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14 September, 2009  
London Calling

News of the World on the case … Leverhulme visits Northern Ireland … Lawyers feast on the nine year Saville Inquiry … A Belfast cabbie’s take on The Troubles

Jack Tweed, the husband of the prematurely deceased reality TV pioneer Jade Goody, has been in strife recently.

imageHe’s been charged with rape.

The News of the World, which does the Crown’s job better than any over-zealous prosecutor, featured photos of Tweed in the buff, a bald Goody and a semi-naked pal of the footballer Ronaldo, called Rubin, who was also arrested, but bailed.

The circumstances of Tweed’s arrest were reported with a judicious use of the upper case.

“He [Tweed] emerged looking dishevelled and when officers accompanied him upstairs to his room to get properly dressed, they found ANOTHER woman in Tweed’s bed.”

Tweed’s record got a run and there was a lurid but not uncommon allegation of a “spit roast”.

The best line in the article was about the effect of the arrest on Jade’s family.

“Jade’s mum Jackiey [“i” before the “e” except after “c”?] Budden was said to be ‘spitting blood’ when she heard of her son-in-law’s arrest. Jackiey, 51, was yesterday having Botox treatment in Milton Keynes.

A source said: ‘She went in with her face lined with fury but came out looking quite placid. But there was no doubt she is still fuming inside’.”

* * *

imageAnd so I head to Northern Ireland for a legal conference.

Sir Declan Morgan was appointed Chief Justice in June (pic).

Belfast legal friends say he is proving to be an excellent choice.

He replaced Sir Brian Kerr who has toddled off to the new Supreme Court in Little George Street, London.

The best legal show in town is the Hamill Inquiry, about a 25 year old Catholic who died 12-days after being kicked to death by a loyalist mob.

The police are alleged to have held back but they say they were waiting for back-up.

The Hamill case is dwarfed by the Saville Bloody Sunday Inquiry, which has yet to report.

It’s been going on for nine years and has cost the BTP £188 million.

Legal fees alone are a paltry £97 million.

Everyone, but the lawyers, thinks it has been a staggering waste of money.

* * *

imageBelfast is a fascinating place.

Investment is now bearing fruit, but there is still an unmistakable air of edginess in the city with quite a few no-go areas. Scattered among the construction sites are the violent scrawls of aging graffiti-artists.

A pub called McHugh’s has a chess set. One set of pawns are British police; their counterparts are carved with balaclavas and machine guns, but the set is discreetly on display.

It is the night of a football match between Northern Ireland and Slovakia. Before the game, the police are needlessly massing in great numbers.

After the locals lose, men in their fifties wearing flags of the national colours are marauding: loud, drunk and threatening.

The cops have gone to bed.

I tell a colleague. She says that when she was at university the streets were full of men with guns.

People learned not to misbehave. “Otherwise,” she said, “you’d be made to stand for hours with your arms on the bonnet of a car”.

Perhaps people feel freer these days. The young kids are far more animated than the kids I see in England.

Ulster remains a very conservative place. The front page of the The Irish News is headed First Photo of Farmer Who ‘Lived in Sin’ But Had No Will.

* * *

imageI go to a one-man play called A Night in November.

The star, Patrick Kielty [“i” before the “e” except after “k”?], is a comedian whose usual act is smart-arse, undergraduate pap.

Tonight, in his first major acting role, he is playing a loyalist whose life changes forever after he hears violent abuse from his countrymen on the terraces at a football match.

The full theatre crackles with tension. Kielty’s character sends up the loyalists.

My host tells me there are senior officers of the Ulster Defence Association in the row behind.

By the second half there is relief as they are laughing fulsomely.

The performance is a triumph. The crowd stands to applaud. Kielty, a Catholic whose father was shot by the loyalists, is exhausted.

He milks the cheering in tears.

* * *

On the way to the airport, the cabbie gives me a cynical take on the “Troubles”.

“A few years ago, they used to call cabs from areas they hated and shoot the driver in retaliation for something or other. It was called, ‘Dial a Murder’.

These days we are much safer.

It’s not about religion … It’s all about money.

Whenever they pay off the leaders of either side, their underlings will be wanting a slice of the action too. It’s not over yet.”

He tells me of a former terrorist who is now a member of the local parliament.

“He asked me to take him from the Europa hotel to another hotel and back. It’s only six quid either way. But he made me wait. The fare was £120. He told me he thought it might rain and he didn’t want to get wet waiting for me.”

He did the same the next day with another driver. This time it cost £240. All paid by the tax-payer. They’re all at it. I hate them.”

At Belfast International, I settle the bill and tell the cabbie I need a receipt.

He gives me a wad of blank receipts.

I protest politely that I don’t want them. “They might come in handy,” he says.