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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
There is little in this world as infuriating as the sight of a young man, guilty of vicious assault, walking away from a courtroom with just a suspended sentence. There is anger at the clemency, fury at the perception that justice has failed. In the case of Joey Barton, however, there is just an overwhelming and profound sadness.

Britain, if you've been reading your foreign pages, is wrestling rather pathetically with the scourge of street-crime. Scores of teenagers have been slain on the streets in recent weeks, thousands more have been beaten senseless, more often than not by hair-triggered, Neanderthal scum like Barton. Far be it for a football hack to attempt to pontificate on social trends, but the one theme that resonates in all of these crimes is a lack of respect. A lack of respect to the victim and to society. There is no fear of authority in Britain and, when you hear that Barton should be a free man in time for pre-season training, it's no surprise at all.

Laughably, his suspended sentence was handed down at a time when he was already serving time for battering a man like a piece of raw meat in Liverpool City Centre. Barton who, in keeping with the strict fitness regimes you would expect of a millionaire athlete, had drunk ten pints and five bottles of lager at the time of the attack, continued to rain blows on his victim even while he was on the floor. It's a genre of fighting that he had experimented with seven months earlier when he continued to pulverise Ousmane Dabo, even as he lost consciousness, leaving him looking like 'the elephant man'. But then this is a man who has already courted controversy for high jinks like fighting a 16 year old in an airport and stubbing a cigar out on a youth team player's eyeball, so what should we expect?

Newcastle know that they cannot sack Barton because it would be pointless. Like him or loathe him, he is an expensive asset that would just be snapped up within hours by a rival. Even now, clubs like Bolton Wanderers are sniffing around in the hope that they can take advantage of the situation. However, the PFA have urged him to 'banish his demons' and the FA would never summon up the courage to take action on something like this, so the debate is effectively over. Barton is free to return to his SG$195,000 a week contract. Of course, there is an argument that he may learn a lesson from all of this, but there is nothing in his history to suggest it.

"Being an idol brings with it responsibilities," Judge Mushtaq Khokhar told him, without a shred of irony. Being a judge brings with it responsibilities as well and, with this decision, Khokhar has completely neglected them. In a country ravaged by pointless and violent crime, he had a chance to make an example of a high profile criminal, to drive a message home that smashing people in the face with your fists until they stop twitching is 'a bad thing'. This suspended sentence increases the false perception that, short of killing someone, you can get away with anything in Britain.

Barton isn't to blame for the knife culture or the murders, or even the violence that consumes the streets, apart from the small percentage that he himself provides. He can only answer for his own crimes. But, sad as it may be to see a man torch his own career, and horrific as it is to read the pain of his victims, as Barton walks free this month an increasingly feral nation will take note that, once again, justice has failed. That's the saddest thing of all.