Leave aside any sympathy or disgust you may have for anyone in this trial, said Judge Griffin when instructing the jury.
The facts weren’t in dispute. Martin McCaughey had driven after a man and hit him twice with his car, breaking his legs. All the jury had to decide was whether this constituted assault.
I suppose if this was all we knew, none of us would have the slightest hesitation in finding the accused man guilty, but of course, that’s not all there was to it. The victim, Daniel McCormack, was running away from Mr McCaughey’s house after trying to commit a burglary, and McCaughey was following him, driving barefoot and wearing only boxer shorts. Gardai found McCormack lying on the ground with two broken legs and MCaughey waiting for their arrival.
This bastard was in my bedroom, me and my wife were there, he told the police. I hit him with the car. He kept running and he wasn’t limping. I hit him again in my car and I squashed him between the railings and the car. He tried to move and couldn’t. I reversed then.
It was clear from callers to national radio where the nation’s sympathies lay and where the disgust was directed. I heard no-one saying that McCaughey should have been jailed. The consensus seemed to be that McCormack got what he deserved and it was only a pity McCaughey didn’t drive over him again.
Getting in touch with my inner vigilante, I must say I can relate to that. There’s something very satisfying in the thought that a householder might have the balls to follow an intruder and smash the living shit out of him, in a time when most of us would be afraid the bastard might pull out a knife. I once found myself having to deal with two burglars moving around downstairs in my home while my children slept in their beds, and I can tell you from first-hand knowledge that the experience remains for many years after the event. I was lucky to have such good neighbours but I don’t know what I’d do if I found myself, like McCaughey, confronted by a burglar in my own bedroom.
I think he deserves great credit for jumping up and attacking the prick, who had no business in the house.
Of course, the fact that I approve of what he did doesn’t make it right, and there’s always a danger that we make logic and rule of law subordinate to our own atavistic rages. I like to think that a householder would follow a burglar and run him down, or beat him to a pulp with a nail-studded cudgel. Electrocute him. Set ravenous hyenas on him. Dissolve him in acid. Burst his eyeballs. Shoot him with shit so he’d be dead and dirty.
All of the above, in a string of dirty filthy language.
But where do we go if everyone decides to exact revenge? Are we back to the law of the jungle and is that necessarily a bad thing? I don’t know. Maybe there should be some sort of compromise where you can legally dismember a scumbag inside your own four walls, or in hot pursuit, but you can’t track him down and kill him at the side of the road like the dog he is.
What I find completely impossible to understand is the insurance award of €175,000 to the burglar for injuries sustained. Why didn’t McCaughey immediately counter-sue for trauma, emotional distress or general downright pissed-offness? Adding it all up, even taking into account the two broken legs, it wasn’t a bad return for a night’s outing. After all, the thief might have been laid up for a couple of months, but it’s not as if he missed any gainful employment as a consequence.
It seems to me that any injury arising directly as a consequence of committing an unlawful act should never be cause for compensation. What do you think?