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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Putney and all that

As I am in a nostalgic mood it is worth noting this article in the Sunday Times about the 1976 trial of Peter Hain, accused of robbing Barclays Bank in Putney, southwest London. The occasion is the release of legal papers relating to the case under the 30 year rule.

The suggestion is that Peter Hain was framed by the South African Intelligence Service and there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence to support that hypothesis. As the paper says:

Hain was from a white South African liberal family that had moved to Britain in 1966. He had become active in the Young Liberals, which in those days was a vocal organisation with 24,000 members.

Soon Hain was the most famous student radical of his generation. He organised demonstrations that disrupted a Springbok rugby tour of the UK in the winter of 1969-70 and led to the cancellation of a tour by the South African cricket team in 1970.

Hain was demonised by British cricket and rugby fans and to many white South Africans he was Public Enemy No 1. Nelson Mandela, imprisoned on Robben Island at the time, later remembered: “The soup served up was thinner and the prison guards would curse ‘that bloody Hain’.”

Peter Hain is now a respectable member of the British establishment, but has spent a great deal of time in the last few months seeking to reinvent himself as a left wing radical again. The publication of these files is therefore, very convenient. It is a pity that his target audience remain unimpressed:

“All this stuff coming out now at this time is great for Peter,” said one MP last week. “After all, it reminds everyone of the anti-apartheid hero he was. Shame he has turned into such a boring bastard now.”
“All this stuff coming out now at this time is great for Peter,” said one MP last week. “After all, it reminds everyone of the anti-apartheid hero he was. Shame he has turned into such a boring (Aga loving) bastard now.”
Any radical would be appalled at the story published regarding the false accusation that Peter Hain had been involved in a bank robbery. The fact that the British state should have brought a prosecution on the flimsy of evidence should worry any liberal.As for Christopher Woods comments ,he's probalbly suffering from post Iraq syndrome as the American people, wake to the fact that Bush has got them into the worst foreign policy mess in the country's history.
When a public figure gets accused of a serious crime, even if s/he is acquitted there is normally a feeling of "no smoke without fire" and "mud sticks".

Despite the fact that Peter Hain was acquitted on a majority, rather than a unanimous verdict; despite the prejudicial remarks of the judge after his acquittal, it is significant that Hain was not subject to such doubt at the time. This is a testament to the high regard in which supporters and opponents held him at the time.

Of course Hain is no longer the radical pin up boy that he was thirty years ago. The man that the lad turned into has disappointed many of us.

I'm uncertain if recalling Putney is the timely reminder of Hain's radicalism that you claim. The reaction in the Times (and I'm sorry to say on this blog) appears to me to be raking over old mud to see if it sticks better now than it did thirty years ago.

No matter how much of a boring (Aga loving) bastard Hain may have turned into, he was a giant amongst men in the 1970's - and his heroism at the time cannot be taken away from him.
On the contrary, the purpose of this post was not to see if 'old mud sticks'. I make it very clear that I consider Hain was framed and in a previous post also expressed my admiration for the stance taken by Peter and his family.

As it happens the anti-apartheid movement of the 70s formed an important part in the formation of my own political consciousness. I recall at the age of 16 following the Putney trial on a daily basis and understanding what was at stake. Even then I could not understand why that prosecution had been brought as it seemed obvious that Hain had been set up.

At that time Hain was indeed a giant but it was inevitable that he would change as he exercised power. I do not condemn him for that, it is a necessary journey taken by all those who achieve influence and use it properly for the common good.

My impression is not that this has been published to rake over old mud but to add to Peter Hain's radical credentials. After all there is nothing to be ashamed about in being framed by the old South African security services.
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