United Kingdom

TOM UTLEY: I confess Mrs U is a criminal. But how absurd her offence was giving two ladies a lift

Today I have a painful civic duty to perform. 

Mindful of my obligation to snitch on friends, family and neighbours who break the law — a duty impressed upon the country by no less a personage than the Health Secretary, Matt 'Captain Mainwaring' Hancock — I feel I have no choice but to declare a shocking truth: reader, I am married to a criminal.

So far, Mrs U has managed to elude the clutches of the law. But after a week spent cowering in dread of a dawn police raid on our house, I can keep her guilty secret no longer.

On Sunday morning, almost a day and a half after our London borough was consigned to Tier Two, my wicked wife gave my two elderly sisters a lift home from church! (stock image used) 

The fact is that on Sunday morning, almost a day and a half after our London borough was consigned to Tier Two of the lockdown regulations, my wicked wife gave my two elderly sisters a lift home from church!

I know, I know. I can almost hear the sharp intake of breath at countless breakfast tables all over the country. Mrs U did WHAT?

Alarmist

Had I not always led readers to believe that my wife was an upright, law-abiding citizen, with a strong social conscience and a firm sense of the distinction between right and wrong? All I can say is that I thought so, too.

Yet there she was, bold as brass, flagrantly breaching a law laid down to protect us by our wise masters in Westminster.

It is not even as if Mrs U can claim she was unaware of the new rules. Indeed, she tells me that the following conversation took place as she and my cohabiting sisters were walking towards the car after Mass.

Sister One: 'Wait a minute, is this still legal?'

Sister Two: 'No, I suppose not.'

Mrs U: 'Oh, come on. This is silly. Hop in.'

Now, I dare say that some readers will be fuming with righteous anger over my wife's conduct. 

 I'm mindful of my obligation to snitch on friends, family and neighbours who break the law — a duty impressed upon the country by Health Secretary, Matt 'Captain Mainwaring' Hancock (pictured)

Indeed, I've been surprised by the majority of Britons who tell opinion pollsters that they approve of the draconian measures the Government has taken — and the large numbers who say they don't go far enough.

A part of the explanation, I suppose, is that people don't like to tell pollsters that the rules are too harsh, for fear of sounding callous towards the elderly and sick, who have most to fear from Covid-19. After all, nobody wants to be accused of 'killing granny'.

Others may simply have been cowed by the Government's scaremongering, and by Professor Chris Whitty's highly selective choice of alarmist graphs.

Whatever the reason, however, there's no escaping the truth that millions genuinely approve of young Mr Hancock's clampdown on our freedoms, and believe that anyone who defies him is contemptibly selfish. 

If you doubt me, try reading the letters pages in most newspapers. 

But before you send the lynch mob round for my wife, or drag my poor sisters before the Bench to answer for a crime in which they were indubitably complicit, let me enter a plea in their defence.

Yes, we all know that under the rules of Tier Two, Mrs U ought to have abandoned the poor old things on the steps of the church. 

In that case, they would have gone home by public transport or cab (which remains perfectly OK in the eyes of the law).

However, if they'd taken the bus, they would have mixed in close proximity with people from, say, 30 different households. 

And even if they'd hired a cab, it is quite likely that their driver would have picked up passengers from seven or eight separate households that morning alone.

By any reckoning, therefore, they were at considerably less risk of contracting Covid by accepting a lift from Mrs U, who lives in a household occupied by only two others — one unemployed son and, yours truly, a stay-at-home husband. 

(If you're wondering why I wasn't at church with her, that is because I'm a bone-idle agnostic, who enjoys his lie-ins on a Sunday morning).

Perverse

All right, this may not have been her precise calculation when she decided to drive her sisters-in-law home, as she has done every Sunday for years, since they started attending the same church. 

It's more likely she just thought it would be downright unfriendly — unchristian, even — to leave them waiting an age for a bus or a cab, or force them to walk the couple of miles home.

But let's not dwell on the spine-chilling fact that we now live in a country where it's a criminal offence for three ladies in their 60s to share a car ride home from church. 

The truth remains that in this case, as in a great many others, a law drawn up to protect us can actually have the perverse effect of exposing us to greater risk.

I'm thinking particularly of the ten o'clock curfew. Perhaps I've missed something, but I've yet to hear a minister or government 'expert' come up with a shred of convincing evidence that forcing pubs and restaurants to close at 10pm reduces the risk of spreading Covid-19. 

However, if they'd taken the bus, they would have mixed in close proximity with people from, say, 30 different households (stock image used)

We can all see that the curfew is likely to drive yet more venues out of business. 

Otherwise, its apparent chief effect is to throw crowds of drinkers and diners on to the street at the same time, making social distancing that little bit more difficult.

There's also the strong risk that many who think the night is still young will be tempted to congregate elsewhere, instead of going home to bed.

Meanwhile, other anomalies abound. 

Take a young friend of mine, who complained at lunchtime yesterday (there were only six of us, I promise, and we sat outside the pub) that the law forbade her to visit her mother on her birthday last weekend.

Not unreasonably, she asked by what rhyme or reason she was permitted to mix with scores of people at the office, every day of the week, but banned from seeing her own mum — a healthy 53-year-old woman at minimal risk. 

After extracting my oath not to reveal her identity, she then dropped her voice and admitted that she went to see the birthday girl after all.

Frankly, I don't blame her a bit. Indeed, she, like my wife, is among many habitually law-abiding people who are beginning to show a measure of quiet rebellion against the wilder excesses of Mr Hancock's sweeping, spirit-crushing edicts.

For months, we suppressed our reservations, doing our best to follow the law to the letter. 

Despite all appearances, we thought it just possible that the experts knew what they were talking about. 

Yet the longer this goes on, the clearer it becomes that they haven't got a clue. And the more Mr Hancock's decrees defy logic, the harder it becomes to obey them.

Catastrophic

God knows, I'm not advocating mass civil disobedience. 

I just wish that the Government would place more trust in the common sense of the British people, and less in the sledgehammer of the law. 

The overwhelming majority of us, after all, are deeply conscious of Covid's dangers, and take our responsibility to others with the utmost seriousness.

That includes most of the much-maligned young. 

Though they are effectively at no risk from the disease — and stand to suffer most from its catastrophic economic consequences — the majority have shown magnificent forbearance and self-sacrifice in respecting the safety of the vulnerable.

But above all, there's one underlying truth that I wish ministers would acknowledge: although every death is a tragedy, whenever it happens, the fact is that we are all going to die one day, if not from coronavirus then from something else. 

Why can't they accept this, instead of behaving as if living for ever is a human right, to be protected even at the expense of ruining the country?

As my devout Catholic wife and sisters will tell them, we have just one chance of eternal life — and we'll get that only if we try to behave well towards others during our limited time on this Earth.

In my book, that includes visiting our mums on their birthdays (with due precautions, naturally) — and driving our sisters-in-law home from church.

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