High among the great British contributions to world civilisation", observed the late John Mortimer, are "the plays of William Shakespeare, the full breakfast, the herbaceous border and the presumption of innocence." It is an embarrassment and an affront to all in the UK who hold such values dear that in recent decades the British Government and its media appears to have abandoned this precept.
On the basis that the USSR produced a new type of chemical nerve agent in the 1970s in Uzbekistan, which was subsequently inherited by the US in the 1990s, Russia stands accused of a heinous act committed on British soil in the cathedral city of Salisbury. The murder of a man of dubious status (whose background and connections is largely shrouded in mystery) and his daughter, has rightly shocked most British people. However, the instantaneous and peremptory assignation of guilt to Russia - and the accompanying threats made by the British Government - are completely unacceptable to anyone who values due process and the proper discourse of law in international affairs.
In spite of the fact that Russia has offered to help the British with the investigation, has requested samples of the chemical agent so as to trace its origins etc, they have been vilified as brutal assassins and the UK media has turned into little more than a servile xenophobic organ of State manipulation. Putin has said that the UK should assemble its evidence and then discuss with Russia. It seems a reasonable request - it has been ignored. President Macron of France has also requested that the British provide evidence - but the UK has provided none. Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition has also requested evidence: it seems a reasonable thing to ask before anyone starts pointing fingers at anyone else. He has been met with howls of fury by those who think it is enough for the UK Prime Minister to declare a matter as fact for it to be considered as fact - it is not. So soon after the catastrophies of Iraq (WMDs), Libya and Syria we are entitled to take our starting position as one of "innocent until proven guilty" at the very least. It is a fine institution which many in Britain appear to have forgotten. Given that the Government in the UK has shown such casual disregard for truth and for human life in pursuit of dubious foreign policy objectives in recent years, it is a duty and a virtue for us to question them closely and to treat all they say with utmost scepticism. There must be due process in justice for it to have authority and legitimacy and the international community would be wise to give little succour or regard to hot-headed UK foreign policy objectives thinly disguised as moral outrage: above all, they should demand that the UK produce evidence of any claims which can be subjected to independent scrutiny.
(Article changed on March 15, 2018 at 15:14)