At about twenty past six, the complainer was seen standing at the side of the road by a passing motorist. She could see from her car that the complainer’s face was bloody and swollen and that there were twigs in her hair, so she stopped to help. From the complainer’s appearance, she initially thought that she had been hit by a car. She called 999 but was so distressed that another passer-by had to take over the call. The complainer was in shock but able to speak, saying that she thought she had been raped but repeatedly saying “this isn’t happening”. (“Opinion of the Court” in response to Robert Greens’ 2007 Appeal Against Sentence.)
In May 2005, Robert Greens attacked a Dutch student in the vicinity of Roslin Glen, apparently selecting his victim randomly and without premeditation. Although his victim would be discharged from hospital the next day, the assault upon her was so frenzied that she was fortunate to escape being blinded. The Appeals Court noted that, “The nature of the attack, which involved injuries to the head and ended with the complainer being abandoned in a remote location, meant that her life was at risk.”
Following his arrest twelve days later, Greens tried to make out that incriminating DNA evidence had been left at the crime scene by his twin brother. Fortunately for the twin brother, he had been seen in Fort William at the time of the attack. With multiple DNA evidence and two separate eyewitness testimonies, the Crown’s case against Greens was overwhelming. Yet his motive for the attack remains the great mystery of our story.
In 2006, the Scotsman reported that Greens had two prior convictions for assault and robbery, although there is a gap of nine years between these offences and the 2005 attack. Greens claims that he had “drunk 10 pints of lager and cider and smoked 15 joints” prior to the attack and that he could consequently remember nothing about it. After fifteen joints, an act of such violence would be superhuman, and so Greens’ story may represent only a very crass attempt to depict his behaviour as being out of character. The police had recovered skunk from the crime scene, and researchers at King’s College, London have established that this “super-strength” cannabis can cause “temporary psychotic-like effects in some people.” It is far less certain that it could explain the extraordinary violence evinced by Greens.
The relevant psychiatric assessments of Greens remain undisclosed to the public, although the BBC reports that conflicting material was put before the court, with its psychologists finding “no explanation” for the attack. With such a senseless and unpredictable act of violence to his name, Greens self-evidently posed a significant danger to the public. On these grounds he should have received an indeterminate sentence, but the fact that he had pleaded guilty to the rape – even if it was beyond him to mount any coherent defence – meant that the judge was obliged to reduce his sentence to ten years. With a third of his sentence automatically discounted under Scotland’s early release system, he served only six.
He is now Dalkeith’s problem. Released in January, he was housed in various locations until being finally dumped in the Ramsey Cottages outside of Bonnyrigg. The protest group “Get Robert Greens Out Midlothian,” which was set up by the local businesswoman Sharon O’Donnell, has been since campaigning outside of the cottages. Two council tenants have already fled, but this is hardly an option for those who own their homes, not least because their properties have been massively devalued. Crime prevention officers have warned Greens’ neighbours against going into their own gardens. One family has been told to cut down all of their trees to remove potential hiding places from around their property.
With over 1400 friends on Facebook, “Get Robert Greens Out Midlothian” is a community group which is led mostly by local women. They have their own catchphrase: “Toot toot get him oot!” The protesters are conscious to avoid the appearance of a mob, with one of them joking that, “We were very peaceful and not a Jeremy Kyle producer in sight!” O’Donnell has called upon local parents to prevent Greens’ own children from being bullied at school. The protesters purport to be just as concerned about the threat from vigilante violence as from Greens himself. They have insisted upon peaceful protest and they have been careful to comply with the onerous legal requirements of staging protests.
Yet the campaign remains wary of the police, the state, and the media. At the weekend, the tinpot fascist dictator Nick Griffin arrived in Dalkeith to show solidarity with the protesters, only to be given the cold shoulder. Griffin ended up condemning the protesters for being soft on the rapist because they had failed to show solidarity with him.
Aside from the BBC coverage, the protesters have been exiled to the waiting world of tabloid and local news. Greens could only enter national circulation under a silly name – the “Da Vinci rapist” – even if his connection to Leonardo Da Vinci is profoundly tenuous (the rape was carried out near to Rosslyn chapel, which was featured as a setting in the Hollywood movie The Da Vinci Code). The Telegraph, Times, Independent, and other broadsheets have so far avoided covering the story, although The Guardian was game enough to commission the feminist Julie Bindel to slag off the protesters.
Dismissing them as “vigilantes” and “nimbys,” Bindel urged the protesters to put aside their “hysteria” about the rapist – the hysteria of caring about the safety of their loved ones – and to instead recognise that Greens offers merely an extreme example of everyday masculinity. Rape is, at least according to Bindel, “an ordinary, commonplace act often perpetuated by nice respectable men in suits who live with us, not just close by.” Griffin and Bindel should between them form some sort of elite committee, which could dedicate itself to offering the finest in witless advice to the people of Midlothian.
The protesters’ fundamental obstacle, however, does not derive from adverse media coverage, but from the reality that it is simply impossible to do anything about Greens. He is at once a profound danger to the public and at liberty under the rule of law. There are no legal means of retrying or resentencing him, and in these cases a liberal democracy can only ever legislate to shut the stable door once the horse has gone. Abandoned by the system, the people of Midlothian will have to remain vigilant indefinitely. In time, Greens may be discreetly rehoused, but this would only increase the risk to the public.
There are various reasons why Greens’ release should be of concern to the readers of broadsheet newspapers. We live in a country in which normal behaviour is being increasingly criminalised. Last year, for example, Glasgow’s police carried out a dawn raid on a seventeen year old Celtic fan who had been accused of singing “sectarian or offensive songs at football games.” Although he was eventually released, the teenager could have potentially received a prison sentence of up to five years. Whilst the system had treated this normal person as if he was a criminal, when it encounters somebody like Greens – who is genuinely abnormal – it proves incapable of distinguishing him from any other criminal or reflecting any coherent criteria of justice and public safety.
It is, of course, far easier for the state to bully a teenager than to rehabilitate a violent criminal. Prison has such a broad application that it is now commonplace to find dangerous prisoners being released to make room for newer and ever more trivial offenders. With improved technology and a stated public policy of “austerity,” it is inevitable that offenders will be increasingly imprisoned within their own homes rather than in public institutions, even if the occasional debacle such as Greens’ release raises unforeseen costs. In the past, a freed prisoner was supposed to have repaid their debt to society and they were released to become a new citizen. Greens will be on parole until 2022, and he may be monitored indefinitely by police and social workers.
Cases such as Greens’ release provide an unexpected punch line to David Cameron’s comedy about a Big Society. In last summer’s riots, the people themselves were at times forced to replace the state in meeting its primary responsibility of protecting property. The citizens of Dalkeith are now expected to personally monitor those from whom they should be rightfully protected by the state. One would do well to ponder how we can expect the state to relaunch our economy and deliver employment when it is now so senile that it can no longer carry out its most rudimentary functions.