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Press: the funeral of burglar Henry Vincent

11 May 2018


The funeral cortege of Henry Vincent, the burglar who was stabbed to death by a pensioner after breaking in to his home, last month, leaves St Mary’s, St Mary Cray, in the south-east London suburb of Orpington

The funeral cortege of Henry Vincent, the burglar who was stabbed to death by a pensioner after breaking in to his home, last month, leaves St M...

First, there was a significant error in last week’s column: Canon Giles Fraser’s trip to Syria was paid for by him personally, and not funded by the Syrian government, as suggested in the column. We are happy to make this clear and apologise for the error. — Editor

HENRY VINCENT was a career criminal who preyed on old people using violence and deceit, until he was stabbed to death by one prospective victim in his kitchen. His funeral was marked by extraordinary aggression towards the press, who had had the temerity to report on that aspect of his life.

The relatives wished to have him remembered solely as a family man. The funeral, at St Mary’s, in the south-east London suburb of Orpington, was preceded by the most elaborate procession possible. Huge floral mock-ups of a boxing ring, a BMW convertible, a transit van, and a Travellers’ caravan adorned the roofs of the limousines in the funeral procession.

They were escorted by burly men walking in suits, ties, and sunglasses, at least one carrying a catapult. Others threw stones, bottles, and eggs at the onlookers. One man was arrested after trying to attack a photographer.

The Times had a lovely bit of news reporter’s deadpan in its report: “Floral tributes on the top of the cars included a car towing a caravan and the message ‘Love You Cuz’. A flatbed truck followed behind with numerous other flower arrangements, includ­ing one in the shape of a bottle of vodka.”

Under the circumstances, there was no report of what was said at the sermon, but I’m glad I didn’t have the job of writing or delivering it.

The whole story seems a powerful illustration of the way in which the Church really is sometimes at the service of the community, however unappetising that community may be. It is also a salutary reminder of how much churches are valued for purposes that have nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity.

THE Guardian columnist and a distinguished former editor of The Times Sir Simon Jenkins does not have a record of burgling or defrauding old people. In fact, he has nothing at all in common with the Vincent family except a tendency to value churches for reasons that have nothing to do with Christian doctrine. But, on that question, the two are as one.

If this seems unfair, consider his own confusion of the Quakers with a 12-step meeting: “As religion declines, so emerges a craving for therapy. The 12-step movement of alcoholics and narcotics anonymous has much in common with Quakerism, notably the emphasis on non-authoritarian fellowship. Beyond lie the wilder shores of mindfulness, meditation, happiness courses and ‘holistic spirituality’. All this suggests that the purely physical aspects of our being do not always meet the needs of a fully rounded person.”

Apart from the horror of that last sentence, I don’t see how the passage could have been written by anyone who had participated in either a 12-step programme or a Quaker meeting. It is true that in both of them members of the congregation speak without moderation. But they talk in very different registers and about very different things.

As for his observation that “Comfort is in the afterlife, and marketing it has been the Church’s unique selling proposition since Luther and papal indulgences. To Luther it was a con,” this manages to be simultaneously incoherent and completely wrong.

Normally these attributes cancel one another out, but, in the hands of a practised columnist, they can be held together in quite excellent disagreement. Then he goes on to say that the exhilaration produced in the visitor by Ely Cathedral has nothing to do with religion or God. Glad to have cleared that up.

THE other story of souls and funerals which came my way this week is rather older, but still worth comment.

The Sony corporation of Japan is in trouble because the owners of an earlier model of its electronic dogs do not want to upgrade to a newer model.

The old ones were guaranteed only for seven years (or one human robot year), and, now that they are breaking down, the company won’t repair them, demanding that the owners acquiesce in the transmigration of their dogs instead: “According to the company, the aibo can remember the person who spends the most time with it, and its memory can be stored on the internet. If an aibo is broken, its memory can be planted into a new one.

“The soul of an aibo can be passed on to its next generation,” a Sony official has said.

The fascinating thing about this story, to me, is how the idea of transmigration is rejected by the owners. They don’t want the same personality in a different body, but the old body patched up.

What this tells us about transhumanist fantasies of people uploading their own personalities and then planting them in new bodies is interesting. Are you still the same person if your old friends reject your new body?

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