Friday, 17 August 2012
A question of priorities
Twelve-year-old Keith Bennett was abducted, raped and murdered by Ian Brady, with the connivance of Brady's partner Myra Hindley, on 16 June 1964. Hindley lured the boy into her car while Brady sat in the back. They offered to drive him home. Instead Hindley drove to a lay-by on Saddleworth Moor, on the Lancashire/Yorkshire border, as Brady had previously instructed. Brady went off across the moor with Keith while Hindley kept watch. After approximately thirty minutes Brady reappeared alone. Brady told Hindley that he had sexually assaulted the boy and strangled him with a piece of string. The two then drove back home.
Although the bodies of the couple's other known victims have all been recovered over time, Keith Bennett's body has never been found, a source of ceaseless agony and distress of his mother Winnie.
Hindley died in prison in 2002; Brady is kept alive at Ashworth Psychiatric Hospital in Maghull, Merseyside. I say 'kept alive' because he has been force-fed since 1999 despite repeatedly expressing his wish to die - a right that would be his in a regular penal establishment. However, because Ashworth is considered a place of 'treatment' the law insists that Brady be force-fed regardless of his wishes.
I am fully cognizant of the horror of Brady's crimes. I have seen photographs of the battered corpse of Edward Evans. I have read transcripts of the tape recording Brady and Hindley made as they terrified and humiliated Lesley Ann Downey. I do not collect serial killer playing cards, nor do I think killers are 'cool'. But I do think Brady has a point, and I believe he should be allowed to die.
Which brings me to the recent furore surrounding letters that may or may not have been exchanged between Brady and his legal advocate Jackie Powell
Is it not obvious that the real reason Ian Brady is offering to reveal the whereabouts of Keith Bennett's body, while Keith's mother Winnie struggles with terminalcancer, is that Brady has for fifteen years campaigned to be allowed to starve himself to death? In Ashworth Mental Hospital Brady is force-fed every day. His case has recently been up for review, and Brady wishes to be moved from Ashworth to a regular jail where he cannot legally be force-fed and may thus starve himself to death. The letter currently under discussion in the media is headed "to be given to Winnie Bennett after my death". So if Brady were allowed to die, the letter could be given to this poor woman and perhaps she may at last be guided to the burial site of her lost child. However, in the never-ending chess game between the authorities and Brady, the authorities do not wish to give Brady what he wants - the right to starve himself. Brady's last 'mind game' is to win that battle by offering the gift of closure to Winnie Bennett, but only if the courts acquiesce to his wish to die: in other words, if the court insists on keeping Brady alive, then by the time he dies of natural causes Winnie will probably have succumbed to cancer having never found the body of her son. Therefore the moral responsibility will rest with the authorities, who are more concerned with their battle of wills with Brady than compassion for Keith's mother. Brady will thus prove one of his most frequently asserted and perspicacious points: that authoritarian power structures become the mirror image of the monsters they imprison.
One final twist - does Brady really know anything useful, or would it all turn out to be one last heartless bluff? And should the authorities let that possibility govern the choice they make? I would say no - that the stakes for the mother are too high, and time is too short.