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News & views

Remorseless writing style of unrepentant burglar

[2 December 2011] A 16-year-old burglar’s truculent letter to his victim has been widely condemned but it reveals a lively and purposeful writing style, slightly reminiscent of Molesworth, hero of Geoffrey Willans’ series of fictions about life at St Custard’s in the 1950s. The thief’s note, penned as part of his so-called punishment under the so-called Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme, says:

‘Dear Victim
I dont no Why Iam Writing a letter to you! I have been forced to Write this letter by ISSp. To be honest I’m not bothered or sorry about the fact that I burgled your house. Basicly it was your fault anyways. I’m going to run you through the dumb mistakes you made. Firstly you didnt draw your curtains which most people now to do before they go to sleep. Secondly your dumb you live in Stainburns a high risk burglary area and your thick enough to leave your downstairs kitchen window open. I wouldnt do that in a million years. But anyways I dont feel sorry for you and Im not going to show any sympath or remores.’

On our writing-skills courses we ask participants to assess documents using the criteria of purpose, content, structure and style. In the burglar’s letter there’s certainly a clearly stated purpose – to admonish his victim and pour scorn on the phoney process he’s going through.

The content (message) fulfils the purpose by saying the author has been compelled to write, that the victim made numerous mistakes, and that the author doesn’t give a damn about his victim.

The listing structure (‘first’, ‘second’) gives the letter its strong narrative drive, and the final sentence adds a memorable and forceful parting shot that echoes his initial beef. Paragraphing is needed, though.

The style includes some faults of grammar, spelling (know/now; your/you’re) and capitalization, but the author uses full stops well.

So the sentiments may be unpleasant, but as a piece by a 16-year-old, it surely scores at least 6/10. The police have decided not to pass the letter to the victim but published it as part of an anti-burglary drive. The fate of the burglar, a prolific offender, is unknown. [MC]

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