Over the years, I must have seen hundreds of defendants, but there are very few whose faces I can visualise now. One I can wasn’t even my client. I was sitting in court number 2 at West London Magistrates, waiting for my case to be called on, when a young man probably aged around twenty was guided into court by a police officer. He was quite tall and of a sturdy build; his black hair curled so tightly that his scalp was visible. In profile, his nose was straight without any hint of his African ancestry. His clothes were scruffy; a pale blue shirt hung out of his ripped jeans and his trainers looked as if they were a size too small. Despite it still being early spring he had no jumper and no coat with him.
He was before the court for the offence of ‘being in possession of an offensive weapon.’ A police officer got in the witness box and described to the court finding the young male in the recess of a shop door, sitting on the floor clutching to his body a large stick, which the officer produced. The stick looked like a branch of a small tree, a few inches in diameter and rather twisted.
Had he threatened anyone with the stick, the magistrate asked.
‘No,’ said the policeman.
‘Is it adapted in any way, for example, a nail in one end, or sharpened to make it into a weapon?’
‘No,’ said the officer.
‘Did the defendant say anything to show why he had this stick?’
‘When I arrested and cautioned him,’ the policeman held his notebook up and read from it, ‘It’s my only friend.’
Throughout the proceedings, the young man had been totally passive, his eyes looking inward as there was no future to see. His lawyer got to her feet, but the magistrate said she didn’t need to address the bench as he and his colleagues were going to dismiss the charge but not before the probation officer had spoken to the defendant and arrangements had been made for him to go to a suitable hospital.
I doubt he would be treated so well now as there is such a shortage of places for the mentally ill in our hospitals and that young man needed a place where he felt secure and would be treated appropriately.