Why is a murder not a murder?The verdict in the David Morley murder trial has left me puzzled. And I’m not alone in this. There has been quite a bit of confusion and anger in the gay community (and elsewhere, no doubt) as to why the perpetrators of this crime were not found guilty of murder, but rather the lesser crime of manslaughter.
I think it is appropriate that the CPS, The Metropolitan Police and other agencies involved take some time to clearly and patiently explain the outcome of this trial to the public.
This is what confuses me:
According to the BBC’s “jargon buster” (which is very useful to laypeople like myself) these are the relevant definitions::
Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another human being without the intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. The legal definition used to describe this accidental act of murder is violence 'without malice aforethought'.
Murder is the unlawful killing of another human being with the intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. The legal definition used to describe the act of murder is violence 'with malice aforethought'.
Now – according to reports in The Times (and even The Sun):
The four, all from Kennington, South London, were also convicted of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm and remanded in custody until sentencing.
Now this makes no sense to me. If you conspire to commit and act, and then you commit an act, how on earth was it successfully argued that they had no intention to commit the act – and thereby escape the murder charge?
Furthermore, can there be any doubt that a gang which had agreed an “attack” codeword and had video-capable mobile phones at the ready to film the attacks, and who were serial attackers acted with anything other than 'with malice aforethought'?
Was it that the defence was super-good – or that the prosecution was half-hearted? This may be an unfair assessment – for all I know the prosecution gave it all they’d got – but this is a lingering question that many are now pondering. We need an answer.
Another issue which throws up more questions than answers is why the police no longer consider this a homophobic attack. The judge is still out on that issue and will rule in January, but most media sources, including the BBC, are reporting that homophobia was not a motive. How can the media be so sure? What facts lead them to the conclusion that homophobia was not a contributing factor?
After reading dozens of media reports, the only thing I can find to suggest that homophobia was not a motive is that the accused said so. But surely their solicitor would have warned them of the extra penalties if this were judged a hate crime? Forgive me if I don’t find their say-so convincing. I think it was homophobic for a number of reasons. Let’s look at the facts.
The gang’s usual modus-operandi appears to have been this:
Happy slapping: they’d suddenly violently slap, punch or kick a random stranger and film their startled reaction.
Numbers: they typically attacked a lone person as a group of four – using their superior numbers as a weapon.
But the Morley attack was different in several aspects:
Firstly (and most obviously) the attack was ferocious and sustained – unlike the other assaults. Indeed, the frenzied nature of the attack bore all the hallmarks of a typical queer-bashing, rather than a mere “happy-slapping”.
Secondly, as a scrawny teenage gang of four, they elected to attack two adult men.
We know from David Morley’s friend, Alistair Whiteside, (who was the other person attacked) that the two of them were sitting on a park bench as he consoled Morley (who had been suffering depression as an aftermath of the Admiral Duncan bombing, Morley had been the barman on duty when the bomb went off).
Now, picture one man consoling another. This would suggest intimate body language, close proximity, touching, hugs… all the hallmarks of a gay couple on a bench. To homophobes, such a scenario is an invitation as clear as a surfboard silhouette to a great white shark.
The gang usually attacked lone individuals because they had a strategic advantage in numbers. Why did they, in case of David Morley and Alistair Whiteside, decide to give up this advantage and attack two people instead of one?
Another common factor in attacks on gay people is the ferocity of the violence. For example, the official motive for the murder of Jamaican gay rights activist Brian Williamson, was robbery. However, any criminologist will tell you that the violence used in the commission of a robbery is typically no greater than what is required to take possession of the goods. Williamson was hacked and stabbed repeatedly in a frenzied attack.
Similarly, unlike their usual modus-operandi of a quick slap, punch, kick or two (as happened in the other attacks that night) the gang attacked Morley and Whiteside with great savagery in a sustained attack, one of them even admitting to returning to aim another kick to Morley’s head.
Why was this not simply a “happy slap” like the other attacks? Was it the sight of two men appearing to be intimate that triggered the gang to go berserk and way beyond the normal scale and duration of their attacks?
The thrill and amusement they derived from violently attacking total strangers may have been their primary motivation, but – logically – this says nothing about their criteria for actually selecting their victims. Nor does it necessarily mean that they were always consistent.
For example, gay men are often targeted by muggers whose primary motivation is robbery. However, the selection of victims is underpinned by homophobia. They may believe that gay victims will get less sympathy, that gay men are weaker and unable to fight back, or that gay men are less likely to report being a victim of crime, or simply that gay men “deserve” it.
So, it is perfectly reasonable in this instance to ask the question: what prompted them to deviate from their regular pattern of behaviour – to attack two men together instead of a person on their own; to sustain the attack and escalate the violence so far beyond their routine attacks as to cause death?
One report quotes killer Darren “Neekie” Case as boasting: "David Morley, that dickhead, that's the one I killed.''
If Morley had truly been a random stranger and attacked for no reason other than random selection, why would Case personalise the attack and describe the victim as “a dickhead” – what could Morley have done to suggest to Case that he was a “dickhead”? Since Morley’s only engagement with Case was to receive fatal blows, the answer can only lie in Morley’s perceived identity.
I hope that in due course, the authorities connected to the trial will explain why it was not murder and why they no longer believe it was homophobic. People will want answers.