Well, at Least She Wasn’t Driven to Suicide.
Reader Chris Allen emailed me from Australia last week with a link to another sad damned story out of England. This was covered by some others, such as Lurch over at the English blog Gun Culture. Here’s the story, or at least the TimesOnline version of it:
Jailed: teacher who snapped
By Russell Jenkins
Special-needs tutor fired air pistol near ‘yobs’ whom she believed were terrorising her family
A MIDDLE-AGED teacher is starting a six-month jail sentence today because she decided to fight back against “yobs” with a pellet gun.
Linda Walker, 47, who teaches at a special school for children with behavioural problems, has been heralded as an example to other less energetic and caring teachers.
Her life and career now lie in ruins after a moment of self-confessed madness when she pursued a group of teenagers she blamed for a campaign of vandalism directed at her home and family.
During the midnight confrontation near her suburban home in Urmston, Greater Manchester, she fired up to six rounds from the gas-powered air pistol into the ground close to the feet of her antagonist. She later confessed to police officers that she had acted “like a madwoman possessed” but complained that the activities of the youths had left her at breaking point.
Mrs Walker looked apprehensive in the dock at Minshull Street Crown Court, in Manchester, as the judge told her yesterday that she would serve at least three months before being considered for release.
Her partner, John Cavanagh, 56, a lecturer at Salford College, watched from the public gallery as Mrs Walker, who has complained that the law always appears to be on the side of the “yobbos”, was led to the cells to begin her sentence.
Mrs Walker shares her home in Urmston with Mr Cavanagh and her two 17-year-old sons.
She has taught children with special needs for 25 years, rising to head of Food Technology and head of Year 11 at New Park High School, Salford, where her work has been praised by Ofsted inspectors.
Her work has also won the admiration of colleagues. Nigel Haslam, a former head teacher, said: “She was very professional and thorough. She did a tremendous amount for young people. She worked all the hours that came and provided the students with many opportunities to succeed.”
Beyond the school gates, Mrs Walker was being driven towards breaking point by groups of youths “terrorising” her neighbourhood. She logged a catalogue of complaints with officers, from abusive phone calls to thefts and vandalism.
Anonymous callers would abuse her son as a “poof”. A wing mirror of her other son’s car was broken off, the garden shed was broken into, ornaments thrown over the wall and fish stolen from her pond.
The final straw came when she noticed that a five-litre plastic container of washing up liquid was moved from the back garden and emptied over her son’s car in the driveway.
She was “fuming mad” when she rushed out of her house at night to confront a knot of teenagers 250 yards away. After an exchange of abuse she returned home to arm herself with a Walther CP88 gas-powered air pistol, which she had kept in her underwear drawer for four months since she had been burgled, and an air rifle.
She phoned the police to tell them that she was going to “shoot the f****** vandals. I’ve got an air rifle and a pistol and I’m going to shoot them.”
Mrs Walker squared up to one 18-year-old, firing off several rounds from the pistol into nearby ground. The youth, Robert McKiernan, now 19, who has a number of convictions including burglary, told her that she was a “psycho”.
She later expressed surprise when an armed response unit arrested her and not the youths. Afterwards she complained to officers: “Police are very sympathetic but the law is on the side of these criminals and yobbos and not the victims. They have all the rights.”
In evidence Mrs Walker said: “I cannot say I am sorry I challenged him (the teenager). I think I needed to do it to get rid of my anger. I know I shouldn’t have done it. I know I was loopy.”
Farrhat Arshad, for the defence, suggested that Mrs Walker had given “her lot to society”. Ms Arshad said: “The court is familiar with the acts of petty vandalism and theft that were caused to her property. Although they may appear as petty, the effects on Mrs Walker were great. She thought her family, which was supposed to be safe, was being attacked.”
Mrs Walker was found guilty of affray and possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence after a week-long trial in February.
FAMILY’S DIARY OF DESPAIR
Linda Walker says that her home was targeted by vandals in the months before the shooting. There were thefts and vandalism which, the family believe, amounted to persecution:
She told police officers that she had intercepted several malicious phone calls. In one, the caller talked about one of her sons being a “poof” and threatened her. Mrs Walker believes that the youths that gather at night on the neighbourhood streets were driven by jealousy of her two sons. She said that her sons had saved up their money since they were small and were now able to afford a car and a mountain bike
During the summer holiday, while the family were staying in their caravan, the garden shed was broken into and the family’s bicycles were stolen. Bottles of alcohol were also taken and garden ornaments were thrown over the wall
Fish from the pond disappeared in a separate incident and the front door was kicked in, splitting the PVC coating
Cars parked in the driveway were damaged. Wing mirrors were smashed and a brick was thrown through a window. Mrs Walker told police: “Kids keep coming down the road to vandalise my sons’ cars because they do not have cars and are jealous. When your kids work hard for things and they get damaged you get protective.
I have had harassment and mischievous phone calls. I got a phone call calling my son a poof and asking, ‘Does he want a good bumming?’ I asked who it was and why they were doing this and he said I would get bummed as well.”
The final straw came on August 14 last year when she noticed that a five-litre plastic container had been moved from the back step and placed on the roof of her son’s car in the driveway.
She said: “They did not know whether it was brake fluid or anti-freeze and they poured it all over his car”. John Cavanagh, Mrs Walker’s partner, said: “Things have been pretty terrible at home with the vandalism going on. It has caused one or two stressful moments.”
“One or two stressful moments.” Ah, the fabled British gift for understatement.
The Times allowed its readers to comment on the case. Here’s a few choice samples:
My son was recently attacked by local yobs in a drive-by style shooting involving an air weapon. The offenders were caught and admitted the crime along with other offences. The response of Devon and Cornwall police was to confiscate the weapon and caution two of the offenders. As for the minor damage to my son’s car, to get any form of compensation would involve a private prosecution against the youths. It would seem that justice depends on where you live and not on what crime you have committed. Christopher Sweetman, Great Torrington
I was appalled by this sentence. This is the first offence committed by an otherwise valuable and upstanding member of the community who has been pushed beyond her limits. She, alongside countless others up and down the country, have to put up with years of abuse in their own home and nothing is done. Police response times to these crimes are too slow to gain evidence and so the yobs carry on without any real prospect of prosecution. I am taking my legal finals next month and I’m wondering what the point of my qualifaction will be if this is how the legal system responds to people such as Linda Walker. How can we reconcile the use of ASBOs for yobs (which still do not deprive them of their freedom) with prison for a person such as Linda Walker? Alexa Noble, Poole
Remarkably good question. Here’s one from someone upon whom his chains rest comfortably:
Walker deserves the sentence she received. She approached a group of youths who she had no evidence against, carrying firearms and discharged them. Even if she had seen these youths committing an offence at her home, her vigilante action was completely inappropriate. It is easy to have two sepearte points of view in matters like these, one point of view if you are not directly affected and one if you are, by this I mean if all the bleeding hearts who think that the sentence is unjust had been affected, e.g. it was your son or daughter she approached in a raged state you would think differently. As far as I am aware, the police investigated all the matters she had reported previously and infact arrested offenders, none of these offenders identified were the people she approached that night. Well done the police and well done the judicial system. The maximum sentence for an offence of this kind is 10 years, I think the judge on the day displayed great restraint with regard to her sentence. James Smith, Manchester
Thankfully, Mr. Smith was the only respondent who was quite this vehement about Ms. Walker’s sentence.
But at least Ms. Walker wasn’t driven to the point of despair that 64 year-old Martin James was. Or 77 year-old Bill Clifford. The “yobs” drove Linda Walker past the point they drove Maureen Jennings, but not that far. As Lurch put it, “Yet another good person hung out to dry by the very legal system which failed them in the first place.”
Like it failed Amelia Whale.