Let me entertain you with a modern-day version of the tale of the old woman who lived in a shoe. To be absolutely accurate, Shona Waugh is not that old - she's only 37 - but she has eight children and definitely doesn't know what to do.Actually, given automatic sentence reduction, they didn’t. She’ll do less than half that (hell, some nervy CPS chap reading his ‘Times’ this morning is probably planning to cut her loose even now..).
On Wednesday she was given a five-month jail sentence for buying groceries with stolen credit cards to feed her children, one of whom is handicapped. This caring, sharing, compassionate society of ours, shaped by 11 years of a Labour government, deemed that fair punishment for such a crime.
The sentence means that she will lose custody of her children, some of whom may have to be taken into care. What also seems unavoidable is more anguish for the woman and her family; and more expense for the taxpayer, who will pick up the prison and care costs.Oooh, cunning one, sticking in the ‘expense’ bit there. Bound to make those evil capitalist Tories think twice, eh? Well, no. In this case, I for one don’t begrudge the money spent on incarcerating this habitual criminal and her brood.
Lots of things about this story are interesting, the most important of which is that Ms Waugh didn't use the credit cards on herself. She didn't treat herself to luxuries, or go crazy in Toys'R' Us. There is no suggestion that she bought drugs. This desperate housewife - that's real-life desperate housewife rather than the TV version - resorted to fraud to put food on the table for hungry mouths.Why, she’s a veritable saint! Except, of course, for all those families out there who might be just as hard up, but manage to restrain themselves from stealing their neighbour’s credit cards.
From what can be gleaned from her appearance in court, where she sat quietly, smartly dressed, hair neat, I can tell you a little more about her circumstances. For a start, her three-year-child is handicapped. According to her lawyer, as the child's carer, Ms Waugh was “emotionally and psychologically drained”. Her youngest child is a year old, with whom she had a difficult pregnancy. She has a history of anxiety and depression.So, her life is a mess, she’s turning out kid after kid with (given the family circumstances) a less than ideal life start, but we need to pity her, because she has nice neat hair. Wow, Melanie, why not just subscribe to the Hallmark Channel for your fix of picturesque misery, instead of attending court?
And just to make Ms Waugh's cup of joy really overflow, she has a former partner, from whom she was recently separated - a man who, it was said, had subjected her to emotional and psychological abuse.I guess someone else is to blame for the lousy choice of sperm-donor, Melanie? Surely it can’t be down to the sainted Ms Waugh herself!
So there we have it: a snapshot of a heinous modern criminal who has to be locked up. A picture of a woman trying to keep the lid on chaos and failing badly. Eight children, some grown-up, but one with special needs and one a new baby; a rotten relationship and no money. And, to top it all, incarceration and the loss of her children.
Now there is no suggestion that Ms Waugh is a saint (Ed – Eh? You just got done canonising her!). She is clearly not so clever on the contraceptive front, nor in her choice of partner - but these are not criminal offences, nor are they by any means faults exclusive to any particular class of society. She had appeared in court two days earlier, when she was sent to jail for four months for an assault that had taken place as her life spiralled out of control. Ms Waugh's fraud was hardly on the Baring's Bank scale. It's achingly sad, hopeless stuff - born, as her defence made clear, from the fact that she was under “significant financial pressure”.Interestingly, we aren’t told who she assaulted. Someone who objected to her helping herself to their credit card, perhaps? And it’s apparently ok to steal if you are under significant financial pressure, but not if you work for Baring's Bank. Glad we worked that one out...
The hollow logic of locking up all transgressors is also pitifully exposed. Women's prisons remain packed with individuals guilty primarily of not coping. Such prisons perform, as one governor once told me wearily, as psychiatric holding camps.Ms Waugh’s sentence was for theft, not for ‘not coping’. I don’t think cooing ‘Oh, poor woman, she’s not like other criminals’ from your lofty vantage point far above the likes of Waugh and the trouble she causes for those around her (and the children she ‘raises’) is going to do much either, do you, Melanie?
But if conventional policies are pointless, inappropriate, and potentially catastrophic, what should be done with a woman like Shona Waugh? What acceptable solution returns her to law-abiding, competent mothering; keeps the family fed and together; stops crime; and costs the taxpayer least?
But let’s not take your soft-focus view of Shona Waugh, shall we?
Waugh was charged with 17 offences after police arrested her in connection with another matter, and overheard her telling one of her young children to get rid of her handbag.17 offences? That’s a lot of supermarket trips. She’s not just getting a little bit behind with her finances there, Melanie. She’s making a living out of it. And she’s not exactly a good role model for her kids either…
Elspeth Macdougall, defending, said Waugh, who has previous convictions for dishonesty and was jailed for four months for another offence on Monday, had turned to credit card fraud to feed her family.Previous convictions for dishonesty, eh…? Say it ain’t so!!
I'm sick and tired, frankly, of well educated, well paid columnists indulging their inner do-gooder at the expense of the neighbours of people like Shona Waugh. There's a simple solution, Melanie; you think she's so hard done by, offer her a job...