10/01/2005

At Wit's End, a Town Dithers Over Its Millionaire Pest - New York Times

Funny! -- law

"Mr. Carroll.. has proved since winning that he is not the sort of person to let money turn his head: he has kept having run-ins with the authorities, the only difference being that he now drives nicer cars to court"


At Wit's End, a Town Dithers Over Its Millionaire Pest

SWAFFHAM, England - Except possibly for Howard Carter, who discovered Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922 (and who died a long time ago), 22-year-old Michael Carroll is by far Swaffham's most famous resident.

Michael Carroll won £9.7 million in the national lottery three years ago. Since then, he has appeared in court more than 30 times.
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Steve Forrest for The New York Times

Mr. Carroll has given Swaffham fits since he won the lottery. Ordered to clean up the tires and debris in his yard, he offered to buy the town Christmas lights, an offer that officials have rejected.

Known across Britain by his tabloid nickname, the Lotto Lout, Mr. Carroll won £9.7 million (about $15 million at the time) in the national lottery three years ago and showed up to collect his prize while wearing a police-issued electronic ankle bracelet. The question now raging in Swaffham is whether he deserves to throw the switch at the town's annual Christmas lights display, as he was briefly invited to do.

"I personally have nothing against him," said Terry Drake, a prominent local businessman who owns a hardware store on the main street of this busy old market town. "But a convicted criminal shouldn't be in a position to do something that children are supposed to look up to."

At this point, Mr. Carroll is not likely to be turning on anyone's lights except his own. After a huge public outcry, the town has rescinded the invitation and will probably have no holiday display at all this year (Mr. Carroll was going to pay for it).

If nothing else, Mr. Carroll, who did not respond to messages left at his house, has proved since winning that he is not the sort of person to let money turn his head: he has kept having run-ins with the authorities, the only difference being that he now drives nicer cars to court.

"Before he won the lottery, he was a nuisance," Charles Joyce, a local official, said. "He decided to carry on being a nuisance."

Among other things, he has appeared in court more than 30 times in the last three years. He has spent three months in jail on drugs charges, paid thousands of dollars in fines for vandalism and been evicted from several hotels after, for instance, ripping a chandelier from the ceiling while trying to swing from it.

He was recently ordered to perform 240 hours of community service - later increased to 300 - after shooting ball bearings through 32 car and shop windows with a catapult as he drove around in the middle of the night...

Mr. Carroll is an object of national fascination in part because of his apparently pathological criminality, and in part because he represents a kind of Briton known as a chav. Chavs, whether rich or poor, tend to favor gaudy jewelry and expensive-but-tacky clothes with big logos and to behave in a way that others find coarse or obnoxious.

Male chavs wear tracksuits and baseball caps; female chavs pull their hair tightly back in buns or ponytails, a style known as a "council house facelift," from the term for public housing.

Mr. Carroll has "King of Chavs" printed on his Mercedes, a car known in the newspapers as the Loutmobile (its license plate reads L111 OUT).

The derivation of the word chav, which began to be widely used about a year ago as the problem of binge drinking in Britain's towns and cities became a huge national issue, is murky. Some say it comes from an 18th century Romany word meaning "child"; others believe it may come from the town of Chatham in Kent, known, apparently, for its large chav population (the theory that it is an acronym for Council Housed and Violent is most likely untrue).

Chav behavior - outrageous spending sprees, drunken brawls, inappropriate public displays of affection, screaming matches with loved ones in bars, destruction of property, late-night stumbling and/or vomiting - provide celebrity magazines here with much of their material. Among British women, Coleen McLoughlin, the girlfriend of the soccer star Wayne Rooney, is seen as a celebrity chav.

At Wit's End, a Town Dithers Over Its Millionaire Pest - New York Times

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