ELEANOR Whitelaw was a woman with a big heart. She was the sort of woman who would happily offer a glass of water to a stranger at her door pleading thirst.
The sort of woman who wouldn’t think twice about helping a person in need, inviting them in, offering them biscuits if they felt they could wait until her husband got back from the shops.
The sort of woman who at the age of 85 still had such faith in human nature that it didn’t cross her mind for a moment that the man who was asking for water was really there do her harm.
But Robert Buczek was there to do harm. He had no interest in water or biscuits. He wanted to rob the pensioner’s Morningside home. And Eleanor was in the way.
Imagine her surprise, her horror, when the 24-year-old turned on her. Imagine the shock of her husband Robert when he returned to find her bleeding on the floor, a deep wound in her neck made by the scissors Buczek had thrust at her. Imagine his grief and dismay when she died 17 days later in hospital, unable to recover from her horrific injuries..
And all for a book of worthless stamps and a box of spoons.
If that wasn’t appalling enough, it transpired during Buczek’s trial that he was a gambling addict, a desperate man who needed money, but also that he has a conviction in his native Poland for assaulting an elderly woman. He had form.
The knee-jerk reaction from those who can’t bear to think of immigrants to this country actually doing any good was to demand that he be sent back to Poland to serve his sentence, the immediate tightening of immigration policies, or indeed the old chestnut of just removing ourselves wholly from Europe.
There were certainly lots of questions raised about how a man like Buczek with a criminal record was able to come to Edinburgh to work in the first place.
Putting the arguments around EU membership to one side – we are, and hopefully will continue to be, part of Europe and enjoy all the benefits that brings – what Eleanor Whitelaw’s murder has made apparent is the lack of communication which exists between police forces in countries which are supposed to be part of a greater whole.
Of course there are no restrictions on anyone travelling in Europe – be they criminals or care workers – but it is shocking to realise that at passport controls there is no system in place which would flag up someone with a criminal record.
The British Government is, to give it some due, trying to change this. It’s involved with the Serious Offending by Mobile European Criminals Project, which aims to get EU states to share information about dangerous offenders and the crimes they have committed. And its Operation Nexus has led to closer working between immigration officers and police to check on criminal histories of immigrants.
And it’s also made sure that once convictions outside Britain are known about they are added to the Police National Computer database – though that’s a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
But there are problems which can only be resolved at an EU level, such as ensuring all countries record crimes in a similar fashion and keep spent convictions recorded for the same length of time.
Then there’s the Schengen Information System (SIS) which around 26 EU countries are fully signed up to – the UK uses it for law enforcement only – and is supposed to maintain and distribute information on property and “individuals of interest”. Even it does not record such people’s entries and exits into countries who use SIS.
And those individual countries which do record such comings and goings – such as Poland – don’t exchange their data with other countries.
It’s a mess, so is it any wonder that criminals can slip in and out of countries leaving their crooked past behind them? Apparently an upgraded version of SIS, craftily called SIS II, is on the way which will let legal authorities like Europol access the information and there will be one centralised data system for Europe which can be read by police forces and customs during identity checks.
It sounds obvious, something which should have been in place the moment the borders were relaxed.
Immigrants have a lot to offer our country, our city. Criminals don’t. There’s a difference and the latter, like Buczek, need to be stopped at the border before they do more damage.
If it’s about anything, Europe should be about co-operating to keep us all safe.
Colour me undecided
LABOUR is targeting the female vote in the General Election. With a pink bus. Inside are its female MPs, campaigning on vital subjects like childcare, domestic abuse and parliamentary representation, all in an attempt to get the 9.1 million women who didn’t vote at the last General Election into a polling booth. All very laudable – shame the bus colour is so laughable.
Cancer isn’t rare enough
IN September last year I attended the funeral of my friends’ nine-year-old boy who died after a year-long battle against a rare form of stomach cancer.
In November, I spoke to Shannon Hughes, 15, from Broxburn who is fighting a rare cancer of the bone. A month later, I called Corstorphine dad Michael McLean to talk about the death of his daughter Millie, 16, earlier in the year from a rare soft tissue cancer.
This week I attended the funeral in Mid Calder of Jak Trueman, a 15-year-old boy I’d never met but who was very obviously an inspiration to those who knew him. He died of a rare form of blood cancer.
Rare. Cancer. Children. Three words which make the heart sink. Words which make any parent hold their own kids closer to them.
Cancer is the most common cause of death in children up to the age of 14; around 330 children every year die of leukaemia, lymphoma, tumours and carcinomas… the numbers are greater among young teens. That doesn’t feel rare enough to me.
Reaction goes off the rails
HONESTY is the best policy, we’re told as kids. A new coda needs to be attached to that: not if you’re talking about the food on East Coast trains.
Mark Doughty, a catering crew leader, was honest enough to explain to first class customers that staff shortages and a broken boiler meant the full cooked breakfast they should have received wasn’t available. They were honest in the reaction to what they were offered instead: it was “disgusting”.
But rather than being praised for telling passengers the truth and keeping them from becoming more infuriated, the unpalatable fact is he was sacked by East Coast for “undermining” its reputation.
A reputation obviously not based on an honesty policy.