The Today programme often has one choking on one’s porridge, but this morning’s edition had an item even more infuriating than usual. A barrister who had represented one of the men accused in last April’s Hatton Garden raid - in this case acquitted - was invited onto the show to speak of his ‘grudging admiration’ for the men who have just been convicted. ‘They were clever, they were brave, they were elderly,’ he began, suggesting that the raid had ‘captured the imagination’ of all of us. He was then followed by a crime writer who likened the gang’s takings to a ‘lottery win’, and suggesting that it had cheered us all up at a time when many are struggling with their own finances.
There is nothing new about the fawning attitude shown towards serious criminals in Britain. Remember how thousands lined the streets of Bethnal Green for the Krays’ funerals – 60,000 according to one estimate of Ronnie Kray’s funeral in 1995? But it is pretty sickening nonetheless. No, this wasn’t a Dad’s Army of bumbling grandads having a jape and committing a ‘victimless crime’. The contents of the security boxes which they emptied have owners, most of whom have yet to see their possessions returned. The gang, like every other bunch of bank robbers, are a bunch of greedy and immoral individuals.
So why are they held up as working-class heroes? Elevating them isn’t just morally objectionable, there is also a deep current of racism in the attitudes shown towards the Hatton Garden mob and the Krays. It tends to be only good old white criminals who are lionised in this way. Black gangs don’t seem to be awarded the same status. I don’t remember the exploits of drugs gangs from Brixton being talked of fondly on the Today programme, nor the streets of Brixton being lined with admirers for the funeral of a gangsta.
Elevating criminals to folk hero status is a lazy mistake. It just provides ammunition for opponents of capitalism who like to claim there is little difference between legitimate business and the kind of thieving committed by the Hatton Garden mob.