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THIRST FOR JUSTICE

There have always been people who have died before their time in dire circumstances: through murders or accidents, through ill-will or carelessness. But today there seems to be a culture of blame and recrimination, and a demand for justice that there never was before. Many a News bulletin today features a father or a mother who have lost a child and have dedicated their own lives to “getting justice” for their child’s death and their loss.

In 2019 Harry Dunn was killed on his motorbike by a car driven on the wrong side of the road by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US serviceman stationed at a nearby RAF base. Anne Sacoolas returned to the USA before any arrest or proceedings could be taken. The parents of Harry Dunn then initiated a series of court hearings, and appeals to the British and US Governments, to have Mrs Sacoolas brought to justice and punished. After 3 years a British court found her guilty of careless driving in absentia, and condemned her to a short prison sentence which she will never serve.

In 1989 a disaster occurred at Sheffield Wednesday’s football ground in which over 90 spectators were crushed and killed. Litigation against various members of the police-force, on duty at the ground, was pursued by a body of relatives and friends of the victims, for over 30 years. This group of people spent who knows how much of their time and money trying to find someone to blame and punish for the deaths of their relatives and friends, and who knows at what cost also to the public purse, all to no avail.

Stuff happens. I confess that on several occasions on holiday in France I have driven off on the wrong side of the road. By the grace of God, I have realised my mistake in time and crossed to the right side of the road (in both senses). I have every sympathy with Mrs Secoolas. Her mistake will haunt her for the rest of her life. What was gained by pursuing her through the Courts? She might have owned up and said sorry sooner, but nobody gained anything by keeping up this vendetta.

Likewise, what was gained by the Hillsborough litigation? A terrible situation was caused by excessive crowds invading a football stadium, mishandled by confused and overwhelmed policemen and staff. How can any of us say how we would have reacted when faced by such a situation? Nothing was gained by all the litigation except 30 years of misery for the individuals accused of bad-planning and oversights, and the inability to control crowds of over-enthusiastic and boisterous fans?

Simpler cases of the murder of a child or a teenager or the wilful neglect of new-born babies certainly demand investigation and, where possible, accusations and trials in court. But what is gained by digging up old grievances and reopening cases relating to crimes committed 30, 40, or even 50 years ago?

What we have lost is the eternal perspective. One day Jesus will come again, and we shall all stand before the Judgement Seat of God, to answer for all that we have said and done in our lives. On that basis all of us will either be condemned and punished, or forgiven and acquitted, according to the will of our righteous Judge. It is a prospect that should make us all tremble: for “there is no-one righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3.10.). Rather than pursuing those whom we deem to be guilty and deserving of punishment, we would do better to forgive them, as we ourselves hope to be forgiven. This applies to those who have sinned through ignorance or carelessness (Anne Scoolas), through confusion and weakness (the Hillsborough policemen), or through their own deliberate fault (murderers). For all our own sins and failures we too need to seek forgiveness from God, which he will grant to us all if we repent and plead the death on the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is possible to forgive even the most heinous crimes and tragic deaths. On Remembrance Sunday 1987 the IRA detonated a bomb at a Service in Enniskillen, killing, amongst others, Marie Wilson, a young nurse, the daughter of Gordon. Far from pursuing justice and revenge against the IRA perpetrators of this bombing, Gordon Wilson dedicated the rest of his life to the work of Peace and Reconciliation in Ireland, forgiving from his heart even those who had killed his daughter.

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