If there is a hell, Hindley will rot in it


OPINION/John Waters:"Can I tell you summat? I must tell you summat. Take your hands off me for a minute, please . . . Please, mum, please . . . I cannot tell you. I cannot breathe . . . Please god . . . Why? What are you going to do with me . . . I want to see my Mummy . . . Honest to God. I will swear on the Bible . . . I have got to go because I am going out with my Mama. Please, please help me, will you?" - 10-year-old Lesley Ann Downey to Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, shortly before they killed her.

On a British television news programme last Friday evening, I heard the Methodist minister, the Rev Peter Timms, who had ministered to Myra Hindley in prison and campaigned in public for her release, criticise the Catholic Church for its failure to support the free-Myra campaign. It was all the more lamentable, he said, since Hindley was by birth a Roman Catholic and indeed had returned to this faith while in prison.

If the Rev Timms is correct in his accusation, this refusal is to the church's credit.

Catholic teaching holds that only God can forgive sins, but that He, through His son Jesus, imparted this power to His apostolic ministry on Earth.

In the official church's reticence in this matter, we can perhaps see the shadow of its ambivalence concerning the reach of its own rituals. Most so-called sins are harmless matters and it is easier to imagine that a man mumbling a few indecipherable mantras with a ribbon around his neck has the power to absolve them. But the Moors murders fall into a category of wickedness which stretches notions of contrition and forgiveness beyond their limits. There is something facile and trivialising about the notion that, because someone who has committed such acts has "repented" and become "reconciled" with God and the church, he or she is to be regarded as deserving of absolution.

The idea that such a process might have any influence regarding whether such a person should ever again walk beyond a prison wall is fatuous and insulting. A freed Myra Hindley might not have been a danger to society, but she would have been an affront to it.

If human beings could forgive Myra Hindley, right and wrong would lose all meaning. This is why the bleatings on behalf of Hindley from such as the Rev Timms and Lord Longford rang so hollow and infuriated people so much.

Longford once told an interviewer of Hindley: "She has become very religious, really religious, like Jonathan Aitken. These people are haunted by their own crimes." His inability to distinguish between the perjury and petty corruption which landed Aitken in prison and the beast-witchery of Myra Hindley, tells us all we need to know.

To be lectured on the concept of forgiveness, as though it were a kind of rubber stamp to be applied at the end of the page of wickedness, is to be asked to believe that evil can be erased by an act of human will. It cannot. The useful purpose of what we term "forgiveness" is the means it offers those wronged by wickedness to unburden themselves of feelings of rage and hatred which these actions have precipitated. But this cannot exculpate the guilty, or expiate their guilt.

Perhaps we need another word for this necessary process to prevent woolly-minded pharisees using the concept of forgiveness as a stick to beat us. The misplaced preaching of simple-minded clerics has created a very crude understanding of the concept and purpose of forgiveness, ensuring that what passes for such is usually shallow, pious and self-serving humbug, emanating from a misplaced sense of obligation and fear, or a desire to ingratiate oneself with what is trumpeted as Christian virtue.

REDEMPTION is not a matter for society. We do not honour the dignity of our human condition by demanding superhuman capacities of forgiveness in respect of the humanly unforgivable. It is not in our gift to forgive Myra Hindley and we should be both humbled and glad on account of this. For if we could, then we would become either Godlike or the antithesis. We would have acquired the all-knowing, all-seeing capacity to understand the mystery of evil or we would come to believe that it's all a bit relative.

What possible meaning could forgiveness have for the families of those children obliterated by Hindley and her lover, Ian Brady? Do those who demand such a gesture not open the door for the repetition of such obscenities? One of the theological niceties which Hindley's sponsors were not disposed to underline was the Catholic requirement of penitence, which demands the making of amends, self-denial and "above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear". If Myra Hindley had a shred of remorse, she, like Brady, would have relinquished any claim to freedom and left those she had destroyed with some hope of peace.

There is a time for love and a time for hate. Winnie Johnson, the mother of another of her victims, Keith Bennett, said of Hindley last Friday: "I hope she rots in hell." Rest easier, Mrs Johnson. If there is a hell, Myra Hindley will rot in it. For what other purpose could it have?