Turning on the radio one day, I heard a woman tell an interviewer that her 14-year-old son was "a good boy, really". As he had just been caught breaking into local houses for about the 250th time, it was not easy to see what his goodness consisted of: or rather, how his goodness could have outweighed his badness in the estimation of most of us.
It was only natural, of course, that his mother should try not to think of her own offspring as bad; as far as she was concerned, her son's deep inner core of goodness was preserved despite his outward, rather frequent, manifestations of malice. She hoped to persuade the public of this and, as the response of many people to the death of Raoul Moat shows, the hope was not entirely forlorn.
The late Mr Moat was a brutal sentimentalist. He used the extremity of his behaviour to persuade himself that he felt something – supposedly love – very deeply, and that this was the motive and justification of his behaviour. Surely, if he was prepared to kill not only his ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart, but also her new lover and anyone who looked like him, he must have loved her very much?
He also persuaded himself that he was the victim of this terrible episode. "They took it all from me," he said, "kids, freedom, house, then Sam and Chanel [his daughter]. Where could I go from there?" It was only natural that he, an innocent, or at least a man not seriously at fault ("I've never punched her but have slapped her"), should have taken a gun and killed one and injured two: any man treated in this way would have done the same.
What is alarming is that substantial numbers of people take this self-serving sentimental nonsense seriously, at least if the thousands of postings on the Raoul Moat Facebook tribute page, which was deleted on Thursday, were anything to go by. The logic seems to be as follows: Mr Moat called himself a victim; victims are heroes; therefore Mr Moat was a hero.
Had the events not been so horrible, much of the published information about Mr Moat might rightly have caused hilarity. His uncle, for example, said that his family considered him a gentle giant. Here is what Mr Moat himself said in court when (long before the murder) he was charged with possession of a peculiarly nasty knuckle-duster: "My hand barely fits through it… I am a big lad and if I punched someone with this it would take the skin off my knuckles right down to the bone." These are not the words of someone to whom the idea of hitting people is entirely alien. His chosen profession, that of nightclub bouncer, would suggest as much.
Mr Moat thought he was as much the emotional victim of the shooting of his girlfriend as he would have been the physical victim if he had hit someone with the knuckle-duster. "Now I've realised Sam is really hurt, I'm gutted," he wrote. Poor man.
There is another sense, introduced by Mr Moat's brother, in which Mr Moat might be considered a victim. "If he'd had the support network around him," he said, "[my brother] might not have got to where he got to." By support network is meant counsellors, social workers and so forth. If only there were enough of them to go around, no one would ever do evil.
Mr Moat himself seems to have had an inkling of this. He apparently told the social workers who were trying to protect his children from his violent behaviour that, "I would like to have a psychiatrist, psychologist have a word with me regularly to see if there's somewhere underlying like where I have a problem I haven't seen."
The idea behind this is the sentimental and self-exculpating Freudian one, refracted through the slums of Britain, that uncovering treasure buried deep in a psyche is enough by itself to produce a reformation of character. Until the discovery of this buried treasure by a state-funded psychiatrist, therefore, Mr Moat could, with a clear conscience carry on taking the steroids that he used to make himself look boneheadedly vicious, and probably affected his behaviour.
In justifying his "war" on the police, Mr Moat appealed to sentimentality. He described a policeman in a car waiting at a roundabout, "to bully a single mum, who probably can't afford her car tax." Poor single mother, who doesn't know where babies come from, and who can afford a car but not the tax. Mr Moat is a modern Robin Hood, shooting the police to help the poor. This perfectly captures the connection between sentimentality and viciousness.
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