Guest Post: Self defence and getting sacked
Written by Dr Nicholas Shackel
If you were attacked at a work party you would expect the person who attacked you to get sacked. In this case (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11846084/London-Zoo-love-rivals-in-vicious-fight-over-llama-keeper.html) it seems to be the person attacked who got sacked, apparently because the boss doesn’t understand the right of self defence.
First of all, there are a number of oddities we need to put aside if we are not to get distracted. I shall not concern myself with any such issues, nor for that matter with the accuracy of the reporting. So allowing that there may be more to the story than we know, I shall address it as it appears in the report but call the women Ann and Beth and the manager Boss.
Ann punched Beth, Beth responded resulting in Ann being cut by Beth’s glass and Ann continued the assault. Ann was given a final warning whereas Beth was sacked. According to Boss, there was no evidence that Ann had punched Beth first whereas Beth had glassed Ann.
Let us take the last first: to be a glassing it is not sufficient that Beth hit Ann with her glass; it is necessary that she intentionally use the glass as a weapon. If, however, as she claimed, she instinctively defended herself when punched by Ann then the glass was not so used. Consequently Boss was simply wrong in her claim that Beth glassing Ann is indisputable. It all depends on Beth’s intention in doing whatever she did that resulted in Ann being cut by the glass. What we should think about that depends a lot in this case on who was the aggressor.
It is also simply not true that there was no evidence that Ann had punched Beth first. Beth testified that Ann had started it and that is evidence. Beth may be lying, but she may be telling the truth, and whether she is making a false accusation or not is essential to this case.
Boss seems to have decided that Beth is making a false accusation. Suppose she is right. In that case Ann was the victim who was defending herself, and yet she was given a final warning, apparently on the grounds that ‘[Ann] was found to have engaged in fighting’. I think this gives us an important clue about Boss: she doesn’t understand the first thing about self defence.
If someone attacks you, you are entitled to defend yourself proportionately, not to their attack but to whatever conclusively stops them attacking you further. For example, if someone punches you and will not stop unless you break their leg, you can break their leg.
To apply that to this case, if Beth is telling the truth then she was simply defending herself and struck Ann with a glass but did not glass her. Furthermore, even if she deliberately used her glass as a weapon, i.e. did glass Ann, Ann carried on her assault after that. Consequently the glassing did not in fact stop Ann’s attack and therefore was not disproportionate. Beth was the victim of an assault and should not have been sacked. Ann should have been arrested, charged, and prosecuted for the assault.
If Beth is falsely accusing Ann of starting the fight then Beth is the aggressor whether or not she used the glass deliberately, which latter question is now only a matter of how severe the assault was, not of who merits sacking. In that case Ann was the victim of an assault and should not have been given a final warning. Beth should have been arrested, charged, and prosecuted for the assault.
So whatever the truth is, Boss has got it wrong because she doesn’t understand self defence. Either Beth should not have been sacked or Ann should not have been given a final warning.