The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was first published in the New Yorker in 1939. It tells the story of a nondescript individual who fantasises about being, variously, a US Navy pilot, a brilliant surgeon, an assassin, a Royal Air Force pilot on a suicide mission and, finally, facing a firing squad. The literary character was a largely harmless daydreamer living in an imaginary world, and has entered modern parlance as a more sinister character who attempts to mislead others into pretending he is someone else.
The law has traditionally not sought to criminalise fantasists or eccentrics unless they do so for fraudulent reasons, or their conduct causes harm. Hence one of the most famous impostors in recent history, Frank Abagnale, was imprisoned for fraud offences after posing variously as an airline pilot, a physician, US government agent and a lawyer.
The House of Commons Defence Committee has recently published a Report entitled Exposing Walter Mitty: The Awards for Valour (Protection) Bill. The Bill, “to prohibit the wearing or public display, by a person not entitled to do so, of medals or insignia awarded for valour, with the intent to deceive” was initially introduced as a Private Members Bill, which seeks to restore protections into law by attaching criminal sanctions. Continue reading