by Martin Odoni

I do not wish to defend the indefensible.

Andrew Banks, the guy who has sprung to national attention during the right wing riot on Saturday, did something foul when he emptied his bladder next to the Keith Palmer Memorial on Parliament Square. It was disgusting, and his account of it in court today sadly made him sound idiotic.

Banks’ explanation was that he had tagged along with a group from the Football Lads Alliance to Parliament Square to protect statues, but that he had had sixteen pints of beer during the course of the previous evening, and had not slept since. In his confused state, he seems to be saying, he was unable to figure out which statues to protect.

Andrew Banks emptying his bladder

This is foul behaviour, but really – TWO WEEKS behind bars?

Quite how this led him to assume this made it okay to have a relieving slosh against the side of a memorial to a hero who gave his life defending others from a terrorist, I am not sure. Because it was not a statue, therefore it was a legitimate target? The fence behind the memorial carries on for about thirty metres in either direction, so he had a huge area to choose from if he really had to let fly then-and-there.

So, Banks’ testimony does him few favours, but at the same time, I have to speak up for him on several points.

Firstly, Banks has expressed remorse for what he did, realises what a foul way he behaved, and pleaded guilty to the charge of outraging public decency, so the contrition is likely to be real.

Secondly, it appears to be a first offence of his life. And peeing in a public place, let us be honest, is not exactly an unusual behaviour for the male half of the species. On a public monument is rarer, but I have to be honest and say, when walking across Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester late at night, I have often seen men ‘throwing caution to the wind’, shall we say, against the sides of the statues near the outlier bus stops. Had he not been caught on press camera, had it not been a riot, had the riot not been closely followed by global news cameras, it is unlikely anyone would ever have even known or cared whether Banks had done it

Surely a community service order would have been sufficient punishment?

But Banks was given a custodial sentence. Two weeks behind bars? I have to say, this sentence is not only excessive, it actually underlines one of the problems of Western society that alienate working class people and turn them towards extremism in the first place.

I recall the 2013 Ashes cricket series. The final Test Match was at the Oval – I was actually there in person – in London. After the crowd had gone, the England players spent the evening having celebratory beers in the outfield, and some of them were by midnight experiencing full bladders. Rather than nip up to the dressing room and use the lavatories, they simply ‘relieved themselves‘ on the pitch. And I do not mean the outfield, but actually on the batting strip itself. The batting strip of the Oval, one of the most famous and most storied sports arenas on Earth. And the England players were ‘sprinkling’ on it! (Graeme Swann, one of the players, is famous for supposedly inventing ‘The Sprinkler Dance‘, but this casts that in a very different light.)

This behaviour received quite a few disapproving noises in the press, but no real sanction followed for the team. Why not?

It is difficult to conclude that it was for any reason other than that the England cricket team are famous, relatively rich, and largely upper class.

Banks is not famous (even though he is now infamous), he is certainly not rich, and he is working class. He is ‘insignificant’. Therefore, the Establishment legal profession is happy to ‘make an example of him’. We may say, “Oh who cares, he’s a yob, he’s a thug!” But do we really know that? Given the contrition he has shown, Banks seems conscious of right and wrong. But also, by just assuming the worst in him, are we not showing the same attitude the court did?

This sort of snobbery, this lazy bracketing of the man-in-the-street, and of punishing him far more brutally and unreservedly than any rich man would ever be, is one of the most destructive habits of Western society – descended from the hierarchical Feudalism that dominated Medieval Europe – that alienate a lot of young men, creating a lot of the kind of resentment that pushes them into the hands of extremists.

Do I sympathise with the rioters from Saturday? No. Most of them were clearly fighting because they went to London looking for a fight. There is no clear evidence that Banks was there for that however. He just comes across as a very naive, unsophisticated man who joined in with a protest he did not really understand. What he did was anti-social, not hateful, disrespectful, not malicious. And he is the one who is chucked behind bars?

Britain is a country that loves hitting down, and the more it does it, the more people like Banks will feel that their country has nothing for them, and the more they will want to lash out against it. The problem with the FLA and other right wing groups is that they teach them to take this mistreatment out on ‘the other’, telling them that people with different colour skins get better treatment than them, when what they should really be teaching them is that the rich and well-to-do are the ones getting the better treatment.

Today’s heavy-handedness may have handed the far right a new recruit.