Crime and punishment

Issue 

By Allen Myers

[A Sydney rape victim last week had her application for compensation rejected by the Victims' Compensation Tribunal, which made comments including "applicant encouraged actions" and "she must be responsible for her own actions".]

Harold Buckwise, seated nervously in police headquarters, looked up hopefully as the two detectives entered the room. "Mr Buckwise", said the older of the two, "I'm Sergeant Sludge. This is Constable Corpus."

"How do you do", said Harold. "I'm here about ..."

"Yes", Corpus interrupted, looking at his notepad. "You have a complaint about a bank robbery, I believe."

"Yes indeed", Harold replied. "I'm the manager, you see, and earlier this afternoon a woman came in waving a pistol ..."

"Just tell us what happened, Mr Buckwise", Sludge suggested.

"... ummm, yes, very well. She came in and pointed a gun at us and said, 'Empty the till into this bag'. So Baker — the chief teller — looked at me and I said yes, so he put it in the bag for her, and she ran out. We think she got about $64,000, although we haven't finished checking the fig ..."

"Didn't you say a moment ago it was a pistol?", Corpus asked.

"Yes, a pistol."

"And now you say it was a gun?" Corpus looked puzzled.

"Is there a difference?", Harold asked, surprised.

"Just want to get the details right", said Corpus, making notes. "Now, who was the gun — I mean pistol — pointed at?"

"At us", Harold replied.

"But Mr Buckwise, there are lots of officers and employees in your bank. It couldn't have been pointed at all of them, could it?"

"Well", said Harold, "she kept moving it back and forth, pointing at different people".

"Did you feel threatened?", asked Corpus. "I mean, you personally, when she was pointing the pistol at Baker, she couldn't have shot you while the gun — I mean pistol — was pointing at him, or at someone else if you see what I mean now could you?" "I mean, obviously I wasn't as frightened when she pointed away from me ..."

"Not frightened", Corpus said aloud as he wrote it down. "Who was it aimed at when you told Baker it was okay to give the lady the money?"

"Never mind that", Sludge told the constable. "Mr Buckwise, do you think you could identify this bank robber if you saw her again?"

"Of course. I know who it was", Harold said. "It was Delia Dahlia."

"You know this lady?", said Corpus, his lower jaw dropping. "How?"

"She's a customer of the bank", Harold explained. "She opened a cheque account about six weeks ago."

"Long-standing bank customer", Corpus wrote down the information.

"Has she ever robbed the bank before?", asked Sludge.

"No, of course not."

"What do you mean, 'of course not'?", asked Corpus. "Don't you think she's capable of robbing a bank?"

"I don't mean necessarily $46,000", said Sludge. "Maybe there's been other times when she only took a couple fifties?"

"No", Harold insisted.

"Or twenties?", Sludge continued. "Or, you know, maybe a pot plant or an ashtray?"

Harold shook his head. Corpus looked frustrated. "So, you're telling us that this lady, who'd never done anything like it before, suddenly robbed your bank for no reason? Do you think a jury is likely to believe that, Mr Buckwise?"

"Uh ... well, we have had quite a few pens go missing", Harold said, "but I couldn't really say who took ..."

"Did you ever report her pen stealing to the police?", demanded Corpus.

"But I didn't know for sure ..."

"And I don't suppose you ever warned her to stop?" Corpus shut his notebook and stuck it in his pocket.

"Harold", Sergeant Sludge said softly. "We don't want to be hard on you. But these are the kinds of questions the defence barrister will ask. It looks as though you've encouraged her to think you didn't mind if she stole from the bank."

"Are you sure you want to pursue the complaint?", asked Corpus.

"I suppose not", said Harold. "What's the point if they make me look like the criminal?"

"I think you've made the right decision", said Sludge as Harold shuffled towards the door. "Oh, one other thing: don't apply for compensation — the tribunal will only say you brought it on yourself."

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