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PETER HITCHENS: Who had the right to deny a dying man the comfort of a priest? 

Do we in Britain respect the beliefs of others any more? I was shocked by how furious I was when I learned that a Roman Catholic priest had been told by police that he could not enter the building where Sir David Amess had been stabbed to give him the last rites.

I am myself a very protestant Protestant and do not expect or wish for a priest to be present at the hour of my death. In my childhood, in my bit of Britain, Roman Catholics were still regarded as outsiders, rather as Muslims seem to be now, only more so. But in those times, I am absolutely sure that the police would not have acted in this way.

We were nervous of Catholics precisely because we took Christian belief seriously, and so did they. 

Now, of all the religions of the world, Christianity is the one which is least respected by the British state and by our national culture.

I was shocked by how furious I was when I learned that a Roman Catholic priest had been told by police that he could not enter the building where Sir David Amess had been stabbed to give him the last rites

People who say they are Buddhists, for instance, tend to be viewed as admirable and adventurous. Christians are seen as a bit batty and weird, and are well-advised to keep quiet about their faith in quite a lot of workplaces.

I won’t try to explain here just why the last rites matter so much to Catholics. But it is absolutely obvious that they do matter hugely to them. One of the most moving contributions to the Commons debate celebrating the life of Sir David came from a Labour MP, Mike Kane. He said, in words of great simplicity and power: ‘Catholics believe that extreme unction helps guide the soul to God after death.’

He suggested an ‘Amess amendment’ so that no matter where it is needed and wanted, the sacrament should not be denied. I think this is a good idea. But when I criticised the exclusion of the priest last week on social media, I encountered an astonishing blast of hostility.

I understand that many people in our society, including in the police, do not believe in God, or in any religion. But Sir David Amess did

First of all there was a serious attempt to pretend that the incident had not happened, a falsehood which I countered with the priest’s own tweet saying he had been ‘refused entry’ and ‘not allowed to minister to Sir David at the end’. Then the Essex police said it was all to do with the ‘utmost importance’ of preserving the integrity of a crime scene.

Now, if this was a common problem and could happen easily, I might think it was a better argument. But I have searched in vain for any example of a prosecution which failed because a priest had contaminated a crime scene, by giving the last rites. I’m not saying it has never happened, just that it is not a common event.

I asked a former investigator, who said this was a risk, to tell me what exactly that risk was. He couldn’t give me an example. 

I did find one instance of the alleged contamination of a crime scene by paramedics, at Shoreham-by-Sea in West Sussex in 2019. But the trial went ahead and the attacker was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison. I think the crime scene claim is just an excuse to say no.

I understand that many people in our society, including in the police, do not believe in God, or in any religion. But Sir David Amess did. 

For him (and, I suspect, for his family) the comfort of a priest at the moment of death was as important as any emergency service. Not very long ago this would have been accepted without question. Now it is not. Many of those who reject it do so with great bitterness, spite and venom, while some are just indifferent.

But in both cases I wonder if we have much of a future as a civilisation if we live and think and act as if eternity does not exist. I believe very profoundly that what we do here matters somewhere else, often in ways we do not fully understand. And that whenever we forget that, we go seriously wrong.

I won’t try to explain here just why the last rites matter so much to Catholics. But it is absolutely obvious that they do matter hugely to them, writes Peter Hitchens (pictured)

They tell us to wear masks but can’t say why 

As the cry goes out again for masks to be compulsory all over the place, I learn of a Freedom of Information request made in July 2020 to the Department for Transport when they first decreed the wearing of face coverings.

Dr Alan Black asked if the Ministry could name the peer-reviewed study which justified this. The Ministry answered that this task would cause ‘disproportionate’ disruption to their work. Odd. Surely if they had used such a study, wouldn’t they know where to find it?

Dr Black fought on. Eventually, almost a year later, after the Information Commissioner got involved, officials admitted that the Department ‘does not hold the information that you requested’. So what was the decree based on?

Bear this in mind as you listen to the renewed calls for masking. One of the loudest came last week from that notable figure Matthew Taylor. Matthew, an old opponent of mine, is now chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which you might assume was because he was a distinguished doctor or scientist, or some titan of industry now nobly toiling in the state sector for the public good. 

In fact Matthew, son of the exotic Leftist sociologist Laurie Taylor, is a former Blairite functionary and apparatchik. He was also once the commander of a Left-wing think-tank, before becoming head of the Royal Society of Arts, a body which used to set shorthand exams but whose current purpose is a bit vague. He has degrees in sociology and industrial relations.

This is the great thing about being on the winning side. You don’t need to be an expert, and nobody minds.

I have been getting up in the dark for weeks now and, like everyone who rises early, I long for the return of light mornings next Sunday, the 31st, when the clocks at last stop being forced to lie, and go back to their natural position.

Late-rising childless bohemians who never see the dawn, except when they are on the way home from an especially good party, think this is the day when it gets darker. They have it the wrong way round.

Did Bill Clinton’s politics save him from #MeToo?

The opening episode of the new BBC2 drama Impeachment took me back to the bizarre early months of my two-year assignment in Washington DC at the height of the Clinton years.

My job turned out to be much more concerned with sex than I ever expected. I even found myself covering the ghastly Bobbitt trials, involving a very nasty dismemberment in Virginia. 

I will never forget my long, late-night phone calls with Paula Jones, the Arkansas woman who accused Bill Clinton of behaving very rudely indeed in a Little Rock hotel room. I still don’t think I could repeat her deadpan description of the occasion in a family newspaper.

So when, years later, Monica Lewinsky made some pretty lurid claims about Mr Clinton, I was not especially surprised. But while the President’s behaviour was scandalous, was it harassment? Can anyone who wasn’t there ever really know?

Miss Lewinsky has since joined the #MeToo movement, pointing out very reasonably that Bill Clinton was not just 27 years older than her at the time of their encounters, but also one of the most powerful men in the world. If Mr Clinton and his wife Hillary were not still at the very heart of the American political Left, would he have been dragged down as other powerful men have been? Is #MeToo in fact selective? And if it is, how real is its outrage?

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