Life at the Bar – Never Call Mother.
Identification issues used to be a frequent problem for the courts. The case of George Davies highlighted how unreliable an eyewitness can be. As an aside a friend of mine was involved with the Free George Davies campaign and was one of those who dug up the cricket pitch at Headingley just before a test match.
In my case, a twenty three year old had been charged with armed robbery of a building society in the East End of London. The allegation was that he had gone into the banking hall with a sawn off shotgun, threatened the cashier to hand over the money in her till. The premises had video surveillance and the Crown were relying on the video of the scene to identify my client, who had denied being the culprit and claimed he was at home in South London at the time of the offence.
There was no other evidence. The cashier couldn’t identify him, nor could any of the other customers in the office at the time. There were no fingerprints or DNA at the scene to link my client to the crime. After his arrest, he was interviewed and claimed his sister and his mother would say he was at home with them. If a suspect provides an alibi, the defence must serve a formal notice on the prosecution giving details of the alibi and the witnesses they will call to support it. The prosecution then take statements from those witnesses, in the hope of undermining them. This they had done unsuccessfully in this case.
The video was sometimes out of focus. At other times, there was only a partial view or one that was obscured by Christmas decorations. There was one good shot of the robber’s face as he turned away from the counter and walked towards the door he had looked up directly into the camera. I played the video many times trying to decide if the man shown was my client. I wasn’t sure and, of course, the jury in order to convict must be.
The trial at the Old Bailey went well. I could see the jury were doubtful the man on the video and the defendant were the same person. I called my client to give evidence. Despite the most rigorous cross examination he maintained he had been at home on the evening of the offence. It was Christmas Eve and he had watched the television with his sister and mother. He gave an account of the programmes they had seen. His sister confirmed his story and she too was a compelling witness. I began to think I would win the case and my client would be acquitted.
Then I called the second alibi witness, his mother, and as she walked into the court I knew the case was over. Her face showed the same characteristics as the face on the video. The robber could only have been her son.