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Procecuted for Stealing a Banana
|by Rajesh Talwar|
The Hari Putar Dialogues - 70
(BBC News ; Birmingham ; 7 August : The district crown prosecutor for Birmingham said the case of James Gallagher had been heard at the city's Crown Court because the defendant had elected trial by jury. Gallagher was found not guilty earlier this week of burglary and the theft of the piece of fruit, worth 25p, from Birmingham's Bullring shopping centre. Speaking after the verdicts, Mr Gallagher, of Linwood Road, Handsworth, Birmingham, said he was relieved and had chosen a Crown Court trial because he expected magistrates would have found him guilty. The 23-year-old told the Wolverhampton Express and Star: "It's shocking, it's just a waste of taxpayers' money." It had been alleged that Gallagher entered an Italian restaurant before it had opened and stole the banana. In a statement, the district crown prosecutor for Birmingham, Martin "In this case, we felt that there was sufficient evidence and it was in the public interest for the prosecution to proceed.")
Putar: There is a report on the BBC news website today about two fellows who have been prosecuted for stealing a banana.
Hari: Really. For a mere banana.
Putar: Oh, yes. According to the story, the Crown Prosecution Service spent 20,000 pounds on the prosecution.
Hari: And how much did the banana cost?
Putar: Twenty-five pence.
Hari: So you could have bought eighty thousand bananas with that money. And what was the verdict?
Putar: Gallagher was found not guilty.
Hari: So twenty thousand pounds was spent in prosecuting a man who had stolen a twenty-five pence banana and in the end he was found not guilty. What a waste?
Putar: The accused decided to go in for a trial by jury because he felt the Magistrates Court would have found him guilty.
Hari: Well, it won't affect his future job options I guess. Sometimes employers have a question asking job seekers if they have ever received a conviction from a Court. And they don't want to go into details ' whether it was a bank robbery or a banana that was stolen.
Putar: That fact of having a criminal record may have weighed with the jury in deciding to acquit him.
Hari: By the way had he eaten up the banana?
Putar: Apparently not. He was caught trying to steal it and the police were immediately informed.
Hari: So the police would have seized the banana.
Putar: I guess so. The banana would technically have been case property.
Hari: That's funny.
Putar: Even funnier if it was produced in the Court, with the prosecutor asking the restaurant owner, do you recognize this banana? Was it the same banana that you saw the accused pick up?
Hari: But most bananas look alike. There is nothing to separate one from the other.
Putar: The defense would have argued in that way perhaps. But the banana would have been kept in a plastic bag, numbered, and kept in a refrigerator together with evidence in other criminal cases such as blood samples. So they may have been able to identify it.
Hari: Do you think the prosecution would have hired a Queen's Counsel in this case to prosecute our young 23-year-old offender?
Putar: Unlikely. It would have gone to someone fairly junior.
Hari: Imagine if it was a young prosecutors first case. And his girl friend asked him: 'So what is your first case about?'
Putar: And he would have replied: 'I'm going to prosecute a banana thief.'
Hari: Wouldn't have impressed her a great deal. Anyhow this particular theft was not because of necessity.
Putar: Absolutely not. In fact when caught, the accused offered to pay 25 pence the cost of the banana. This was however not found acceptable. Tell me something, Papaji.
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: You don't think it was worthwhile to prosecute the offender in this case?
Hari: I don't. For a mango, I might reconsider, but for a banana? No, absolutely not.
Putar: But the prosecution argues that a theft is a theft and the value of the merchandise stolen ought not to make a difference.
Hari: The jury made the right decision. It was in keeping with the liberal democratic spirit of the country. One can be too petty. Such prosecutions are more in keeping with totalitarian states.
Putar: So you think such prosecutions against banana thieves are more to be expected in dictatorial regimes?
Hari: I would think so. Such prosecutions can be expected in some very poor countries where even bananas have value, and in banana republics.
Putar: Had our young offender been convicted by the Magistrate's Court and sentenced to imprisonment would that then have been an example of the trial of a banana thief in a kangaroo court?
Hari: I don't know, Putar.
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