Tag Archive | Court Room Drama

Life at the Bar – The Lemsip Rapists 2

At the start of the trial, the QC representing the older man and the QC leading me for the younger one made applications to sever the trial. The Judge was not having that. In some ways it was less of a disadvantage to us than it was for the co-defendant, because if his counter allegation of blackmail succeeded it was unlikely the jury would convict our client. What emerged during the trial was that the young woman had gone home and told her family what had happened, her father and brother had then gone to the Hotel and confronted the two men, threatened them and demanded a very large sum of money, my recollection is something in the region of £25000 with the promise the allegation of rape would not be reported to the police. The family members just happened to all have criminal convictions for armed robberies and a previous for extortion, which lent some credibility to the older man’s story.  Old Bailey

Some payment was made and again the defence for the older man could prove that on the day the family members had visited the Hotel and gone up to the suite, a sum of money was drawn on cash from the elder man’s bank account. He said he told the girl’s family he needed time to raise the rest of the cash.

One of the facts that may have supported that was the delay of a few days before the rape was reported to the police. From the prosecution point of view it meant that there was no forensic medical evidence to support the allegation. For example blood samples did not reveal the presence of any drugs. The interval between the offence and it being reported allowed the defence to argue the delay was to see if they would get the rest of the money they had demanded. Instead of trying to raise the extra sum the elder defendant left the Hotel and was arrested at Heathrow on his way back to the Middle East. My client had no such opportunity to escape and was arrested the next day. During interviews the older man chose not to reply to any questions he was asked by the investigating officers. My client would have done better to do the same, but he chose to answer questions insisting the sexual intercourse was consensual.

The trial lurched from problem to problem, as the evidence was given before the jury. The young woman maintained they had both raped her. Her father and brother both said they had been to see the two men; they said with the intention of a revenge attack but then thought better of it. The elder man’s reluctance to say anything about his unsavoury business didn’t help anyone. The two defence Silks were continually arguing and attacking each other which allowed the female Silk prosecuting to have a field day. The favourite phrase was ‘It’s like trying to fight with one hand tied behind your back.’ Not surprisingly both men were convicted and were sentenced to seven years imprisonment.

Did the court hear the truth and nothing but the truth. I don’t think they did. I believe there was more to this, than any of the parties were prepared to admit. I know what I think, but has anyone else any thoughts on this case.

Life at the Bar – The Lemsip Rapists part 1

Sometimes a case can seem so bizarre that no writer could ever invent such a script. The pair described in the press as the Lemsip rapists were just such characters. The two men were an unlikely pair, one of Middle Eastern extraction, aged about fifty and the other a thirty something Londoner who had made good. The scene of the rape was a top floor suite in a Park Lane Hotel. The suite comprised  two bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, a sitting room and a dining room which was furnished as an office. The elder of the two was an arms dealer who, when he was in London,  lived and worked from this suite of rooms. He wasn’t my client so I was never privy to the ins and outs of his business, just enough to know it was very lucrative. My client was the younger man who was employed to run the office and ensure all the paper work for exporting weapons was in order.

Most of the work involved meetings with clients, discussing their requirements that seemed to range from hand guns to helicopters, arranging the purchase and most importantly ‘end user certificates’. These certificates are meant to limit the sale of armaments to persons or countries of which our government disapproves.  I wasn’t in any doubt that most of the transactions were illegal.     

The young woman who alleged rape was another employee. She was a temporary secretary who was recruited through an employment agency. It was quite a nice job. The pay was good, the hours flexible and lunch, as well as tea and coffee, was available from room service.

On the day in question, she had come into work with a very heavy cold and during the course of the morning the older man prepared a glass of Lemsip for her and told her to go and lie down in one of the bedrooms. Her case was that he had put some drugs into the drink which made her very drowsy and she had passed out, only gaining consciousness  when he was on top of her and having sexual intercourse. Further, she said, when he had finished my client had come into the bedroom and also had intercourse with her against her will. Both men denied the allegations but when interviewed by the police they told very different stories from each other, stories that were mutually incompatible.

The older man said the woman had made the allegation up and she was trying to blackmail him in respect of some of the arms deals he had made. My client said his employer had raped the girl and she had sought solace in his arms and that had resulted in them having intercourse. It was an almost hopeless case to defend, not only was there this conflict between the two defendants but a forensic examination of the hotel suite found traces of a white powder that were crushed sleeping tablets. Both men denied having brought any drugs into the hotel arguing that the rooms had been used be a number of guests in the preceding weeks. They said, and it seemed plausible, the insides of wardrobes and cupboards were not always swept clean.

The trial took place at the Old Bailey.

to be continued

Life at the Bar – Paying the Price

Sitting in a Magistrates Court waiting for your case to come on can be very entertaining. I was doing just that at Bow Street  Magistrates Court when a man was brought before the Stipendiary Magistrate for an offence of indecent behaviour in a Royal Park. The man had picked up a prostitute on Park Lane and they had gone into Hyde Park to complete the transaction. A policeman had caught them ‘in delicto flagrante’ under a tree.

Bow Street Magistrates Court

Bow Street Magistrates Court

‘I allowed them time to straighten their dress which was in some disarray and then arrested them,’ the officer said with the sort of straight face only a police officer in court can muster. The man pleaded guilty and the magistrate imposed a fine warning him that the consequences may be more severe if he was caught again and may result in him having to explain to his wife where he was and why.
The next person in the dock was the prostitute. She had a long list of previous offences for soliciting in a public place, but the Magistrate was reluctant to do anything other than fine her. When he told her how much she would have to pay, she asked for time.
‘Have you no money with you?’ the magistrate asked.
‘No.’
The court officer confirmed she had only a few coins in her possession and a return ticket to Birmingham where she lived. She was one of a number of woman who came to London and solicited on Park Lane near the hotels in order to supplement their benefit.
‘Did you not get paid last night?’ the magistrate said.
‘No, Sir.’
‘Has Mr X gone?’ said the Magistrate to the court officer.
The policeman put his head round the door to the custody area, turned back and said, ‘He’s still here, Sir.’
‘Right bring him back.’
Mr X was led back into the courtroom, somewhat bemused, and stood facing the Magistrate.
‘You didn’t pay her last night,’ the Magistrate said, nodding towards the woman in the dock.
‘No, there wasn’t time.’
‘Well there is now, you’ll pay her fine.’
And with that both were dismissed from the Courtroom.

Review

A four-star review  on Amazon for Crucial Evidence

‘The author draws on her experience in the practice of law to create a realistically vivid portrayal of London’s legal system. The intricate detail of the various actors and roles provides a necessary solid (factual) foundation for the fictional account with the real-time, verbatim court proceedings stations the reader in the gallery of this tensely mesmerizing drama.’

Life at the Bar – A Case of Incest Part 2

The trial took place at the Old Bailey in front of a judge who might have come straight out of central casting; I don’t know he if he was an old Etonian but he had certainly been to public school. I thought he was a good judge for this case as I knew him to be fairly independent minded and I thought likely to be lenient. I tried to persuade David to plead guilty to the offence but he continued to deny he had had sexual intercourse with his sister. Old Bailey

As I had warned him, his sister was a reluctant but compelling witness; she  did not want to condemn her brother and was desperate for him not to be punished. She was adamant that she had not been forced into having intercourse and said she loved him.

David’s case was that although there had been some physical relationship it had fallen short of sexual intercourse and his sister had made that up at the instigation of her mother. She was such an obvious truthful witness that cross examination was difficult. Despite, I thought, some quite skilful cross examination by me, she repeated the assertion that they had sexual intercourse and denied her mother had suggested she say they had when they had not. However her mother did not present in the same way. There was no suggestion of any reluctance to give evidence against her step son – she spoke in anger rather than in sorrow. Her reasons for abandoning the two little boys seemed feeble when she tried to explain in the cold light of the court room, yet there was no hint of remorse about it; her own interests were paramount.

When David’s father gave evidence, he told the court how guilty he felt when his new wife had said she could no longer care for his sons. He had tried to find a solution to their problems and thereby enabling his two children to stay living with them, but  it proved impossible. ‘I have felt guilty about it every day since. I was so glad when they came to find me and to see they had grown up to be such great young men.’ He went on to say that he had not thought through how difficult the reconciliation might be between the two families.

David gave evidence and the jury heard how he had felt first at the loss of his mother, and then how happy he had been when his father remarried because he had a mother again. He explained that his step mother had been kind and loving towards him and his elder brother and he had believed they would live happily as a family forever. He described the last time he had seen his father; he and his brother had gone with him to some offices – at the time he didn’t know what they were. He was left there with his elder brother. At first, he thought his father and mother would come back for him, but soon he realized they would not. He described the feelings, first of disbelief but then he said he felt like he had fallen into a black hole, totally abandoned and unloved. He wondered what he had done wrong to deserve such punishment. Both boys were adopted but not by the same families. They were encouraged to keep in touch with each other so he always knew he had a brother and that he was adopted. He described  his adoptive parents as being loving and supportive. Certainly one or other of them came to court each day.

When it came to describing the reunion with his father and step mother, he said he felt uneasy particularly with his step mother. He acknowledged they had helped him to buy his flat and furnish it. He had been thrilled to find he had a sister and, he said, the two of them had a similar sense of humour, enjoyed the same music and liked similar food. When he moved into his flat, she began to visit him after school and in the evenings. At first, they had just played music but then they had begun to kiss and cuddle each other. He felt flattered by her attention and although he knew he should not encourage her he didn’t stop her from visiting him, but he did not have intercourse with her. He asserted that it was his step mother, who he believed hated him, who had persuaded his sister to make the allegations against him.

The jury had listened carefully to his account. Certainly when I was addressing them concentrating as I did on the step mothers attitude some of the jurors had nodded sympathetically and one or two of the women wiped what appeared to be tears from their eyes, but in light of the sister’s evidence David was convicted.

In my plea in mitigation I stressed how David and his sister had not grown up in the same family and so the usual relationship between brother and sister had not developed. I directed the Judge to the loss of his birth mother and then the abandonment by his father and the step mother he had learnt to trust. In passing sentence the Judge said that David may have been abandoned at seven, but his father and step mother had made it up to him by helping him with the purchase of his flat. Surely I thought only someone who had been sent to a prep school at such a young age could think that money could make up for the trauma the seven year old child had suffered. However he passed a very lenient sentence on David – I think a short period of community service, so perhaps his words reflected what he thought was required by the system and in his heart he remembered what it was to be separated from your parents at such a tender age.

Life at the Bar – A case of Incest.

 

Most of the cases of incest we hear about are fathers and daughters, but the offence covers other family members; in the case of a man his mother, sister or grand-daughter.  Very often those cases involving a brother and sister are not prosecuted, if the parties concerned are both consenting adults, but in the case I am about to describe, the sister was under age and her mother was on the warpath. The Old Bailey

The defendant David X was in his early twenties and his story was unusual and, I found, rather upsetting. David was the younger of two brothers; their mother had died when he was three and his brother five. They remained living with their father and when he remarried his new wife only a couple of years later, she took on the role of their mother. For two years all was fine, but then problems began to arise that were no fault of the two boys, now aged seven and nine. The wife was Australian and her mother became ill back in that country. Trying to organise care for her mother at that distance was difficult and then the step-mother suffered a miscarriage.  Not surprisingly she was very upset and she blamed the loss of her baby on the stress of having the responsibilities of caring for two boisterous young boys. What happened between the boys’ father and her was never disclosed but it resulted in the brothers being put into the care of the Local Authority. The boys were separated when they were adopted by different families. Their step-mother then became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl.

When the elder brother was twenty-one he decided he wanted to find his birth parents. His search took a little time but eventually he was able to meet his father, step-mother and half-sister. They were welcoming and he liked them. However, David was reluctant to meet them; he said he felt uneasy about having contact with the woman who he considered had abandoned them. After a few months he was persuaded to go with his elder brother to their home. Although he was distant with his step-mother, he had an immediate rapport with his sister, and they soon established a close relationship.

David was an industrious young man and had saved almost enough money for the deposit for a one bedroomed flat. (This was some years ago when property in London was more affordable) His father agreed to provide some extra money and assisted David with obtaining a mortgage.

After David moved into the flat, his half-sister became a frequent visitor. She was fifteen and what had been a close friendship quickly developed into a real attachment and eventually they became romantically involved. The relationship didn’t last for long before the girl’s mother found out about it and it was her who reported it to the police. The girl was reluctant to give a statement but under some pressure from her mother she did do so. David denied the offence when he was interviewed.

To be continued

Life at the Bar – A Date with a Judge

A few years after I had been called to the Bar, I was at a drinks party in The Temple to which a number of Judges had been invited. Amongst them was a Judge I knew quite well because he had been a solicitor and appeared at one of the London Magistrates Court on a daily basis. He was about five or six years older than me, single, quite good looking and an entertaining conversationalist so when he invited me to have dinner with him one evening I accepted. We arranged to meet the following Wednesday outside the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, Chelsea.

On the day of our date, I can’t remember what happened but at some time in the afternoon I realised I would be unable to get to Sloane Square by the agreed hour or at all. This was before the days of mobile phones, so I tried to ring the Court where I knew he was sitting. After some delay, I was put through to the Court Clerks’ room, only to be told the Judge had risen for the day and he had left the building. I tried various other numbers hoping I could catch up with him, but failed to do so. Eventually, when I was able to do so, I left court and went home. I resolved to write the Judge a short note apologising for standing him up, but didn’t manage to get round to it as quickly as I should have done. london_courthouse

A couple of days later I was instructed to represent two brothers who were facing a number of counts of burglary. They both had a number of previous convictions and were reluctant to plead guilty to these new offences, although the evidence against them was fairly conclusive. The case was listed for plea and directions, which meant they would be asked whether they were pleading guilty or not guilty.

I arrived at court determined to persuade them it was in their best interests to plead guilty to the charges on the indictment. Quite often when a defendant pleaded guilty they were sentenced immediately; this was particularly true if they were persistent offenders and the only possible outcome was a custodial sentence. I had anticipated that is what would happen with these two brothers.

When I arrived at the Court House and checked which judge would be trying the case, my heart sank when I discovered it was the Judge I had stood up the previous Wednesday. Here was a dilemma; was I advise them to plead guilty and hope the Judge would not inflict any greater sentence because of my actions or let them plead not guilty and hopefully be in front of a different judge on a later occasion.

I decided my initial opinion was the right one, and in conference with them both I advised them to plead guilty. They were still reluctant and one of them asked me if I knew the Judge. I told them I did and that I thought he would be fair and reasonable when he passed sentence on them. I didn’t reveal my indiscretion of the previous Wednesday.

They maintained their innocence and I left them in the cells and went up into court, a little relieved that I would not have to mitigate on their behalf in front of a Judge I had offended. Just as the two brothers were called into court, the dock officer called to me and said they wanted to speak to me; I had to ask the Judge to allow me a few minutes. He did so and when I spoke to my clients they said they had changed their minds and would plead guilty to the indictment.

The Judge must have felt he needed to put out of his mind my failure to keep our date, because he gave them, what I thought was a very lenient sentence.

Life at the Bar – Another difficult Judge

There must have been a fair amount of social security frauds when I was in practice as another incident, with a Judge behaving badly, also concerned a woman who had obtained  welfare payments by deception. My own opinion was that too many Judges had no idea how difficult it was to manage on so little money. Most lawyers would have thought nothing about paying forty pounds for a pair of children’s shoes – it was less than they would spend on a bottle of wine. But the law is the law and it is taxpayers money.  Judges-supreme-court-poli-007

I was instructed to represent another woman charged with offences of obtaining welfare payments by deception. It wasn’t her first court appearance and she had been given a suspended prison sentence to enable her to see a psychologist in the hope that dealing with some of her many problems would stop her reoffending. It had not, and although the Probation Officer was asking for another chance – she had failed to keep the appointments with the psychologist on occasions but not always for perfectly proper reasons – I thought she was likely to go to prison. No one should forget that sending a woman to prison often means that children have to go into care.

Despite my own opinion, I stood up to mitigate and asked the Judge to consider taking the course that the Probation Officer suggested, which I think was a period on Probation. The Judge was not having it and kept interrupting me. I persisted in mitigating on behalf of my client in accordance with my instructions. At which point the Judge lost it and began to yell at me that I was to cease immediately. ‘With respect Your Honour,’ a respect I was not feeling at that precise moment, ‘If I can just finish…’

‘No you cannot,’ he said.

‘But, Your Honour…’ I was interrupted again.

‘Sit down. Sit down.’ By this time, the Judge was purple in the face and looked like he was bursting at the seams. I expected his wig to begin bouncing on his head.

At first I didn’t sit down because I thought he would see he was being unreasonable and hear me out, and then impose whatever custodial sentence he thought appropriate. Instead he began to roar at me to sit down. This time I complied. He stormed off the Bench, leaving me in the courtroom, bemused; the ushers, the court clerk, prison staff and warrant officer were all open mouthed at his behaviour.

He sent a message that the case was to be transferred to another court where the Judge who had imposed the suspended sentence was sitting; he did treat her with some leniency and made the Probation Order.

This incident had unfortunate consequences for me, but that’s for later.

Life at the Bar – Desperate Wives

Third Confession

I sat very still, hardly daring to breathe, the pages of the brief unturned in my hands. Had both women been telling the truth? Weren’t they the victims of violence not the perpetrators? I didn’t know what to think.  Old Bailey

Whilst I was turning these thoughts over, Sharon turned in her seat towards me. She appeared to be surprised I was still there but asked when they would be going into court.  I said I didn’t know but the usher would call us when the court was ready. Sharon sighed and turned back to face her friends. The eldest of the three women reached over and patted Sharon’s hand.  I had hardly noticed her before but now as she tried to comfort Sharon I saw that not only was she older then the others but she was dressed in more expensive clothes. Her white Mac was belted and she wore a blue silk scarf tightly knotted; both had seen better days. Her brown hair, which she wore in an untidy French pleat, was beginning to go grey and the lenses of her gold rimmed glasses were thick, emphasising her brown eyes.

It was completely dark outside; the only light in the room was from the street lamps and the lighting in the corridor. I went back to my papers. A telephone began to ring somewhere in the building and there was a squeal of brakes from outside. The familiar noises, breaking the silence, acted as a stimulus and conversation was resumed. They talked about the hostel and how difficult it was living with a number of other women and children. They spoke of who let their kids run riot, who didn’t do their share of cleaning the bathrooms and kitchen, who took other people’s food from the fridge and who always got their own choice of television programme. The eldest of the three women made very little contribution to the discussion until the talk  turned to a child who played football in the garden, kicking the ball against the wall of the house for hours on end, then she said, ‘I like gardening. I miss having a garden at the hostel. It’s not the same when there are lots of other people walking all over it and picking the flowers. We had a nice garden at home. I spent a lot of time out there. It got me out of the way, being in the garden, particularly when Phil was in a bad mood. I like flowers – didn’t grow vegetables- perhaps a few tomatoes. Course, this time of year it’s a bit bare so I’d pot up some hyacinths for the house. I’d bought a bag of them in the market. Kept some of them back for planting outside.  I had a nice blue bowl; the same colour as the flowers and when they began to grow, pale green shoots coming through, I put them in it and put them on the hall table. They did look lovely.’

She paused to light a cigarette from a green and white packet and I caught the faint scent of menthol. I wanted to ask them not to smoke any more but knew it was  hopeless. They might stop for a few minutes but then they would light up again as the tension and boredom of waiting got to their nerves, so I said nothing.  The older woman put the packet and a yellow cigarette lighter on the table, inhaled once and placed the cigarette on the ashtray. I watched as she continued to stare out into lamp lit street and saw her lower lip quiver. Was this woman about to admit to some similar incident? I sat very still, looking at but not reading the brief, and listened. The woman began slowly and without emotion.

‘He had such a temper and he came in that day in a right one. His tea wasn’t strong enough; I’d folded his newspaper the wrong way. It didn’t matter what I did, nothing was right.’ She raised her voice slightly as if she was reliving the event. ‘He was effing and blinding at me and I asked him to stop. He went from the lounge to the kitchen and back again, me following, trying to get him to stop swearing. We were pulling and pushing at each other. You know what it’s like?’

She turned to face the others and, even though I could not see their faces in the dim light, I saw them all nod. The woman moved her chair back so that she was facing the rest of the group. Her voice became stronger and she spoke more emphatically.

‘We were in the hall and he pulled away from me sweeping the flowers onto the floor. The pot broke, there was dirt all over the tiles and the stems of the plants were broken. I was really upset. I do like flowers.  I’ll give you hyacinths I thought.’

She stopped and untied the scarf from around her neck, folded it neatly and pushed into her pocket, then pushed up the sleeves of her Mac, and continued.  ‘So a couple of days later I asked him if he fancied a lamb stew. ‘Yes’ he said ‘That’ll be nice.’ I went to the butchers and bought a bit of neckend. I made a stew with carrots and peas but instead of onions I used the hyacinth bulbs. I peeled them, chopped them and fried them just as if they were the real thing. I put them with the meat and the other vegetables in a casserole, added some beer, to disguise the taste, and cooked it. When he came in from work I gave it to him. He asked me if I was having some. I told him I‘d had some earlier. He said he thought that it tasted a bit funny. ‘‘Mine didn’t’’ I told him. He went on and ate it all up. After about half an hour he started to sweat and said he was going to bed; he didn’t feel very well. He was in and out of bed all night going to the toilet and saying he felt sick. The next morning he looked awful; he was all grey and his eyes were dull. He told me to get the doctor. He told the doctor how bad he felt, going to the toilet all the time and feeling nauseous. The doctor said it was food poisoning and asked him what he’d eaten. He’d had a pie a lunchtime in the pub and the lamb stew. He said that the stew had tasted funny. I told the doctor mine hadn’t. ‘‘It must have been the pie.’’ the doctor said. Anyway, he got a week off work. Kept on about how I’d given him a dodgy stew. I never let on, even after we separated. I’ve never told anyone.’ She paused. ‘I do like a nice garden.’

Who Killed Janet Smith

I have just read a book sent to me by a lawyer relative who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia; the book by Ed Starkins relates the story of an unsolved murder. The book makes compelling reading and is worth describing in these times when human rights are under threat. The book describes how in 1924 a twenty-two year old nursemaid of Scottish descent was found dead in the home of a wealthy family in Vancouver, British Columbia. What followed was an unbelievable catalogue of mistakes and led to numerous conspiracy theories, involving, amongst others, the attorney-general of the provincial state. Who killed Janet Smith

The local police force was informed of the death by a telephone call from F.L. Baker, a member of a prominent Vancouver family who told the officer, James Green, Janet Smith had shot herself. The officer appears to have accepted she had died by her own hand, as did Dr Blackwood who also attended the scene. The young woman’s body was removed by undertakers and, embalmed without an autopsy taking place, although nobody accepted responsibility for that decision.

A coroner’s jury found Janet Smith had committed suicide but a friend of hers, Jennifer Haddowe  was adamant that the young woman would not have taken her own life. She persisted in that belief and was able to get the Council of Scottish Societies to take up the fight. At a second hearing the coroner’s jury returned a verdict of murder. Of course advances in forensic science have made the investigation of crimes less dependent on the oral evidence of witnesses, but the assumption by the police that she had shot herself would have been cast into doubt if the simplest of examinations had been carried out. The lack of a proper post mortem and the delay was a serious blow to the investigation.

Why did the police not conduct a more thorough investigation in the beginning? Were they inhibited by the wealth and status of the Baker family? Today that seems improbable, but it was only 1974 when Lord Lucan was assisted by his friends to escape trial for the murder of his children’s nanny. Did the Vancouver police anticipate the locally prominent and wealthy families closing ranks, and was the victim too unimportant?

As pressure increased on the police to find Janet Smith’s killer, someone in authority decided to take the unusual step of paying a private investigator to kidnap the Baker’s Chinese Houseboy, Wong Foon Sing. He had been the one to discover the body and had, he said, telephoned his employer who had gone to his office, to tell him. Whilst Sing was held he was threatened and tortured to try and force him to make a statement about what had happened to the nursemaid, but he always maintained he knew no more than he had already said at the two inquests. It’s right to say he was never accused of the crime and there was never any suggestion that he had been responsible throughout the inquiry.

Matters got worse, but I’m going to save that for another time. To be continued.