix it.

  7. I agree with Boadicea. The only way this guy will get help will be if he gets into “the system”, which starts with an arrest, someone pressing charges and a magistrate referring him for help. He was not going to find a couple of doctors and nurses waiting in the street for him.

  8. I don’t see any reason why other people should suffer the actions of practicing alcoholics and junkies.

    The man should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. He might then start to do something about his behaviour.

  9. I am inclined to take your side Paul. I had a similar incident last year, with an Englishman I might add, who took exception to me and attacked me without provocation, other than that I chose to ignore him. We had a scuffle and he came off second best. He was dragged feet first from the building and told not to come back. Friends advised me to prosecute but I declined saying he would sleep it off. However, the next morning I learned that he had climbed over the wall of my house and smashed a couple of windows. I was still away and did not realise what had happened. Not only that, he had deliberately reversed into my car causing a great deal of damage. Only then did I decide to go to the cops. They were worse than useless. Friends of his intervened and I was persuaded not to go ahead. He paid for the damage, though not the inconvenience. I don’t really regret it not pressing ahead. The bloke has psychological and drink problems. Sending him to prison would not resolve any issues. It would take him off the streets for a few months, but it would be a more bitter man that returned afterwards. I would not want him to spend the rest of his life in prison which is about the only way of stopping that kind of behaviour, short of a frontal lobotomy.

  10. Perhaps Sipu, Sheona’s and my solution reflect the difference in what would happen to the guy in Britain and Australia and Africa.

    Certainly here, once he got involved with the court system, he would be helped with his ‘problems’, if he had any.

    On the other hand, the down-side to our system is that if he was simply a trouble-maker, he would get a gentle slap on the wrist, and be set free to start abusing the next poor soul who just wanted a quiet lunch.

  11. Sipu, It is nice to know others feel the same way. I believe it is sometimes simply too easy to label a compassionate response, ‘weak’, ‘liberal’ and so on. I do believe in strong enforcement of the law but in definable situtations. The aggravation and resentment caused can lead to worse problems for both parties and in effect an escalation, so it is judicial to look at other solutions. I wish there could be more compulsory drink/drugs and councilling imposed without giving someone a criminal record and prison sentence. Practical assessment and help, which is sadly lacking.

    Do not get me wrong, I have no sympathy whatsoever for this guy, just a sense of restraint and justice equal to the ‘crime’.

  12. Jazz,

    Thank you for your comment. Yes, there are two trains of thought. There’s the one along the lines of it is his own fault for drinking himself stupid (although clearly he had no cogent intent to cause deliberate harm) and the other, which recognises the possiblity that there could be underlying root causes which need to be addressed. I happen to lean to the latter in view of the repercussions and ‘cosmetic’ nature of the disturbance. If someone had been hurt, it would be different and I would have taken your view. Of course you can argue that approach is more preventative – ‘get him off the street’ but I think Sipu has addressed these concerns well in his response below. Often draconian measures are the start of a cycle of despair. Prison, loss of job, unemployment, drugs and so on.

  13. Too true, Bo. In South Africa, the only thing he would get would be a very sore bottom. Oh, and a few diseases.

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