Martin Hannan: We must learn to live with law

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So what would you do if you heard a rumour that the house next door to you was going to a man getting out of jail, and that he had been incarcerated for the crime of rape?

Chances are that if you’re in that situation you’ll be a council tenant or rent a housing association home. For such “supervision order” sex offenders are never released into smart middle-class communities – you won’t find them in the New Town or Morningside.

You will probably also be kept in ignorance of the offender’s arrival in your community until the matter is effectively a fait accompli. Yes, I know there are now rules about advising people of the presence of sex offenders nearby, but there’s never publicity about their location until it is too late for protest.

The rapist may even have a new identity, presumably to keep him safe from the likely vengeance of the people affected by the rape – perhaps his victim’s family, or even self-appointed vigilantes. So how do you know who he really is?

Say you’re the father or mother of young girls and the rapist had brutally attacked a female teenager. You would surely be appalled to hear that the man was coming to live beside you, but there’s no point in protesting to your councillor, MSP or MP as they can’t influence the situation.

So what can you do? Nothing, really, because as a society we still haven’t found the correct way to deal with sex offenders.

It’s government policy that such criminals, who may have served only half their sentence, are to be released into the community in an organised and monitored way that gives the offender a chance of a fresh start. If they serve the whole sentence, it should be noted, they can walk out the door with no control at all.

It makes a kind of sense – supervise and control them and there’s a better chance of someone not offending again. Now you may think such people don’t deserve the second chance and in some cases you would be undoubtedly right, as repeat offenders prove, but how do you decide which offender has truly committed himself to reform and which is still a potential rapist? It’s a tough call even for the experts, so how can the man or woman in the street be expected to know?

In Midlothian last week, there really was fear and loathing in communities at the reports that Robert Greens, the so-called Da Vinci Code rapist, was to be housed in a homeless unit in Loanhead. Less than a fortnight after he had reportedly been moved from Dalkeith, police and social workers from Midlothian Council were faced with finding a new home for Greens as residents yet again protested on the streets.

The details of what Greens did to a 19-year-old Dutch student at Rosslyn Chapel in 2005 are too horrific to be printed in a family newspaper. Suffice to say that one witness said the girl looked like she had been in a car crash, while the judge who sentenced Greens to ten years in jail said it was “one of the worst cases” he had ever dealt with.

Greens, it should be said, denied his Rosslyn attack even in the face of DNA and other evidence.

I’ve followed Greens’ case ever since he made a name for himself as the prisoner who took the Scottish Government to the European Court of Human Rights for refusing him the right to vote.

With his lawyer, Tony Kelly, 33-year-old Greens was back in court recently protesting that the 23 conditions attached to his liberty were another breach of his human rights. Presumably Mr Kelly and his client felt he should just be able to walk the streets without any supervision, which rather defeats the purpose of the controlled release system in which police officers and social workers are always with Greens, who is not allowed to approach children or women.

In court, he was branded a psychopath with a high possibility that he would reoffend. Yet the law and government justice policy says he must be given the chance to reintegrate into society. Hence, the release conditions which Sheriff Arthurson confirmed as legal and not a breach of Greens’ human rights. Well done to him.

It falls to Midlothian Council, in the main, to ensure that Greens is given the chance to re-enter society and I don’t envy it the task because public enmity towards the man is stark.

If he offends again, if he breaks the law in any way, Greens must be returned to prison and serve every day of his sentence and then plenty more. Yet, in the meantime, however painful it seems to law-abiding citizens, he must be given the chance to resume his place in the community, with all the 23 conditions in place, including electronic monitoring.

What Greens did was wrong in every way, but vigilante justice is also wrong in every way. I wouldn’t want him living next to me, nor would most sensible people, but some way must be found of letting the experts try to get people like Greens back into society.

Our greatest human right is the right to safety and as long as the experts are keeping people safe, we have to trust the law, not take it into our own hands.