Life at the Bar – The Unquiet American
In the calendar of offences, threatening behaviour comes fairly near the bottom, although it can have disastrous consequences. It is an offence for which there is no right of election to have the case tried by a jury, so most senior barristers are only rarely instructed in such cases. However, I was instructed to represent a defendant who had been convicted of threatening behaviour and a common assault in the Magistrates court and was appealing that decision to the Crown Court, where the court would comprise a Judge and two Magistrates.
The defendant was an American and was in his late forties. I can’t remember his name so I’ll call him Walt. The circumstances of the case did have an unusual twist. Walt had gone to buy fish and chips at a shop near to his home. He had gone on his bicycle intending to return with a meal for him and his girlfriend. He had gone by bicycle and when he went into the shop he propped the bike up against the plate glass window. As he joined the queue, Mike, one of the grown up sons of the owners, who was serving in the shop, asked him to move it. Walt began to argue with Mike and the language became more abusive. The abuse escalated when Walt said Mike’s brother, who had been murdered about eighteen months previously, had probably deserved it.
Mike grabbed hold of the bike and threw it into the road, damaging the front wheel. Walt was very angry and a scuffle started. The police were called and Walt was arrested. At the police station, Walt was interviewed under caution by a woman detective sergeant. He said she was rude, refused to listen to his account of the evening’s events and told him the damage to his cycle was minimal. Furthermore, she had no intention of arresting Mike for an offence of Criminal Damage, nor for any assault on Walt. It transpired later she had been involved in the investigation of the murder of Mike’s brother and, at one stage had been the family liaison officer. Walt’s view was that she was a biased investigator in his case and, he believed, could not envisage the shop owners and their family could lie. He may have been right. Unusually the local police station had conducted the murder inquiry rather than the Murder Squad. I assumed it was because the murderer was known and had recently been released from a secure hospital in the area.
As a way of proving the police were not independent of the fish shop owners family, Walt decided to keep watch on the premises and count the number of times officers arrived and, he said, were given food. There were further incidents but none serious. No one was arrested but Walt was warned not to persist in his surveillance. He didn’t take any notice of the warning and continued often in disguise. He didn’t fool anyone and in the end, an injunction was obtained to keep him away from the shop.
When the case came to trial in the Magistrates Court, Walt was convicted. The evidence he had put together alleging police bias was disallowed. He decided to appeal and it was then I was instructed to represent him in the Crown Court.