A Real Disgrace

For the glory of a man is from the honor of his father,
And it is a disgrace for children to dishonor their mother.

Wisdom of Sirach 3:11

The truth of this verse was made evident by the elder son of Susan Pope. Mrs Pope was until recently the senior nurse at one of the most prestigious private girls schools in the country, Malvern St James. She was sacked for gross misconduct.

However, as has become increasingly common in this country, she was not sacked for anything she did or didn’t do at work. She was sacked for something that happened at home. The facts are not in dispute. Her ten-year-old son swore at her, and after giving him a warning that he would get a smack on the bottom if he did it again, he called her bluff. She was true to her word and applied the mildest discipline to his buttocks over his trousers.

Now most decent reasonable people would immediately recognise that she made a mistake. The warning was entirely out of order. He already knew that what he was doing was wrong. He had already made a conscious decision to curse his mother. This is unquestionably one-strike-and-you’re-out territory.

So all you need now is another rebellious son and a society in complete disconnect with reality. Mrs Pope has both. Her fifteen-year-old snatched his younger brother from the house and called the police. She was arrested and spent 32 hours in police custody. Not only that, her husband was also arrested and held for 32 hours and he didn’t do anything at all. That didn’t stop police questioning him for four hours. She was only questioned for 90 minutes. (I know, I know: on top of all this you are wondering why they were held for 32 hours to be questioned for so little time. That’s the way police do business in this country.)

Someone at the Crown Prosecution Service wisely decided not to charge Mrs Pope with any offence. But as I’m sure you know, Newton’s Third Law of Bureaucratic Motion requires that for every wise action there is an equally stupid reaction. Worcestershire County Council social services stepped in and put both the ten-year-old potty mouth and his eight-year-old sister on the Child Protection Register. They have been on the Register since this occurred last May. According The Daily Telegraph:

sources within the department indicated the Popes had not yet satisfied them that they had met the welfare criteria laid out when the children were placed on the register. “There are issues that still need to be sorted, it’s not simply about a child being smacked,” the source said.

In case you need a translation from the Bureaucraspeak language, the source said that the Pope children are still in danger because bureaurcrats do not believe the parents have accepted the re-education required of them. The State has decided how its children are to be raised and parents must realised that they are merely agents of the State.

So finally, you would think that a posh private school steeped in tradition would be above such things. Well, no. You would think that they would be aware of the character of their employee, but that’s not the issue. Denis Smith, the school’s bursar made the real issue plain in his letter to Mrs Pope informing her that she had been sacked:

The school’s reputation could be significantly damaged in the event that parents or potential parents were to discover that your children are on the Child Protection Register.

We do not believe that the school needs to accept this very real risk to its reputation, which has arisen directly as a result of your conduct.

That’s a lot of words when just two were required: pride and money. But if he wanted to be verbose, he should have just been honest and written something like: “You innocence is irrelevant. We don’t care if social services are completely off their rocker. It is all about appearances and the wrong appearance could cost us pride and money. We care much more about our pride and our money than we could ever possibly care about you, our devalued employee.”

The only positive outcome from this would be for the school’s reputation to be significantly damaged as a result of their conduct. If the values demonstrated by Malvern St James in sacking Susan Pope exemplify what parents want for their children, when they ship them off to be raised by this boarding school, then they should go ahead. Otherwise, they might pause to consider first whether they want their child to be inculcated with the opposite of the Golden Rule. They might further pause to consider whether the way the school treats its employees will be reflected in the way it treats its pupils. Before making a £25,000 per year gamble with the life of a child, perhaps that’s much more worthy of consideration than whether the school nurse smacked her sons bum when he swore at her.

After all, their child may come home thinking that it is okay to destroy the parents’ career if they don’t like being disciplined. Seems like there’s a lot at stake here. I hope the bursar at Malvern St James finds out they gambled the wrong way.

The Divorce Racket

With the lull in the Britney Spears endless psychotic episode, Brits can turn their attention to these shores for the continuing saga of the divorce between Sir Paul and Lady McCartney. This is a case wherein the term “lady” is certainly a case of form over substance.

I’m not usually one for celebrity news or gossip. However as a lawyer I have been keeping an eye on this one for the precedents it may set. Heather is about to get £55 million for four years of putting up with a luxury lifestyle, though that may be part of the problem. Sir Paul is worth a little bit less than £1 billion but he doesn’t live like it. I mean, he doesn’t live like poor folks, but perhaps Heather was expecting to tap into it a bit more.

But I’m straying into the gossip. What isn’t gossip is that divorce is a lucrative racket. Susan Sangster is getting her fourth divorce. She’s amasses a fortune from her previous marriages and was looking to improve on it after just 14 months. She had hoped to get her pre-nup invalidated, but when she found out that wasn’t going to happen, she decided to cut her losses and run. Probably into the arms of husband number five.

Writing in today’s Daily Mail, Amanda Platell has an insightful commentary on the injustice of modern divorce. It is something that may be a developing phenomenon here, but old hat in the States. Even though I never had a case involving particularly rich clients, the injustice climbs right down the socio-economic ladder. It is one of the reasons I’m glad I don’t practise anymore.

Divorce is the only no-fault breach of contract. In any other cases, if one party wanted to just dissolve the arrangement against the wishes of the other, the breaching party would be responsible to the non-breaching party. In divorce, the breaching party can walk out of the contract without cause and take the other to the cleaners. Hopefully the courts won’t let Heather Mills do this.

Now if we could only get rid of no-fault divorce.

Plenty of Cash and No Money

Nicholas van Hoogstraten has been arrested in Zimbabwe. He achieve notariety here in the UK a few years ago because he was convicted of for the manslaughter of a business associate and later cleared, but eventually paid out civil damages. The arrest in Zimbabwe has nothing to do with this. It has to do with possessing foreign currency and demand rent for some of his 200 Zimbabwean properties in something other than Zimbabwean currency.

He did accept some local currency. In fact he had far more of it than anything else. There was Z$20,000,000,000 with the money that police confiscated. That’s right: 20 billion. The only thing is that with an exchange rate of over Z$30,000 to US$1 – or about Z$60,000 to £1 – $20 billion doesn’t go very far.

I say all of this not to say anything about Nicholas van Hoogstraten, but rather about the economy of Zimbabwe. This is the degree to which Robert Mugabe has destroyed his country. This is why people are starving in a land that used to be the bread basket of Africa.