Crime, words and punishment

Thomas Cashman wept today when he was found guilty of murdering nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel in Liverpool last year, as he chased a convicted drug dealer into her home. He wasn’t weeping for the child he killed, but for himself, because when he’s sentenced next week he’ll be sent away for a long, long time.

Do I feel sorry for him? Not really. Certainly not as sorry as I feel for the child’s mother, who was shot in the hand by the same bullet. Or for the innocent child who was shot dead. But I do feel sorry to hear of a conviction for murder when, if we have respect for the meaning of words, Cashman didn’t murder the child.

Let’s see what is murder: “Murder …is committed when a sane person unlawfully kills another person with intent to kill or cause serious injury”. That’s from the crown prosecution website. As are these descriptions of manslaughter: “When death is the result of behaviour that is grossly negligent” and “ Where death is caused by an unlawful and dangerous act.”

Now what Cashman was intent on doing was murdering a man called Joseph Lee, who he was chasing and who ran into the house where Olivia lived.  That’s why Cashman had the gun, that’s why he was firing it. Olivia’s mother and Olivia herself weren’t Cashman’s target – I doubt if he even knew them. But he still fired his weapon and injured Olivia’s mother and fatally injured Olivia.

Does it matter what we call it? The child is still dead in a horrible incident. Well yes, because murder means one thing and manslaughter means a similar but different thing. And when we start using words carelessly, it can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences. An example? Thatcher called the hunger-strikers criminals; the ten men who died in Long Kesh gave their lives in protest at being labelled criminals. As Francie Brolly sang: 

But I’ll wear no convict’s uniform
Nor meekly serve my time
That Britain might brand Ireland’s fight
Eight hundred years of crime.

4 Responses to Crime, words and punishment

  1. James Hunter March 30, 2023 at 6:38 pm #

    Very good Jude

  2. Brian Patterson April 3, 2023 at 1:30 pm #

    The fact is that he set out with the intention of killing someone. Murderous intent. He killed the wrong person, a beautiful innocent child. In my eyes and I would suggest in the eyes of most people that was murder.

    There is no parallel with the hunger strikers. None.

    • Jude Collins April 7, 2023 at 4:58 pm #

      I totally agree he set out to murder someone, Brian, but that someone was not the child who was killed. So yes, charge and convict him of murderous attempt on life of man he was chasing. And yes, he killed the innocent child. And yes, it’s appalling recklessness to fire a gun in a house where there are innocent people. But I would still argue that you can only be labelled ‘murderer’ if you deliberately intend to.succeed in killing someone.

  3. PaulG April 4, 2023 at 9:24 pm #

    Yep. Absolutely nothing in common with hunger strikers.
    Murder was the correct charge and conviction.
    The accidental element would have needed to be much larger for Manslaughter.
    He got justice and now he’ll have 42 years to think about the child he killed.