It is a depressing insight into the standard of our press and of public debate that nobody so far has set out the choices faced by the magistrates, which were:
- Send her to prison by implementing the suspended sentence that she had already been given
- Tell her that she doesn't need to pay the tax because she is an old lady
- Er - that's it
During the Poll Tax years (that, by the way, was a tax that I opposed for its sheer stupidity rather than any ideological reasons) I remember dealing with a refusenik would-be martyr who turned up with a claque to support her from the gallery. She was fully expecting to go to prison in a blaze of glory (or as much glory as the Ealing & District Weekly Advertiser can offer). I announced that she had made prison inevitable, and she visibly puffed up and thrust out her chins. "However" I said, "In a final attempt to see whether sanity might yet prevail even at this late stage we are suspending the committal to prison for a final seven days". She subsided like a badly-made soufflé and I have never seen anyone look so disappointed.
I was on the rota to sit seven days later, and I looked for her on the list. She was not on it, so I had discreet enquiries made, and discovered that some unsporting soul had shot her fox by paying the tax anonymously on her behalf - a procedure that she had no legal right to resist.
I have suspected since that day that some local slush-fund was dipped into to provide the required cash to render her protest futile. I am surprised that nobody in authority in the latest case has thought to have a whip-round and pay off the fifty quid that is all the money needed to keep the silly old bat out of chokey.