“It’s survival of the fittest, my darling,” he told her. “I have a gun and squirrels haven’t evolved enough to come back with a suitable deterrent.”
It wasn’t working, so he roped me in to back up a defence of pre-emptive action. I’m all for dispatching squirrels (so long as I don’t have to watch) because they wreak havoc with your tender perennials, but even I felt that his actions had overstepped the mark, so I took Liability away before she turned on her father.
In the end, she turned him in: we had separate visits from the police, the RSPCA, a chap from an anti-vivisection organisation who said any violence against animals was a hanging offence, and the vicar, who turned out to be a militant vegetarian (he never breathes a word of it at church, body and blood being no problem there).
The Lawyer managed to reassure them all that it was a moment of madness and that the dear little things would be safe to dig up the garden whenever they liked; but Liability couldn’t let it rest.
She took the case to the “citizens’ court” at her school, and the Lawyer found he was “subpoenaed” to attend and defend himself. “Do you ever feel that life is becoming more and more like an episode of Jerry Springer?” he asked as he mused over the letter. A reporter from the school magazine even rang up and asked how he felt about his involvement in the “slaughter garden” case. Of course, he couldn’t very well refuse because it would look so bad, and I was already being shunned at the school gates by the other mothers.
He had to construct a case from the internet, commercial lawyers not being very au fait with squirrel rights. I heard him whooping upstairs at the computer as he found things going in his favour.
“Goodness, I haven’t been so excited about anything since my first year at university,” he said. “You know, when we actually thought we’d spend our days fighting injustice.” His boss even rang up to ask if he was all right, as he was talking about squirrels all the time and forgetting about going to meetings.
On the big day he turned up at school in his best suit. Liability was prosecuting, of course, and there were jeers and hisses as she outlined the case. The Lawyer apologised for defending himself, but there wasn’t one child in school prepared to take on his case: children don’t waste time on that prissy ‘presumption of innocence’ nonsense.
His case was devastating. He showed how the grey squirrel, an illegal American immigrant classified as vermin, has virtually wiped out the native red squirrel with its deadly Parapox virus and its voracious appetite, how it steals birds’ nests to make its home and how it harms the environment it invades. By the end the Lawyer was cleared on a unanimous verdict. Liability’s classmates were baying for grey squirrel blood and asking how they could get hold of air rifles.
“Not until you’re 17, little hunters,” said the Lawyer, patronisingly. Liability was in tears (again) and he went over to shake her hand. “I suppose you feel like the hero from a John Grisham novel,” she said, bitterly.
“Actually,” said the Lawyer, “not having set foot in a court since week three of my criminal law module, I rather do.”