An eccentric and rather unpleasant aunt of mine, attending the funeral of one of her sisters, decided there were not sufficient floral tributes at the graveside, so she purloined some from neighbouring sites.
She was not creating a precedent. When the boxer Bob Fitzsimmons went to the wake of jockey Tod Sloan (who gave his name to the expression ‘on your Tod’ [Sloane] = alone) in Los Angeles he did the same for the man who had once been a legend both on the English and American racecourses.
Such behaviour would be a good question for a legal exam, throwing up all sorts of defences including (in my aunt’s case) insanity.
I thought of it when I was in the Marais, Paris, near the offices of Charlie Hebdo where there were hundreds of wilted bouquets being cleared away. It reminded me of the tributes to Princess Diana and the case of two, if I recall correctly, eastern European women who, I thought, were wrongly convicted of stealing teddy bears from the pile of tributes.
The press was in uproar calling for imprisonment, deportation and defenestration, not necessarily in that order. I can’t recall if the case was contested, but it seems the prosecution would have been in serious difficulties in countering a defence of abandoned goods.
For a start, who were the owners? It would have been difficult to trace them. And if they could be traced, did the people who had placed the toys intend to go back and collect them? Perhaps they hoped they would be sent to a children’s hospital but was that a realistic hope? I believe the toys were intended for the women’s children so there was no question of selling them on.
Since the princess was more or less the patron saint of poor children, would she not have approved of the tributes being put to good purpose? That’s a good jury point. I wouldn’t necessarily have raised it before one of the rougher stipes.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor