Peter Rhodes on allotments, heart attacks and the “appalling vistas” that led to injustice

In a social-media post that went viral, 45-year-old banker Jonathan Frostick described how he had a heart attack and his first thought was: “This isn't convenient.”

Better than a Maserati?
Better than a Maserati?

I bet he's not alone. In any sudden crisis, amid the fear and confusion, you may also have a sense of outrage, unfairness and, yes, plain old inconvenience. Once in a careless moment I stepped off the kerb and narrowly missed being squashed by a bus. My first thought as 40 tons of public transport brushed my arm was: “Getting run over is not on my agenda for today.”

Frostick has promised to re-adjust his work-life balance because “life is literally too short.” Can't argue with that. In my days of lecturing journalism students, I advised them to crack on with their careers because “the years between 20 and 30 last about 20 minutes.” What I did not know then was that the years after 50 are more like seconds than minutes. As I write, a significant date approaches.

There is a huge difference between buses and birthdays. You can dodge a bus.

According to a survey (however would we hacks manage without those four little words?), most Brits would rather have an allotment than a sports car. No surprises, there. We are essentially a nation of slobs.

And while a flashy new sports car would be very nice, you've got to clean it, polish it, insure it, garage it and generally devote hours of loving attention to it. An allotment, on the other hand, is slob-heaven where you can pretend to do some gardening while spending hours slumped in your deckchair with a cool bottle of cider. Ah, yes. The Maserati can wait.

The scandal of Post Office workers wrongly convicted and even jailed because of the flawed Horizon IT system would be beyond belief, but for the fact that Private Eye magazine had been covering it for years. And in the Eye's dogged reporting you may detect echoes of another towering injustice, the case of the Birmingham Six.

In his infamous 1980 dismissal of the Six's civil action against police, Lord Denning declared: “If they (the Six) won, it would mean that the police were guilty of perjury; that they were guilty of violence and threats… That was such an appalling vista that every sensible person would say, ‘It cannot be right that these actions should go any further’.” (Denning later admitted he was wrong).

In the case of the Post Office prosecutions, juries came to believe that, as the prosecution put it: “Horizon is a tried and tested system in use at thousands of post offices for several years, fundamentally robust and reliable.” In other words, because the consequence of Horizon being at fault was an appalling vista, the defendants had to be guilty.

There is a moral here for lawyers, judges and juries everywhere. When a vista becomes too appalling to contemplate, contemplate it.

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