The story behind actual bodily harm

Screengrab dated 26/01/22 taken with permission from video posted on twitter by @Shomrim of a teenager attacking two Jewish men while they were locking up their shop in Cadoxton Avenue, Haringey, London. Issue date: Thursday January 27, 2022.
Screengrab dated 26/01/22 taken with permission from video posted on twitter by @Shomrim of a teenager attacking two Jewish men while they were locking up their shop in Cadoxton Avenue, Haringey, London. Issue date: Thursday January 27, 2022.

Malaki  Thorpe is accused of attacking two Jewish men in Stamford Hill and is charged with actual bodily harm and possession of an offensive weapon. David Lammy, the local MP, has said “the perpetrator of this despicable antisemitic attack deserves the full force of the law”.

Now it would be incorrect to do more than report this specific case, but we can talk about the law in general. It goes back to the Offences against the Person Act 1861. It is possible to receive a prison sentence of up to five years for committing actual bodily harm. If, however, it is a first offence it is usual to sentence the miscreant to either a fine or community service work.

Actual bodily harm is not as serious a charge as Grievous bodily harm for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. Grievous bodily harm  is proved if the assailant intended to inflict really serious bodily harm when he committed the offence. Broken bones would point to Grievous bodily harm, but might not have been the intention.

When it comes to antisemitic attacks – and it seldom does in this country – the question is how to prevent it. There is precedent. In the 1950s in the Notting Hill area of London there were a number of attacks on Black people. On August 24 1958 nine White youths seriously assaulted  six  Black youngsters, three of whom were seriously injured. The police chased the assailants and arrested them all.

Their case came up before Mr. Justice Salmon. It might well have been their first offence but he sentenced them to five years imprisonment each anyway.  It has gone down in legal folklore as an example of exemplary sentencing, designed to warn off others who might be considering similar action.

Cyril Salmon was one of the Jewish Lyons’ catering, Salmon and Gluckstein family. He had a very distinguished legal career and finished up a Lord of Appeal and a Life Peer. He also received death threats for his Notting Hill sentences.

In tackling racism – and this applies to every faith – it is necessary to distinguish between freedom of speech and racist comment. This is a minefield. It is all very well saying that anybody agreeing with your views is exercising freedom of speech, but holding a different opinion is racist comment. You can condemn such people as bigots but when you study the history of the Suffragettes, the treatment of gays and lesbians and the battle to abolish capital punishment, it isn’t so easy. Certainly everybody can have common ground in condemning violence against the person, but freedom of speech distinguishes a democracy from a dictatorship.

The most common defence of freedom of speech is attributed, probably wrongly,  to Voltaire, but the sentiment is admirable. It was laid down “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.“

One of the results of creating a multi-national society is to put together a string of different cultures. Aspects of them might be rejected by many people. There are those who reject kashrut and circumcision and aspects of other cultures have their critics. . There can, however, be no room for legal violence in a democratic society. That’s the red line.

About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book
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