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
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.
‘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.
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.
‘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.
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.
That episode with such a difficult judge contributed, I believe, to the decision by the Lord Chancellor’s Office to refuse my application for Silk. It wasn’t the events in Court but my reaction to it, which meant I was thought to be ‘not quite the right style for Silk.’
The Judge’s behaviour towards me in the course of that hearing had left me feeling rather bruised. In my view, I had been belittled in Court in front of my client, other barristers, solicitors and probation staff. Many of the Court staff were shocked by his behaviour and had apologised as if it was their fault.
I heard nothing from the Judge until a couple of weeks later I was at the same court and one of the court clerks said the Judge would like to see me in Chambers. I asked if prosecuting counsel in my case was wanted as well.
‘No. He’s just asked for you. I think it is about the other week.’
We both knew what she meant. I didn’t want to go and see him at 10 am before Court sat, not least because he liked to offer a glass of sherry to counsel invited to his chambers and I refused to drink at that time in the morning. On previous occasions, I had poured mine into the soil surrounding a potted plant, but on my own I would find it impossible to do that. But, and more importantly to me, his rude remarks had taken place in open court, I felt he should make his apology in court as well. I knew it was never going to happen.
I declined his invitation and although there was never a repetition of that scene, nevertheless I had clearly been struck off his Christmas Card list (not that I was ever on it) and I suspect was deemed by him to be unsuitable for Silk.
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.
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.
So what happened to Sharon, the young woman I was there to represent?
The women all exchanged glances but before anyone could speak the door of the family court opened, the usher appeared and Sharon’s case was called on. I pushed the stories I had just heard to the back of my mind and walked into court with my client, leaving the three other women behind. Once in the courtroom I called Sharon to give her account of the incidents which gave rise to the application for an injunction preventing her boyfriend from contacting her. She wasn’t the best of witnesses and I could see that the judge was not impressed. Then cross examination began with the boy friend’s barrister asking Sharon if she wanted to stay at the Hostel or go back with Colin to her flat. Sharon hesitated.
‘Of course I’d like to go back to the flat.’
The Judge interjected, ‘Of course she wants to go back to her own home. That Refuge is disgusting.’
‘Yes of course, your honour. But I am suggesting that the witness wants to go back to the flat with Mr Fenton.’
‘Well say so.’ It was clearly the end of a long day. He turned to Sharon and asked her if she did want to go back to her boyfriend.
Sharon looked round the court room. First at me with a look of desperation on her face and then at Colin’s barrister who was holding a piece of pale lilac notepaper in his hand. I looked away: I knew what was coming. Sharon had seen the letter as well and was struggling to find an answer.
‘Let me help you,’ said Colin’s barrister smiling, and he handed the piece of paper to the usher and asked her to give it to Sharon. Sharon looked at it. The barrister paused.
‘Did you write that?’
‘Would you like to read it to the court?’
Sharon read out the letter she had written asking Colin to meet her at the shop near the Refuge to talk about her going back with their child, Angelina.
‘You met Colin by arrangement and went back to the flat with him?’
Sharon’s voice was dull ‘Yes.’
‘And when you were there, you had intercourse with him.’
I looked up at the Judge and, as I expected, he told me that I did not have any grounds now for the application. I agreed and he turned to Sharon and told her to stop being so silly and return to her flat. Then, with a swift nod, he rose and swept off the bench before anyone could get to their feet.
Once outside the courtroom, the three women wanted to know what had happened. Sharon was crying so I told them she had agreed to give Colin another chance for the sake of the child. ‘That’s right, isn’t it?’ I said. Sharon nodded her head as she wiped away the tears and blew her nose. All three of them looked at her in amazement, turned on their heels and walked away, leaving me with Sharon.
Along the corridor, I could see Colin saying goodbye to his barrister and then he walked towards them. He came up to Sharon and put an arm round her shoulders.
‘Come on, let’s go and get Angie and your things.’ And, without a word to me, the two of them strolled out of the building.
The usher came out of the courtroom and stood watching them for a few moments before turning to I and saying ‘They’re such liars, these people aren’t they.’
I smiled ‘That one was.’ but I wasn’t sure about the confessions I had just heard. I thought then, and still do they were true.
The offence of going equipped to commit burglary doesn’t seem to feature in the courts these days, but as an articled clerk I was sent to sit behind Mark Carlisle on just such a case. The two defendants, both male, had been apprehended in one of the lanes in the countryside, inland of Blackpool. The evidence against them consisted of observations by the police to whom they were well known and the various objects found inside their car, a grey Vauxhall, I think.
The offence took place on a summer’s evening when an observant police officer had seen the two men, Ken and Norman, driving along a narrow lane that led down towards the River Wyre. He knew it was a dead end, so he radioed for help and an unmarked car arrived. When the Vauxhall emerged from the lane and turned along the main road, the police care followed at a discreet distance. The car then turned down another of the lanes which went towards the River, another dead end. The police stayed on the main road keeping watch. This was repeated a third time, but this time the police followed and as it reached the entrance to a large house sat in extensive grounds, they indicated the Vauxhall was to pull over.
Norman and Ken got out of the car and went to meet the officers. As the two policemen, DC Smith and DC McKie, approached Norman, he pulled his wallet from the back pocket of his trousers and began searching through it.
‘Here’s my driving licence and I’ve got insurance as well,’ Norman said, waving the pieces of paper under the DC Smith’s nose.
‘Thanks,’ said the officer, pushing away Norman’s arm. ‘Let’s have a look in the car shall we.’
All four men strode over towards the car. ‘What you doing round here?’ DC McKie said. He rolled his r’s and looked straight at Ken, who dropped his gaze.
‘Looking for work. Been told some guy wanted a job on his roof,’ Ken said.
‘What’s this guy’s name then?’ McKie said.
‘Don’t know, just told where he lived.’
By this time they had all reached the vehicle and the two officers opened the boot. Inside was a bag of tools, spanners, screw drivers, a couple of hammers, and laid across the base the dark metal of a crowbar glinted in the low summer sun.
‘Doing a roof were we; with a crowbar.’ McKie wasn’t expecting an answer.
Norman spluttered. ‘Yes, guv. We were going to see this guy about some work.’
‘Where does he live, this bloke you were going to see?’ Smith said, as he opened the front passenger door.
On the floor was a piece of paper torn from a reporter’s notepad, the type anyone can buy in WH Smith’s. ‘We had a map…’ Ken pushed past the officer, leant into the vehicle and picked up the sheet of paper. ‘We’d met this guy in the pub. Said he had a few jobs we could do and he drew this map of where his house was. Here, see.’ He thrust the piece of paper into DC Smith’s hand.
The map had been drawn by an inexpert hand, but it clearly showed a lane of the main Cleveleys to Singleton Road. The drawing showed two or three houses along a twisting lane that led down to towards the River.
DC Smith sucked his teeth as he contemplated whether to arrest the two men. He didn’t believe a word they were saying, but with a good defence lawyer they would probably be acquitted. Was it worth the paperwork involved; whatever they were up to they had been stopped in their tracks.
‘Well not sure…’ he said, but was interrupted by DC McKie who was holding a book in his hand.
‘What’s this. A copy of Who’s Who. Now what would you be wanting with this then?’
They were arrested and charged with going equipped with a crow bar, spanners, various tools and a copy of Who’s Who. Despite Mr Carlisle best endeavours both men were convicted.
Sometimes you don’t see the significance of a chance meeting. You think it’s just another turn in the road, a way through the latest problem, not something that will change the course of your life. I was in a hard place, a difficult tutorial with a lecturer in the biochemistry department, had ended with me confessing I hated the course, and was sure I was unlikely to pass the exams at the end of the second year. Despite his reassurances, I knew I did not want to carry on into the third year. At best I would only scrape through my finals, and then what sort of future did I have. I didn’t want to teach and the suggestion I could become a forensic scientist left me cold. I was struggling as it was, bursting into tears when the strain of the work in the laboratory got too much for me. But going home and facing my parents, who were so proud of me was unbearable. The thought of my father’s face, trying to hide his distress, his pale blue eyes struggling with tears as he tried to tell me, that he simply wanted me to be happy. And my mother would be cross, the sacrifices they had both made so I could go to university would have been pointless.
I left my tutor’s room feeling sick as I wrestled with the problem of my future; the smell of formaldehyde wafting from the laboratories didn’t help either. I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other, along the corridor, through the double doors with the Krebs cycle etched in the glass above. I heard as if somewhere far away, the sounds of chattering voices and the clack of my heels on the black and white tiles floor of the entrance hall.
I walked along the path towards the Students’ Union, my mind whirled as I went through the alternative roads I might take. I crossed Western Bank, hardly noticing the traffic until a car hooted at me. Once on the far pavement I turned to cross the lawns towards the door to the Union. I was so distracted that I jumped when a voice said to me, ‘You look like you’re rather upset. Can I help?’
In front of me was the stocky figure of the Dean of the Law Faculty, Professor Wood. I knew him because, I had stood for and been elected to the Students’ Representative Council and the law Professor was the Staff Treasurer.
He smiled, encouraging me to tell him what was troubling me. I swallowed hard and then like a pipe bursting, the whole story came out; how unhappy I was, how I hated the long days in the labs; how awful the prospecting of failing and how upset my parents would be. ‘Come and see my on Monday afternoon and I’ll see what I can do. I think I can find you a place in the Law Faculty.’
The security light on the garage came on just as I got to the front door to turn on the outside light. I wasn’t worried as any stray cat is a sufficient presence to trigger the light, then I saw the figure of a man emerge round the side of the garage furthest from the front door. He appeared to be carrying something in his hand, but I couldn’t see what it was. I hoped the back door was locked and he had not been into the house and stolen anything, while I worked on my novel. I didn’t get a proper look at his face before he had turned towards the gate, but I thought he was about fifty, pinched features and grey hair. He looked an unlikely burglar, but a recent email sent by the Chairman of one of the local ladies groups had warned of a sneak thief who had stolen a handbag from a near neighbours’ house while they had been watching television. I decided to be a responsible citizen and dialled 999.
A few minutes later my husband returned, followed almost immediately by a police car which swept into the drive, closely followed by a second who drove along the cycle track looking for my burglar.
A stocky man sprang out of the driver’s seat of the police car and asked me to describe the man I had seen.
‘He was wearing a white and grey check shirt, jeans. I didn’t really get a good look at his face but I thought he had gray hair,’ I said.
The radio on the officer’s lapel began to crackle and he said, ‘We’ve got him.’ He asked me to walk into the private lane that links our home to the bed and breakfast next door. The officer from the second car was talking to the man I had seen in our garden. The same checked shirt and the same angular build. ‘That’s him,’ I said.
We walked back to the house, followed a few minutes later by the police officer. ‘It appears the gentleman is resident at the B&B next door and lost his way in the dark. He says he’s not been drinking but I would dispute that,’ said the officer. He didn’t add those immortal words, his speech was slurred, he was unsteady on his feet and his breath smelt of alcohol, but it was clearly what he meant. Nevertheless he thanked me for calling the police and reassured me I had done the right thing. He explained they were keeping watch for the man they thought was committing the offences by keeping a presence at either end of the cycle track, but had not succeeded in catching him red-handed.
Later the Community Support Officer telephoned, repeating the thanks for calling the police and saying my burglar was a ‘drunk and disorientated tourist.’
A recent exchange on Facebook reminded me of one of the more absurd episodes of my life. For reasons which I won’t go into I had become involved with the Cambridge Settlement in the east end of London. I had never been to Cambridge University but the project needed a woman lawyer as a group of women wanted to establish a Battered Wives Centre and it was to be a rule that no man would be allowed over the threshold. As the Cambridge Settlement didn’t have a woman lawyer I was volunteered by a friend.
So it was that one February night I found myself climbing over the wall of a large property in the East India Dock Road and helping to force an entry into the house. The building had been the home and surgery of a local doctor who had been provided with better premises from which to work and the property had been purchased by the now defunct GLC , prior to redevelopment of the site. They were not averse to unused properties being squatted and I duly arranged for us to pay rates and for the services to be reconnected. That was the easy bit.
The group of about four women who were the first group of wives trying to escape their abusive husbands moved in and with them came a number of social workers assigned by the local authority to ensure the children were not at risk. A number of house rules were agreed including that there was to be a meeting every Monday which all the residents had to attend. The idea of the meeting was to enable any issues surrounding the running of the house to be aired, the finances to be discussed and if there were disputes between the women for them to be resolved. Some of the social workers attended as well as me.
The women living at the house each had a separate room in which to live and sleep, but they shared the kitchen, bathrooms and a downstairs living room where the only TV was installed. It was here that the Monday Meeting was to take place. One of the mantra’s repeated all the time by the social workers was ‘There is no excuse for violence.’ Sure I thought although not without some reservations.
As the hostel began to fill up – if my recollections is right there were twelve rooms – the inevitable tensions arose. Someone would jump the queue for the bathroom or spend too long under the shower; not everyone was as good at washing up their plates as they should, the fridges rota wasn’t being adhered to. I’m sure you can think of many more of the small irritations that can arise in such cramped conditions.
Then, well let’s call her Pat, arrived. She had three children all under six, who ran wild around the house. They were always filthy and I found myself bathing them more than once. She always left the kitchen in a mess, the bathrooms dirty. She was disruptive, a heavy smoker who shouted and screamed all the time. She became the centre of heated debate at the Monday meeting and each time she was threatened with having to leave she would promise to behave.
One evening her husband came to the door and I went out to speak to him. He asked about the children and asked if they were OK as his wife was a very poor carer. He volunteered that he had slapped her across the face when he had come home from work to find the children hungry and very grubby. I had some sympathy for him and said so to one of the social workers we called Etty. She was furious with me and told me there was no excuse for violence.
A few weeks later when the Monday meeting was about to start, Pat was in the living room watching Coronation Street. Her behaviour had not improved despite the many promises. Etty asked Pat to turn off the TV, and she refused. Etty asked her again to which Pat replied, ‘I don’t want to attend your f….. meeting. I’m watching TV.’
Etty got up and turned off the TV. Pat retaliated by turning it back on. Etty turned it off again, only for Pat to turn it on. This was repeated another couple of times and then as Pat went to switch the TV on for the fifth time, Etty got up, grabbed Pat by the arm, swung her round and hit her across the face with the flat of her hand as hard as she could.
So, no excuse for violence then.