In 1296, King Edward I, an egregiously greedy, vulgar vandal, stole the ancient “stone of destiny”, on which the kilted bums of successive kings had previously rightfully rested, while the crown of Scotland was placed on their heads. He put it in a bag marked “Swag”, and carried it off into England without a by-your-leave. In 1314, Edward II and his army got their well deserved comeuppance at the Battle of Bannockburn. In 1338, Edward III, in the Treaty of Northhampton, promised to return the stone but didn’t, adding lying and deceit to his crime of reset.
In 1950, four Scottish students reclaimed and repatriated the stolen stone. In 1951, it was placed in the ruins of Arbroath Abbey, birthplace of the Declaration of Arbroath which stated the case for Scottish Independence, concluding with the magnificently imperishable declaration that, “It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom, for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
After the frantic, fruitless search for the stone by the equivalent of land, sea and air, the then Home Secretary, following its reappearance, informed the House of Commons that, “It was known who had done it, but it would not be in the public interest to prosecute The Vulgar Vandals”. Here is the characteristically apposite response of Ian Hamilton to that description …..
Let’s face it, If you take back something precious that was violently and unlawfully stolen from you, and that was then promised to be returned to you but wasn’t, does that make you a thief or a vulgar vandal? That’s one good reason why it wasn’t “in the public interest of prosecute the vulgar vandals”. The four students (and most of the people of Scotland) would have enjoyed their day in court, whatever the outcome. Happily, as it happens, there was indeed a significant amount of amused, understanding and sympathetic “public interest” in England as well as in Scotland. There are some ‘wrongs’ that are arguably ‘rights, precisley because they ‘right’ previous ‘wrongs’.
Sharing his final thoughts, here is the late, great Ian Hamilton QC, at his articulately, patriotically and combatively best …..
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