Well goodness me. Or words to that effect.
At breakfast this morning, I very nearly spilt me coffee, not only over the Times but also on to a nice clean tablecoth. And that, I can assure you, would have been seriously bad news. I still have some way to go to overcome the bad feeling generated (months ago) by the incident of the red wine and the crisp white bed sheets. (They were our best sheets; and brand new; and it doesn't come out.)
But let us return to the Times. If you were here in August, you may recall that Clive Keeble, an independent bookseller with remarkable levels of energy and optimism, succeeded in unmasking a book thief of considerable proportions. Manchester Central Library had lost more than 400 valuable antiquarian books (estimated value £250,000) before an American bookdealer asked Clive's advice about buying some of them on eBay; whereupon Clive spent a whole day doing Inspector Knacker's work for him, and at the end of that time was able to give Knacker the name, address, and no doubt inside-leg measurement of the offender. The story, complete with a copy of Clive's statement to the Manchester police, was reported here on 1 August.
The book thief turned out to be one Norman Buckley, employed as a librarian by the Manchester city council. On 25 August we noted that Buckley was due to be sentenced that day. But then he wasn't. And now he has been.
And here's the bit from today's Times that made me cough and splutter. Mr Buckley, says the Times, walked free.
The court was told that Mr Buckley turned to theft after becoming depressed when his girlfriend left him for another man. They'd been together nine years. And it was Christmas time, too. Enough to make any chap start nicking things, as I am sure you will agree.
So the motive for the thefts was not financial at all. Goodnesss me no. (True, he had, halfheartedly, sold a few books for £11,000, but mostly he just liked to have them.)
No, the true motive for the thefts was quite different. And very human. Mr Buckley's lawyer, a perfectly lovely girl called Denise Fitzpatrick -- a lady who possesses, it seems, a smile which can melt the heart of the stoniest Judge -- told the court that stealing the books provided Buckley with an 'emotional release from the turmoil he found himself in', and that he was now 'filled with remorse'.
Result: the Judge sentenced Buckley to 65 weeks in prison, suspended for two years. What this means is that he doesn't go to prison at all. The sentence is only activated if he commits another offence within two years. Oh, and he also has to join Boy George in doing 250 hours of community service.
Thus is justice served in the England of today.
Personally I would have sentenced Buckley to the bastinado at best; and, if my ulcer had been playing up after that breakfast kipper, I would probably have had him burnt at the stake. But then I am a mediaevalist at heart, and quite out of place in the modern world.
There is no sign, by the way, that Buckley has lost his job with the Manchester library service. In all probability he has not only kept it but been given a promotion. And, of course, he will be offered counselling; from the public purse. He deserves nothing less.
Perhaps his girlfriend will come back in time for this Christmas. Who knows. If only for the sake of good order among the bookshelves of Manchester Central Library, one must earnestly hope so.