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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006
    Because the deceased was a thief
    Drove last night around a familiar roundabout - a fast roundabout, the one which Formby people call The Formby Roundabout, on the A565, on the violent stretch of road which Formby people call The Formby Bypass. Sensitised, in passing, by the knowledge that for the past few months this has been a site of considerable tension.

    The story: an Anfield man, 20, steals a Mercedes from a house in Little Altcar, spins it out of control at the roundabout and dies in an instant pyre while his 16-year-old girlfriend, with horrible spinal injuries, crawls from the burning wreckage. His body is barely recognisable and one of the region's busiest sections of road is closed for 24 hours whilst forensics do their work. Over the coming days the scene of death becomes a shrine to the deceased, as family and friends perform the contemporary custom of placing flowers, photographs and personal items by the scorched trees which took the impact of the death crash.

    Meanwhile the people of Formby are restless. Voices are raised about the inappropriateness of the shrine. Police agree with some critics that it may be a distraction to passing drivers and thus a road safety issue. Councillors meanwhile give a sympathetic ear to those who express unease at the morbidity of roadside tributes; but community leaders tiptoe carefully around the sharper voices protesting that the shrine should not be there because the deceased was a thief. [1]

    These voices are influential. Their harsh insistence gives the impression that they represent the majority. The dead man's character is contested - his aunt tells the press that he wasn't malicious just too easily led, that he wasn't from a bad family and was a genuinely nice, easy-going lad not a career criminal. [2] Rumours fly around the well-heeled dormitory town: that the burgled family's five-year-old daughter is traumatised and fearful, that the police operation at the crash cost a million pounds.

    On the day of the dead man's funeral his Formby Roundabout shrine is trashed and a memorial plaque from the scene saying 'Anthony Challinor 1986-2006' is posted to the Formby Times office with the words 'scum' and 'thief ' scratched into it. [3] Days before the funeral friends of the dead Liverpool man spend time on The Formby Roundabout picnicing, to the outrage of some Formby residents. Days after the roundabout is cleared a new shrine appears at the scene. [4]

    I think there's a book in this, if some brave and thoughtful person could write it, one which could be as disturbingly illuminating as Blake Morrison's As If, his meditation on childhood innocence in the shadow of the Bulger trial, with its 'sad ritual of condemnation'. The Formby Roundabout is now a scene where these things, among others, are painfully contested: crime and punishment, inequality and social dislocation, tribalism and local identities, justice and grace...