To be honest, I haven’t followed a single report about the Meredith Kercher murder case, where trial resumes today, assuming it to be a dull and brutal story that is much over-cooked by Italy’s lazy and sub-professional media.
It is. The bigger ‘Italian’ story surrounding the murder case however — a couple of hours’ reading reveals — is much more interesting. You will recall that Rudy Guede, an African-Italian against whom substantive evidence was presented (he also fled the country), was already sentenced to 30 years’ for the Kercher murder last October. Now, two Perugia-based students who barely knew Guede are being tried as co-parties to the murder. In the pre-trial phase the prosecutor suggested the whole thing was a ritual Satanist killing scheduled for Halloween, except that it had to be delayed 24 hours because of a competing dinner party. It has been suggested that the prosecutor knew this not merely because of tawdry ‘evidence’, but because his Roman blogger friend who gets messages from a dead priest told him so; she had an intuition that a Masonic sect called the Order of the Red Rose mandated the whole thing. One of my favourite journalists from the heyday of The Independent in the late 1980s, Peter Popham, explains in some detail. One wonders if Popham is aware that the prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, occasionally imprisons journalists who annoy him, as this letter from the Committee to Protect Journalists makes clear.
So the Kercher case is much more interesting than assumed. It highlights the leading role that conspiracy theory plays in Italian life. It points to police conduct that too often oscillates between the sinister (one current defendant’s ‘confession’ has been struck out because it was signed after 14 hours’ detention without access to a lawyer, or indeed anything to eat) and the incompetent (the forensic investigation featured one cock-up after another). And it also points to the curiosities of local public and professional opinion. Prosecutor Mignini might look like Jonny Bonkers (or perhaps Gianni Bonkers) to you or me, but he is a popular figure in Perugia, especially among the legal fraternity. Another very good journalist, The Grauniad’s John Hooper (formerly in Madrid, now Rome) gives his take here.
Still, we must always look on the bright side. Having impugned the Italian police (note I do not specify which of the 10 or so different Italian police forces I think are better and worse; a few are actually rather good) it is only fair to highlight the upside of the Italian approach to law and order. Three anecdotal points are offered: 1. Where else will the local head of the paramilitary police – the Caribinieri — join you in a consortium to import a truck-load of cut-price Milanese red wine and prosecco? 2. Where else do local traffic police only stop people they do not know, waving through seat belt-less, speeding residents? 3. Where else can you leave your car in the middle of a dual carriageway and come back next morning to find nothing more than a police ‘warning’ that this is not such a good place to park? (Admittedly, have not done the last one for a few years and they are reputed to have tightened up.) As to the Italian legal fraternity, I haven’t yet worked out what its redeeming qualities are.