19 July 2023

‘It matters not in what realm
a man has been born’

The Manor in Yelvertoft in Northamptonshire … close to a shocking case of violence, racism and class prejudice over 100 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Earlier this week, the Guardian published a colourful and very insightful obituary of the film critic and author Derek Malcolm, who died earlier this week at the age of 91.

Derek Malcolm was a witty and acerbic writer, who could also claim he had been a friend of Christine Keeler and an acquaintance of the Kray Brothers.

In his memoir Family Secrets 20 years ago, Derek recalled how his own early life was not untouched by violence and controversy, albeit of a distinctly English variety. He was born in London, the only child of elderly parents, Dorothy (Taylor) and Douglas Malcolm, the heir to Yelvertoft Manor in Northamptonshire, which I visited a few months ago.

Douglas Malcolm belonged to a wealthy Scottish family and had been an officer with the Royal Artillery. Fifteen years before Derek Malcolm was born, Douglas Malcolm shot Dorothy’s lover, and in 1917 became the first man in British legal history to be acquitted on grounds of justifiable homicide.

The Malcolm trial at the height of World War I exposed class prejudices, racism and antisemitism that were rife in English society a century ago.

Is the same true today?

I am disgusted by the illegal migration bill that has now passed through parliament. As I struggle to find ways to articulate my abhorrence of this inhumane legislation, and further enshrinement of prejudice and racism in law, I find it interesting to reflect on the remarks addressed to the jury by Mr Justice McCardie during the Malcolm trial:

‘It matters not in what realm a man has been born. It matters not what colour foreign sun has burned on his cheek, the moment he sets foot on British soil, he falls within the King’s peace, and the shackles of foreign nationality do not prevent him from asking that he shall be protected by the ordinary rules of British justice.’

Today, the wording and phrases in the judge’s obiter dicta may be slightly difficult to digest. But it was the language of the day, and they have moral weight. However, they are wise words that the jury chose to ignore, and principles that the present government not only ignores but despises.

Racism, prejudice and intolerance continue to blight this land.

No comments: