After Stanley fell prey to two "ladies", I itched for revenge, McVeigh style

Stanley is the grandfather of my close friend Hailey, but he is also our "honorary grandad". He has been adopted by all of Hailey's friends over the decades, and his cheerful brand of loyalty and support disproves the adage that "blood is thicker than water". He is such a hail and hearty chap that when two local women "befriended" him, a year after the death of his wife, he wasn't at all suspicious. "Of course," he reasoned out loud with us, "life is full of nice types who will treat you well if you treat them well."

Many's the night when, after drinking fine wine and brandy, the group of greying adults he still calls his "kids" beg to hear his tales of not so much derring-do as erring-do. "You know, my brother got me out of the clink in Gibraltar," he always begins. And yes, yes, we all know he was locked up for a month in 1940, after a group of "rude and poorly turned out" Anzacs started a fight with troops in his command. "We won, by God," he laughs, "but they were fine chaps, those Anzacs, and it was all good fun."

We sit on the floor and shake our heads in wonder that a man who never raises his voice in our presence, and who cries over soppy birthday cards, has ever raised his voice in anger, much less his fists.

The "ladies", both in their fifties, who appeared on his doorstep one sunny afternoon and wanted to be "friends", were soon doing his cooking and cleaning, too. Stanley sounded so happy whenever we spoke on the phone. "They're lovely," he would say, and his booming laugh wiped common sense, caution and fear from our minds.

Spending time with Stanley inevitably entertained you. Once, we were downing shots of scotch in a drinking club frequented by Peter O'Toole when a garishly made-up hooker in her fifties suddenly threw her arms around Stan's neck and, in an accent straight out of Apocalypse Now, shrieked: "Me rove you. You velly funny, wan' dance?" He lifted her easily into his arms and spun her around to Dean Martin's Greatest Hits until she wriggled free, gasping: "You too energetic!" I fell off my stool laughing, and I wasn't in the least surprised when, the next day, he received a card offering "free life membership" to the exclusive bar.

The next time I saw Stanley, he was sitting in a north Wales police station looking shattered. The McVeigh case in the US has raised questions about why, and how badly, we want to punish those who commit atrocities. Sitting beside this wonderful, now devastated, old man, I was as revenge-driven as any of those American fundamentalists. I wanted vengeance so badly that it made me physically sick. I threw up in the cold, tiled toilet, and had to wait until I could unclench my fists before returning to the interview room where a patient officer was slowly taking notes.

"So, they used to take you to various cashpoints and get you to draw out money, did they?" Yes, they had.

"And you found your family pictures thrown into the rubbish?" Yes, they'd done that, too.

They had also taken him to the pub, spent his weekly cash, and made him walk the six miles uphill back home two days after an operation on his leg.

Quietly, he told us how his late wife's clothes and jewellery had disappeared. Then, one morning, he couldn't find a saucer for his teacup, or a dishcloth to dry his hands on, or a bath towel, or any clean sheets, or socks and a jumper to wear. Then the bank told him he owed £20,000, and he collapsed.

The police officer looked as angry as I did. I could see him trying to be professional and impartial. He couldn't do it. When Stan went to get a coffee, he whispered to me: "We'll make their lives a misery. Their car, their taxes, any noise, anything at all, and we'll pull them in. I promise."

I was already fantasising about tearing hair from scalps and gouging evil eyes from sockets.

Stan simply said: "I want all this to end now." Sadly, he doesn't mean taking revenge on their lives; he means ending his own.

This article first appeared in the 25 June 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The slow death of Tory England