Inside the Breivik trial

The prosecution has deconstructed Breivik’s elaborate fantasies.

In Britain he would already be in Broadmoor. Here, Anders Behring Breivik, 33, who killed 77 in a gruesome bombing and shooting spree last July, is in only the first week of a ten week trial.

Most people in this proudly liberal country are commendably committed to this due legal process (any person who faces the prospect of a ten year sentence or more, must be given a full trial regardless of his plea). Though many fear he is being given a platform to voice his violently anti-immigrant views. Norway’s tradition of non-confrontational advocacy means he has not even faced the kind of Anglo-Saxon adversarial court many of the bereaved families would have wished.

There is no vow; no legal obligation for a defendant to tell the truth – nor even answer the questions posed. This partly explains the gentle, almost consensual, approach prosecutors here take to cross-examination. Yet by picking at his inflated self-image, Inga Bejer Engh and Svein Holden, the two youthful public prosecutors, have successfully painted Mr Breivik as a penniless and obsessive loner.

It took Breivik nine years to write his rambling 1,500 page “manifesto” about the deconstruction of Norway. Engh managed, in one forensic afternoon, to deconstruct Breivik’s elaborate fantasies. Pressed on his supposed membership of a shadowy terrorist organisation, the Knights Templar, Breivik was forced to admit his tract which documents the supposed inauguration was pompous and badly written.

“I know what you are trying to do,” he said to her on the first of many occasions. “You are trying to humiliate me.” He sweated and squirmed in his chair as Ms Engh innocently read out a section from the manifesto, in which Breivik claimed he had been approached to found the Knights Templar because he was particularly gifted.

“If I may ask, what is the purpose of this. What you are doing now? What do you want to arrive at? What is the purpose? Your intention is to try to sow doubt into whether this network exists. That is your purpose.”

Reading from the document,  Engh quoted: ““I remember they did a complete screening and background check to ensure I was one of the desired calibre. They were considering several hundred individuals throughout Europe for a training course”

“Before you continue I hope that you will try to ridicule me less and concentrate on the case more,” he said.

Engh replied: “I won’t ridicule you. Don’t get fixated on my opinion because that is not important. We just want you to talk Breivik.”

Breivik has admitted blowing up eight in a car bomb in the centre of Oslo before slaying a further 69, mostly teenage, members of the ruling Labour Party’s youth wing in a shooting spree on the nearby holiday island of Utoya. His guilt is not in doubt. The question for this court is whether or not he is sane. Breivik wishes to be considered so. The prosecution’s case is structured around proving otherwise. Their cause is complicated by the lack of UK-style reporting restrictions, which gives Breivik access to the thoughts and opinions of journalists and commentators who have dissected at length the two prosecutors’ handling of the case.

The pair have become media stars. Their faces are on the cover of newspapers while their tactics and styles are the subject of dozens of pages inside. By turns, ingratiating, derisive, deferential and condescending, the pair have consistently rattled  Brevik. Holden has used a sardonic, mocking tone, particularly when he talked to Breivik about his “sabbatical year” spending 16 hours a day playing World of Warcraft. “You are giving the impression that I moved back home and rented a room in my mother’s house because I had gone bankrupt,” answered Breivik, smarting again at the “humiliation.”

Their strategy has been to expose his fantasies in those parts of his testimony where the defence and prosecution disagree, and hand him rope where they do. For the bereaved families in the court this tactic can be painful. As he spoke with chilling lack of emotion about ending the lives of the children on Utoya, savoured the moment when he was allowed to describe - in painstaking detail - the construction of the bomb which killed eight in the centre of Oslo, then calmly informed the prosecutors that he wished he’d killed more, people in the court openly wept.

Given 70 minutes to read from a prepared statement, comparing his victims on Utoya to Hitler Youth, and telling their grieving parents that their dead children had forgone their innocence when they joined the Labour Party, the counsel for the aggrieved begged the judge to make him stop. Holden urged her to allow him to finish.

They could not have imagined that Breivik would break down and cry himself when he watched his own 12-minute propaganda victory, shown to the court on the afternoon after his diatribe. But the prosecutors’ ability to make him sweat and fidget when they put his fantastic claims from his manifesto under a microscope, then allow him to visibly soar as he describes his grisly deeds, demonstrated his lack of empathy and extreme narcissism almost as effectively.

Mark Lewis is a freelance journalist reporting from the Breivik trial.

Right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik arrives inside room 250 of the central court in Oslo on April 20, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.