It’s a poor man’s ‘Catch Me If You Can’, but instead of millions of dollars, it’s thousands of pounds. For “globetrotting between Manhattan and Paris”, read “A1 and M50 to Bristol via Birmingham”. Instead of Leonardo DiCaprio playing your hero, imagine J.C. Ashby, the criminal who’s so gormless he picks a University professor as his main target for swindling the cash that’ll make him rich.
Investment bankers? Lawyers? Footballers? No, our hero impersonates a man whose profession is possibly the most notoriously badly paid in history. We have to laugh at a man who is incompetent at his crime. But while we’re giggling, let’s not forget to be annoyed.
What annoys me most isn’t Ashby’s choice of Professor Sultan Barakat (Head of the Politics Department’s Post-war Recovery and Development Unit) as his man to defraud. It is, predictably, the fact that he had to do it at all.
Now, I know this isn’t the most interesting or insightful observation you’ll read this week – “Comment writer slams convict! ‘What you did was wrong!’ proclaims champion of the people!” – but there’s something just nigglingly annoying about this crime because it lacks that truly malicious intent, and may even have a bit of charm.
I mentioned DiCaprio, but we’ve also seen Clooney and Connery (amongst others) play master criminals in the past few years. Weirdly, we seem to see something a little entrepreneurial in non-violent crime. It’s just so unnecessary – you can’t hate what he did, but you can hate that he did it.
For a start, everyone who lost money will get it back, and while I don’t want to downplay how awful this must have been for his victims, they haven’t been put in danger or made to face any long term hardship. Please understand that I am not saying that it was a victimless crime.
He’s also spent wisely on gambling, booze, and hotel rooms. And then it’s also difficult to condemn a man who’s prepared to move his entire business operation in close proximity to Professor Barakat’s mailbox (with its steady stream of loans and credit cards to defraud).
We could also glean some kind of revenge satisfaction from the fact that he has been caught. He took £40,000, and he’s now been given four years in prison – his earnings of £10,000 per annum prove that, sometimes, crime doesn’t pay.
No. He annoys me because this isn’t the crime of someone with a screw loose, or of passion borne from righteous anger. This is a man who wanted more than he could get, and decided he might as well take it anyway.
I deplore his arrogance. Ashby’s disregard for society was so lazily easy, his lack of respect towards his victims so complete, that he really, reallysucceeds in getting under my skin and quietly pisses me off.
Controversial fraudster maybe, but isn’t it time for criminals to try just a little bit harder?