Magazine article The Spectator

Banned Wagon

Magazine article The Spectator

Banned Wagon

Article excerpt

THE Home Secretary's latest piece of rushed legislation, in reaction to the anthrax scares of the past fortnight, is a new law which would see hoaxers put behind bars for seven years. Of course, spreading panic by sending fake anthrax through the post ought to be a crime. In fact, it already is: under existing law people who waste police time in this way can be jailed for up to six months. If that sentence doesn't deter malicious hoaxers, it is difficult to see why a seven-year one would. Longer sentences might even make hoaxing more likely: the most obvious reason for wanting to scare people with fake bombs and anthrax spores is an attention-seeking disorder. The bigger a deal the law makes of hoaxing, the more attractive it becomes to the attentionseeker.

The trouble with a specific law against hoaxing is that it won't just cover the malicious bomb threat or talcum-powder-filled envelope. It will inevitably end up snaring innocent student pranksters. A few years ago, a group of students drew up in a LandRover in a north Wales village armed with theodolites. …

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