Like the most people I am dismayed by mass migration into England. I suspect many asylum claims are bogus and feel unhappy about the arrival of so many Muslims into Europe, puzzled at why they don’t seek a better life in the Muslim world. However the treatment of Mehdi Midani, 28, an illegal immigrant from Algeria who has just been jailed for eight years is worrying, not just because of the ludicrous sentence inflicted on him but for what it says about our increasingly whimsical judicial system.
Midani was known locally as ‘the Clapham groper’. When he came to court last week, the Sun called him a ‘Migrant fiend’. Other papers referred to ‘a string of sex attacks’. What he did was drunkenly approach lone women as they were letting themselves into their homes, creep up behind and fondle their bottoms. In one case he lifted a young woman’s skirt up behind her. In court she gave the rather amusing quote: ‘What the f***, I don’t know you!’
What he did was wrong, that goes without saying. He was what we used to call a nuisance and a pest but he was not the Yorkshire Ripper, his actions were not evil or violent, there was no rape involved. He was charged with ‘common assault’ which registers below the offence of ‘assault and battery’, Battery includes any unlawful application of force, even a slap or a push. The person who commits common assault puts another person in fear of possible violence, by for instance shaking a fist. Unpleasant but no violence or what many of us would call an ‘attack’ is involved. The 1988 Criminal Justice Act gives no clear definition of what common assault is so prosecution rests on previous cases.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and/or a fine. If someone is being charged for the first time, like Midani, it’s unlikely that they will go to prison. If the offender has previous convictions or if they were proven to have had a particular motivation for the attack, for instance if it was racially motivated that could lead to prison.
If he’d had a good lawyer he might have pleaded obsessional pygiaphilia, (love of buttocks) but he didn’t. What sent him to prison for a sentence more often meted out to child murderers was his ‘particular motivation’ against women, the judge condemned him for his feelings of ‘entitlement’ over women and his ‘desire for sexual gratification’. He was also scuppered by the use of Victim Personal Statements (VPS) which gives victims an opportunity to describe the wider effects of the crime upon them. They express their concerns to the court and indicate whether or not they require any support. Provisions relating to the making of a VPS and its use in criminal proceedings are included in the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Victims’ Code), which was revised in October 2015.
Bang up to date with current thinking, this offers a voice and a forum to anyone who feels they have suffered ‘an attack’ from a push or shove to a full scale rape, and as a result suffer from a condition worthy of an acronym. Six women offered statements about their experiences with the Clapham groper. They said his actions had left them afraid to go out alone after dark and had led to changes in their social lives and work routines.
Times have certainly changed since I lived near Brixton in the 1980s. Since the events in Cologne at New Year there has been an increasing fear of lone migrant men from the middle-east and North Africa. Midani came in illegally through Ireland. The law seems to reflect this anxiety. Thirty years ago attacks on women came mainly from the Afro-Caribbean community which was at war with the police. Women were some kind of collateral. I was first attacked on the Wandsworth road when a young black lad who had been chatting to me as we walked along, grabbed me round the neck from behind, dragged me into a children’s play area and by putting pressure with his two thumbs on my throat tried to extract money from me. When he realised I didn’t have any he decided on rape, but was holding me so tightly from behind he couldn’t fathom out how to do it. While he was trying to work out the logistics I was rescued by a white working class man who patrolled the area for what would now be called racist reasons.
At that time no one I knew personally was interested in what happened to me, it was an embarrassing topic and when I wrote about it for the Guardian I was reported to the ‘Race Today Collective’. Later I was mugged leaving my flat, then again going on a different road. After that I felt trapped in my home. After some months of anxiety and bad dreams I moved out of the area. I did become more nervous in public places, jumping when I felt people coming up behind me. I was angry that the young men who attacked me were never caught; it was before the age of CCTV. But if they had they would probably have got off with a caution as the police were reluctant at the time to further inflame ‘community tensions’.
The aggressors now look different and the safety of women is now a specific priority. People who accuse others of common assault are listened to and often compensated. But it is worrying how the interpretation of the law changes so much with fashion and the whims of the time and throughout my adult life I seem to have seen a gradual decline in what used to be called common sense. Senior investigating officer Detective Inspector Keith Braithwaite said the Algerian bottom squeezer had, ‘caused fear within the local community by his horrific and callous crimes’.
If I had been able to face the young men who attacked me, real attacks leaving me with a swollen forehead, sore throat, black eyes, what would I have said to the court? I knew right away that the main effect on me of the violence I suffered and saw all around me in South London, was to move me out of the liberal Guardian camp towards a much more conservative view of the world. But I could hardly have stood up in court and said that the main effect of the trauma was to turn me into a Tory. I might have ended up in the dock along with the man from the NF who rescued me. Neither would I have wanted those horrible young men who preyed on white people around the streets of Brixton to languish in prison for eight years. Even though they disgusted me I would have thought they needed socialising, de-feralising, re-educating, or just educating, perhaps given basic literacy.
I am convinced that Midani was a lonely man, cracking up in UK as an illegal migrant. Like anyone who arrives alone in a big city he needed to find a friend. Sadly London is the most unlikely place on earth to do that. Perhaps he is one of those migrants who have no idea how to behave with western women, the sort currently wreaking havoc on women in liberal Sweden. In some countries they are setting up cultural education programmes for such men, but in England we do not like speaking the truth to foreign men, especially if they are Muslim; in fact we recoil from the very idea of it. We would rather leave them alone to wallow in confusion and crime and then send them to rotting jails for a long stretch.
In his cell, banged up for 23 hours a day the Algerian pest must be very perplexed. But at least he is now warm, dry and gets his halal burger regularly, at our expense. At the end of all those pointless years he will be deported back to a country where he will have no place either, a life wrecked. But he made the mistake of getting fuelled up and fondling women, by doing that he attacked the current zeitgeist and must pay a terrible price.© Salisbury Review.