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Munir Hussain and the wrong messages of Judge John Reddihough

What has our kingdom come to when a man and members of his family are tied up by knife-wielding masked intruders and threatened with death, some of the victims escape, get help, chase the perpetrators and beat up badly one of them, only to be jailed for excessive use of force…?!?!?

This is effectively what has happened to Munir Hussain and his brother Toker who were jailed this week for 30 months and 39 months respectively. Walid Salem, the intruder they caught, suffered such injuries (including, it is claimed, a permanent brain injury) in what  was clearly a sustained attack by the Hussains that he was considered unfit to be tried on a charge of unlawful imprisonment and was merely put on a supervision order. In sentencing the Hussain brothers, Judge John Reddihough described the assault on Salem by the Hussain brothers as “a dreadful, violent attack”.

It undoubtedly was. Among the implements the Hussains and 2 other neighbours used to beat Salem were a cricket bat and a metal pole, (Reportedly the cricket bat was used to strike Salem with such force that it broke in 3!)

“This case is a tragedy for you and your families,” the judge told Munir Hussain. “Sadly, I have no doubt that my public duty requires me to impose immediate prison sentences of some length upon you. This is in order to reflect the serious consequences of your violent acts and intent and to make it absolutely clear that, whatever the circumstances, persons cannot take the law into their own hands, or carry out revenge attacks upon a person who has offended them.”

If the judge feels required by the law to pass such sentences, then the law is the proverbial ass!

Reddihough may know his law books but I suspect he’s not that familiar with human psychology.

The psychological scenario
Munir Hussain and his family returned from worship at their mosque during Ramadan. Devout Muslims, they will have been part-fasting for several days so the chemical balances – blood sugars, hormones, neurotransmitters, etc, will have been at different levels than is their norm – thus making it more likely that the Hussains would respond to trauma in an abnormal or exaggerated way.

Whether a court of law should be able to take into account the psycho-physiological effects of religious observance is a moot point. But undoubtedly the abrupt withdrawal of food over a short period of time will have affected the Hussains’ state of mind.

In their house, the Hussains found 3 masked intruders waiting for them. They were tied up, with their hands behind their backs, and forced to crawl from room to room. They were threatened with death. Shaheen Begum, Mr Husssain’s wife, told the court she feared the intruders had killed her youngest son. She said: “They were hitting my husband. When I asked them to stop or looked up they started hitting him again. They told us to lie face down and not speak, or they would kill us. It was very terrifying.”

It is rare for people in such terrifying circumstances to think coolly and rationally as Judge John Reddihough and his ‘law’ seem to expect. In most people the amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain, will become highly aroused, causing the hypothalamus to trigger the mechanisms which flood the body with the ‘fight or flight’ hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. Munir Hussain was geared to action and reaction, not logical thought. Psychiatrist Dr Philip Joseph told the court Munir was normally a calm man who kept himself under control; but, on this occasion, in what defending QC Michael Wolkind called “the extreme moment of stress”, his body took the ‘fight rather than flight’ option.

This intense physiological arousal led in part to Munir Hussain freeing himself and, with the help of his brother, turning the tables on the intruders. That they then gave chase to intruder Walid Salem and assaulted him viciously is hardly surprising. It’s why soliders will carry on slaughtering the enemy when the enemy are helpless or desperately trying to surrender. They are far too caught up in the moment – amygdalas aroused – to think rationally. Many commentators – eg: Peter Foote & David Wilson (1970) have commentated on this ‘beserker rage’, originally lionised in Viking lore but still featuring in frequent accounts of battle, including those of recent US Congressional Medal of Honour winners.

Of course, what the Hussain brothers did in the end to Salem cannot be condoned. But it should be understood.

There is another factor in this tragedy; and that is the role of the RED vMEME. Doubtless, RED was behind much of the no-consequences actions of Salem and his confederates. However, there is also strong evidence this vMEME contributed to a strong and possibly overwhelming psychological impetus on Munir Hussain’s emotions and actions. According to Adam Sherwin of The Times, Munir is reported to have felt that he was letting down his wife and children in not being able to defend them from the criminal attack of Salem and his accomplices. RED will not take such shame lying down; rather it will seek to put right the wrong of his shame in not being able to protect his family. Not only does the dominance of the RED vMEME in Munir’s selfplex at that moment in time need to  be recognised but so do the cultural memes which will have been influencing him. In Munir’s Asian/Islamic tradition – just as it was not that long ago in the European/Christian traditions – men are supposed to look after and protect their women and children. By not protecting them or being unable to protect them, they lose both self-respect and status in their community.

Walid Salem, also a Muslim and presumably familiar with the effects of Ramadan, chose to invade Munir Hussain’s house, tie up Munir and his family and subject them to death threats and other abuses. It can be argued that the actions of Salem and his confederates precipitated the extreme arousal of Munir Hussain’s amygdala and the stimulation of his RED vMEME. As he was in a period of religious observance, it would be reasonable to expect Munir Hussain’s selfplex to be dominated by the decidedly more deliberate BLUE vMEME. Due to the actions of Salem and his cronies, different vMEMES were at play.

Thus, while Munir Hussain’s assault on Salem cannot be condoned, it is understandable and to some degree predictable. Thus, it can be argued Walid Salem chose knowingly to put himself in harm’s way.

A different story
Many commentators are comparing the case to that of Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who, in 1999, shot dead a teenage hoodlum who had been breaking into his property and terrorising him repeatedly.

This comparison would seem to be not entirely fair. Martin’s ‘manslaughter’ of his tormentor, lying in wait with a pump action shotgun, was clearly premeditated whereas Munir Hussain’s assault on Walid Salem could be considered ‘hot pursuit’. According to the Daily Mail’s Colin Fernandez & Ryan Kisiel, Salem was punched repeatedly in the face while one of his assailants demanded “Who sent you?”

It would seem that the attack on Munir and his family was not in any way random but was directed at them in a very personal way. Prosecuting QC John Prine told the court: “Whatever the motivation of the attack, it was something of a personal kind. It didn’t seem to have been done out of a desire to steal anything, rather that it was directed at the people who lived there.”

How additionally terrifying must that have been, knowing that it was you and your family specifically under attack and not knowing who was behind it! (It would appear Munir Hussain has made a powerful enemy somewhere but no evidence has come to light of him being involved in any shady dealings – business or personal. Indeed, he is regarded as a proverbial pillar of the local community and has been offered the personal support of Chief Inspector Colin Seaton of the Thames Valley Police.)

Returning to Tony Martin, it’s worth noting that his original conviction for murder was reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of suffering from Paranoid Personality Disorder – hardly surprising given the persistent abuse he had suffered! As Battered Wives Syndrome is a permissible defence for women who cold-bloodedly kill their husbands perhaps years after abusive crimes against their person, Martin’s appeal on the grounds of being in an abnormal mental state could hardly be refused.

But how can Munir Hussain’s case be compared when his assault was immediate upon a ‘very terrifying’ ordeal whereas Martin’s was cold-blooded after months of abuse? While a psychiatrist would need to confirm this, I would hazard that Munir Hussain’s assault on Salem was driven by the RED vMEME’s desire to eradicate his shame while in a state of high physiological arousal due to the life-threatening ordeal he and his family had been subjected to and the fear that they were being targeted deliberately and personally to be harmed.

The failure of the criminal justice system
Judge John Reddihough’s words appear rather mealy-mouthed when he says: “…if persons were permitted to … inflict their own instant and violent punishment on an apprehended offender rather than letting justice take its course, then the rule of law and our system of criminal justice, which are the hallmarks of a civilised society, would collapse.”

…er, excuse me: Salem gets 2 years of supervision in the community while Munir is sentenced to serve 30 months behind bars…?!?!?

It’s fine to outlaw taking the law into your own hands if the police could be guaranteed to arrive within less than 5 minutes of an alarm being raised (thus eradicating the need for ‘hot pursuit’ by the victims) – they can’t! – and if the criminal justice system were seen to punish the criminals and compensate the victims. Unfortunately too many victims of crime are aware of police indifference to all but the most serious of crimes while the criminal justice system is in a state of near-continual reform because the last set of reforms didn’t work either!

What would today’s criminal justice system have to say if Salem and his accomplices had gone ahead with their threats and murdered Munir Hussain and his family? I doubt their shades would have been much impressed with 20 years less 10 for good behaviour. (That’s assuming, of course, that the police could have caught the murderers…!)

The kind of inverse logic of Reddihough’s court is one of the problems with cultural dominance by the GREEN vMEME which, in its drive for egalitarianism, would put the rights of the criminals on a par with the rights of the victims.

Not only is this anathema to PURPLE’s need for safety in the community and BLUE’s desire for simple black & white justice – Salem chose to commit a crime, Salem should be punished – but it goes against the 2nd Tier ‘big picture’ of what is beneficial to society.

Salem is a habitual crook, with 50 previous convictions against him, currently awaiting trial on a charge of credit card fraud. According to Razi Shah, one of Munir’s lawyers, this last crime was committed after Salem had received such supposedly debilitating injuries –  “On the one hand he was claiming that he was suffering from memory loss and brain damage and is not fit to stand trial, and on the other hand he was out committing more criminal offences — and obviously complex ones such as credit card fraud.” (Press Association, 2010)

Munir Hussain is a former chairman of the Wycombe Race Equality Council; his company employs 9 other people in worthwhile esteem-enhancing occupations and generates around £2.4M taxable revenue. Now, because of Reddihough’s decision, 9 (presumably-)respectable citizens lose their jobs and may be reduced to claiming benefit while the Treasury loses the taxes to be collected from £2.4M…?!?!?

Just what kind of insane society are we living in where the just are convicted on a technicality of law and the lawbreakers get off with unmanageable supervision orders..? (How many probation officers and social workers do we have spare to follow up on this kind of nonsense…? Clearly not enough since Salem went on to commit further crime!)

Of course, Munir Hussain can’t be allowed to walk free with his head held high. But the degree of his crime should be assessed in proportion to the provocation to which he was subjected, the degree of fear he was experiencing and the consequent state of mind he was in.

As for Reddihough’s awarding of criminal convictions, let’s just hope that Salem and the legal leeches who support him don’t decide to bankrupt the Hussain brothers with claims for compensation!

Insanity mustn’t rule!
For the benefit of law-abiding citizens, the law of self-defence needs broadening. If someone chooses to put themselves in harm’s way by breaking into your house and threatening you with death, then they clearly are the stimulus for the consequences that follow.

Of course, the Hussain brothers went too far; but it was Salem’s choice to put himself in harm’s way. Of course, the Hussain brothers need to be told they did wrong; but, if Munir’s amygdala hadn’t got so aroused that he fought his way free and, with his brother’s help, turned the tables on the intruders, he and his family might now be dead.

It’s absurd for people to be refrained in defending themselves in clear and obvious life-threatening situations because they’re worried they’ll go too far. They need that amygdallic panic energy to get themselves out of the situation…and, if the criminals come off badly out of that situation, well, the criminals shouldn’t have created the situation in the first place!

Of course, householders can’t be given a charter to do whatever they like to intruders – otherwise we really would end up with the occasional burglar being maimed, tortured and/or murdered in a quite callous and cold-blooded way.

But it’s not unreasonable to allow someone to defend their family and their home…and, if your amgydala is so aroused, you go too far…. Well, the French have long recognised the concept of ‘crime passionnel’ and many American courts have waived judgment on the grounds of ‘temporary insanity’.

That, to me, would be a fair judgment on the Hussain brothers: they were in a temporarily insane state due to extreme, life-threatening provocation, terrifying abuse and fear of an unknown enemy. And, as their victim deliberately caused that provocation and was party to that abuse, he should have no recourse in either criminal or civil law.

It’s in the public interest that the Hussain brothers should have a conviction for criminal assault. It sends out a clear message: push these guys way, way too far and you might get a beserker response. (Probably some 80% of the male population would respond similarly and, if their immediate family was threatened, around 50% of females.) Who but the stupid and the criminal would want to push them that far, anyway? Treat them with respect and dignity in a fair and equitable way and you will most likely find them fine citizens and good people to do business with.

What’s not in the public interest is to send to prison a wealth-generating pillar of local society for gross but single overreaction to extreme provocation and ongoing fear – that sentence destroying his business and the livelihoods of his workers. What’s not in the public interest is to set free a habitual criminal who then goes on to commit other crimes. What’s not in the public interest is to send a message to householders throughout our kingdom that they must pause and think coolly when confronted with extreme danger to themselves and their families.

It’s to be hoped that the court of appeal has a bigger picture view of the law than Judge John Reddihough who appears to have been dominated by his BLUE vMEME’s absolutist views on rigid application of the law. The Hussain brothers should have their sentences suspended on condition of good behaviour. As for Walid Salem, perhaps the court will subject his claims to brain injury to a much more rigid scrutiny when considering his prosecution for credit card fraud. The police should also seek medical authority to haul Salem in and carry out a proper investigation into the attack on Munir Hussain’s home.

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  1. merv says

    May i congratulate the Hussain family on the freeing of said family member. I am ashamed as a brit at the nanny state and protection of scum,brain damage is far too good for the perpertrator of this crime. Thanks to far too many do gooders a lawful person is automatically the guilty party.A person should be able to defend thier family.

  2. keitherice says

    Thanks for this alert, Marcus. The 2-year suspended sentence for Munir Hussain is indeed common sense. The message is clear: you did wrong, you acted in a criminal matter – but the provocation and the terrifying experience you underwent made for exceptional cirumstances. What you did cannot possibly be condoned but it can be understood in the circumstances.

    Probably millions of British citizens will agree Judge Lord’s decision on Munir’s fate is about right. It’s much more difficult to assess the judge’s reduction of brother Toki’s sentence from 39 months to 24. Certainly, Tokir did not undergo anything of the terrifying experience his older brother did. Nonetheless, it must have been pretty alarming to have your teenaged nephew turning up on your doorstep, telling you that masked men with knives are going to kill your brother and his family. What kind of emotionally-aroused state was he in by the time he got to Munir? What kind of temperament does he have naturally. Is he the kind of man who can calm down quickly? – and take a rational view of things…Or would his amgygdala have been still at screaming point while his PURPLE and RED vMEMES raged for revenge against this assault on his brother’s family? 2 years does seem harsh…but there is just too little information about him in the media to form any kind of judgement.

    On the other hand, I am clear in my head that Judge Lord was misguided to say: “This trial had nothing to do with the right of the householder to defend themselves or their families or their homes. The burglary was over and the burglars had gone. No one was in any further danger from them.”

    It has everything to do with the right of the householder to defend themselves. I go back to my comment in the original post: “It’s absurd for people to be refrained in defending themselves in clear and obvious life-threatening situations because they’re worried they’ll go too far.”

    The first responsibility for the consequences must lie with the person who initiated the action. Then – and only then – can you start to assess the degree of liability of the householder. A criminal action is a criminal action, whether carried out by the burglar or the householder – but the circumstances in which the householder finds themselves need to be taken into account and the likely psychological effect of those circumstances.

    Speaking of the initiator, what’s happened to Walid Salem?

  3. marcus pontin says

    just caught the news on this, he’s been freed by the appeal court. Common sense prevails!!

  4. keitherice says

    There are things in the Munir Hussain case that just don’t add up.

    Why were Salem and his accomplices targetting Munir – and what are the police doing about investigating this? What length of time went on between the teenage son escaping to get help and Toker and Munir beating Salem up ? (Since posting the blog I’ve read a claim that Toker and the other men were in a car when they got to Salem.) How exactly did Munir get free when his hands were tied behind his back?

    And just what kind of medical assessment was conducted that led to the conclusion Salem had suffered permanent brain damage and had problems with memory and concentration – when he then went on to commit credit card fraud?!?!?

    From the media reports, it’s actually quite difficult to get a comprehensive chronology of what went on…and why.

    On the face of it, I’ll stick with the conclusion I drew that suspended sentences for the Hussain brothers would be in the public interest. But there seem to be an awful lot of loose ends in this case.

  5. jtwigge says

    Hi Keith,

    by the end I found myself agreeing completely. But, right up to the end you had me worried. It was not until near the end where you talked about a suspended sentance that I was not completey sure that you were saying there should be no consequence for the brothers at all.

    I suspect you might have lost some people before they got to the end because the tone almost made it sound as if you were approvong of the brothers reaction rather than simply understanding it. It might be worth trying to get a less intense summary at the start and then doing the more evocative details once people know what is coming.

    In terms of balance you are absolutely right – the intruders should bear the brunt of the responsibilty even for their own injury. They effectively created a war zone in there. I have always struggled with this.

    The essence of what the judge was trying to do was right, we cannot let people take law into their own hands, but he very badly got the detail wrong as you point out so well.

    Years ago at junior school i pushed someone to stop them keep repeatedly provoking a friend – you guessed it, i got sent in from the playground by a teacher.

    I have always felt that it would be better if justice was based much more on intent rather than consequences. For example pre meditate attempted murder should be more serious than accidental murder – perhaps as a consequence of a fight. Unfortunately it is very hard to measure intent and much easier to measure actual physical consequences. This means that there will always be some injustice. All we can do is our best…

  6. Eileen says

    Thanks Keith. As usual spot on. Can you get your points across in a
    letter / comment onto other websites as well and to the newspapers? We
    need a groundswell against the unbalanced penalties. I like the idea of
    a suspended prison sentence. That seems to suit what is needed. and
    also definitely a robust re-examination of the mental state of the
    intruder

    Eileen