“Magistrates, who spend their lives, hiding their mistakes…” – Morrissey
“I like you” - “You are the quarry” (2004).
late October 1980, our little part of Leicestershire became the focus of the national media. Without being disrespectful to
the county of my birth, there usually is a bit of a news void in these parts - notwithstanding of course the tragedy of the
missing little girl Madeline McCann. The local papers are full of flower-shows, church fetes and women’s guild luncheons – which now as a father
of four young boys I suppose it’s a preferable environment to be in than one where muggings, murders and massacres
happen on a daily basis.
Pies, Leicester Tigers and…it’s the East Midlands after all. With the exception of the dire 1980’s soap/drama
“Connie” starring Stephanie Beecham and Alan Stiltoes brilliant 1964 film “Saturday night,
Sunday morning” including a “pre-Nellie Pledge” Hylda Baker lamenting that “them
were rotten days!”, has there ever been any other TV programmes made about this part of the Midlands? And both
those examples were set in Nottingham. No most of our soaps/dramas are set in London or Manchester aren’t they? Even
my all-time favourite TV programme “Auf Wiedersehen Pet”, which was orignally made by Nottingham based
Central TV featured three focal characters who were all Geordies, and none of their work-mates hailed from the East Midlands
until series two when the late Kevin Lloyd turned up as a plumber from Derby. Indeed series two made the Midlands look largely
like an unwelcoming and hostile place, far from it Me Duck!
I digress. On October 20th 1980, the death of Lady Isobel Barnett had a profound effect on me as an eight-year-old
from Shepshed. Mainly because her tragic-end; suicide in her bathtub (having downed pills and booze, she deliberately dropped
an electric fire into the bath), took place in the nearby village of Cossington – just the other side of Loughborough.
grim demise had been big news. Just a few days earlier, Lady Isobel had been found guilty of shoplifting from a local grocers-shop
in Cossington. The theft involved goods to the value of 87p. Depending on what report you read, the items were either a tin
of cream or custard cream biscuits, but there was definitely a tin of tuna-fish involved in this daring heist.
I would hazard a guess that unless you are around eighty-years of age, or a sad so
and so like me, who at the time of putting this site together was grossly under-employed in the family-business
having sat around on his arse for four years under the misleading and misguided label “mature student”,
Lady Isobel Barnet would not register on your radar.
She was not even a native of Cossington, a quite posh, well-heeled village in the
Soar Valley – it must be if a sodding tub of cream/custard creams and tin of tuna cost 87p!!! In 2008, I could get the
same items for less in any one of Coalville’s three major discount supermarkets! Born in Aberdeen, she followed in her
fathers footsteps and became a Doctor. She became Lady Isobel, when her husband Sir Geoffrey Barnett, a Leicester solicitor
and company director was knighted.
However, she was best known as an original panel member in the BBC TV show “What’s
my line” (1953) and, according to one testimony entertained the chattering classes with her “elegance and wit”
and being regarded by some as “the epitome of the British aristocracy” .
However, she split her time between television and the bench, she became Justice
of the Peace in 1948 and sat for twenty years. Admittedly I have not had intricate knowledge of her caseload whist she was
a magistrate, but from what I read she was “very authoritarian” when dealing with the miserable, worthless wretches
like you and I who may have strayed from the path of moralty when she came across them in court.
Even as an eight-year-old, I could appreciate something bitterly ironic in
this sad story. Don’t get me wrong, the death of Lady Isobel gives me no pleasure, had the tale ended with her being
found guilty for shoplifting, the hypocrisy of her pilfering would have been enough to satisfy my working-class fuelled bloodlust.
It seems ironic, but a October 1980 edition of “Time” magazine claims that the Shopkeeper received hate-mail for
turning Lady Isobel in to the police! In the eyes of her well-off comfortably community, she was very much a martyr!
Actus Reus/Mens Rea (see! I did learn something at The Poly!) Lady Barnett
most certainly had both (that's the guilty act and guilty mind btw! I think!). I understand in her defence there were those
who argued she had sadly lost the plot and I would concede that as a taxpayer today, I would have very deep reservations
at seeing a 62-year-old widow being hauled before the courts for petty pilfering of groceries costing less than a quid. I
would be outraged to the extent where I would probably reimburse the unfortunate grocer myself to avoid the cost of a hearing/trial. However,
one cannot escape from the fact that Lady Isobel Barnett had what was described as "a poachers pocket" stitched into her coat
to conceal her ill-gotten gains!
According to Googlemap, just 11 miles separate Shepshed from Cossington. However
in my book, they are world's apart. Did you know that a newly built street was named after Lady Isobel in Cossington? Did
you know, according to Land Registry data in 2008, the average house-prices in that street are approximately £416,000?
If the people of the London's East End ever want their own Kray Way then that's fine