In the classroom at Coal Street Junior School, all the poster paints have been knocked over and Timmy Grimethorpe has a bruise on his leg.
Miss Pudsey, the teacher, arrives at the scene having moved at some speed from the other side of the room.
"Now, then, I want to know exactly what happened."
All the children gather round excitedly and wave their arms in the air.
"Miss! Miss! It were Jonathan, miss!"
(Look, we all know he probably wasn't called Jonathan, he was probably called some trendy name from a TV series of eight or nine years ago. I am writing this piece in the names of my childhood so as not to open any more cans of worms or distract you from what it's about. Which I haven't got to yet, so I'll continue. Thank you.)
Everyone looks at Jonathan, now extremely busy painting with ferocious concentration and apparently in total ignorance of the fact that everyone else in the room is gathered round the sobbing Timmy Grimethorpe and the spilled paints.
"Jonathan!" shouts Miss Pudsey in her Very Scary Voice, which is reserved for Serious Offences.
"Did you knock the paints over and hit Timmy?"
"No, miss. It wasn't me, Miss. I never even noticed, Miss. I wasn't even there. I've been over here all morning, Miss."
Miss Pudsey takes Jonathan to one side and looks at him in her Sad and Disappointed manner.
"Now then, Jonathan. Everyone in the class says that they saw you do it. Was it you?"
Jonathan bursts into tears. "I just wanted his red, Miss. And he wouldn't give it to me. So I hit him. And then all the paints fell over."
In comes Mrs Thornton, the Head Teacher.
"What's been happening here?" she enquires.
"One of the children hit Timmy and then knocked over all the paints," says Miss Pudsey.
"Who was the culprit?" asks Mrs Thornton.
"Jonathan has admitted responsibility. I've told him he has to stay in at playtime."
Now then, let us consider the key phrase "admitted responsibility."
And now let us move forward twenty years. Jonathan has become a member of a political group - let us call them the Direct Action Through Killing People
group - which hopes to further its cause by, say, planting bombs in shopping centres.
He plants the bomb, and it goes off. Luckily nobody is killed (look, there are enough people being killed in the real world without any getting killed in this fictional one).
Jonathan is arrested by the police. The incident is reported in the national press.
" - - and it is understood that the Direct Action Through Killing People
group has claimed responsibility for the incident."
Now then. Why, when such incidents are reported, is the phrase claimed responsibility
Let us go back to the classroom.
"Jonathan has claimed responsibility. I've told him to stay in at playtime."
Miss Pudsey say that? Because she knew that what Jonanathan did was wrong, and she wouldn't have dreamed of using the word "claimed" in those circumstances.
When someone, say, plants a bomb in a shopping centre, almost all of us know that it's WRONG. So why is it reported with those words "claimed responsibility"? Why not,
"The Direct Action Through Killing People
group has admitted responsibility."
Why do we give them the power and the glory of that word "claimed"?