The wonderful thing about the word “almost” is that, used artfully, it can be a barbed way of saying “not”. Heather Mills, for example, is almost endearing. Bob Dylan can almost sing.
I wonder, then, if that is what was meant by Mike Sullivan’s unnamed Scotland Yard source quoted in a piece in the Sun newspaper about “barmy Law Lords” unleashing anarchy by barring anonymous witnesses in court trials. Sullivan’s anonymous detective apparently believes that Britain could witness unrestrained violence like the slaughter in Zimbabwe. “You will have Zimbabwe UK on the streets,” the source said. “Gangsters will be able to kill almost with impunity…”
This is, of course, a monsoon downpour of crap. To take the most obvious point first, the violence in Zimbabwe is state-sponsored repression, not the result of the state granting defendants the right to know their accusers. The Zimbabwe analogy is peculiarly bad because agents of the state routinely exact punishment without any trial, let alone a trial that puts a defendant on an equal footing with those who denounce him.
But even if the copper’s analogy was merely a topical illustration of the amount of violence we should expect if criminals can intimidate witnesses into silence, it ignores the fact that other states manage to avoid anarchy without granting anonymity to witnesses.
Perhaps, then, the detective is not stupid, but a master of irony. What is killing “almost with impunity”? Is it, in fact, killing without impunity?