Thursday, 26 July 2007

Smoking Gun

In a posting titled Beer, Fags and Scuffles, on the 22nd July 2007, I said:

"It was inevitable that smokers - sometimes in large numbers - would congregate outside busy pubs, and want to take their drinks with them. Such large gatherings of folks in various degrees of inebriation are equally inevitably going to be a potential source of trouble, from obstructed footpaths to drunken brawls and worse ... And when this happens (if it hasn't already), there will be trouble. The extent of the trouble is hard to predict, but if it happens in a time and place where feelings against this combination of laws are already running high, it could be quite significant indeed. This sort of confrontation can get out of hand very quickly, and someone will get hurt or killed - I am as certain of this as I am that day follows night."

Just hours after I wrote that terrible prediction, in the early hours of Monday morning, a former British heavyweight boxer was shot when he asked customers at a club to stop smoking. James Oyebola, who was shot in the head and leg in a courtyard at the back of Chateau 6 in Fulham Road, south-west London, was born in Nigeria, won 18 of his 23 fights, and was a bronze medallist at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

On Thursday of this week, doctors declared the 6ft 9in former WBC international heavyweight champion brain dead, and his life support machine will be switched off at midday today. Earlier this week, the British Boxing Board of Control's General secretary, Simon Block, said Mr Oyebola was "one of nature's gentlemen" and the shooting was a "cowardly and gutless attack".

Yes, it was, and the perpetrators must be caught and punished to the fullest extent of the law. No amount of opposition to an unfair, unreasonable and unworkable new law could ever justify the taking of an innocent man's life, over what appears to have been nothing more than a trivial altercation.

That said, it was inevitable that something like this was going to happen. If I could predict it, just be reading the newspapers and weighing the strength of feeling about the new law against the state of British society and basic human nature, why the hell didn't the Government and their advisers see this coming?

Of course, nobody could expect them to predict the precise circumstances surrounding any given event, but it was mind buggeringly obvious that this KIND of event could, and probably would happen. How many stabbings, shootings and other acts of senseless violence have been reported in the media over the last few months? So many that I've lost count!

We live in a world where, to many people, life is cheap. Take an armed drunk, annoy them by ramming an already unpopular law down their throat at a time when they're already pretty disinhibited by alcohol, and the chances are extremely good that someone's going to get hurt - it's not rocket science!

None of which excuses the crime to any degree whatsoever. But, while the man who shot James Oyebola is indisputably guilty of murder, and, to my mind, should be executed for his crime, surely those who lobbied for, drafted and voted for the terms of the law that bans smoking in public places must also accept their share of the blame.

No reasonable person could have failed to realise that the likelihood of this kind of event occurring was so high as to make it a virtual certainty, and, in consequence, I cannot see how implementing the ban in its current form can have been anything less than gross negligence. Sure, I appreciate that governments can't be seen to give way to criminal acts, but equally, as Mr Brown keeps telling us, they have a duty to maintain public safety too.

If they know, or ought to know, that passing a particular law is likely to cause some people, under some circumstances, to act in a way that might result in injury or loss of life, and they pass it anyway, they might as well pull the trigger themselves.

Billy Seggars.

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