What happens when one of the jury decides to investigate issues in a trial? I was defending a man charged with importing a Class A drug, namely cocaine. The defendant whose name was ‘Gray’ had arrived in the UK from Jamaica via Amsterdam. The car that collected him from Gatwick was followed through the streets of south London by detectives in an unmarked police car. They claimed a package had been thrown from the nearside front window of the car and they had radioed for assistance before stopping the vehicle. The occupants were asked to get out and my client ran off. He didn’t get very far before he was arrested and searched. Nothing incriminating was found on him nor in the vehicle.
A search began to find the item thrown from the car. There was some difficulty in locating anything that fitted the description of the item. My client disputed he had thrown anything away although he said he might have dropped the packaging of some food out of the passenger window. Not surprisingly the police found plenty of that. After a thorough search of the area, a young police officer found a small parcel on the pavement of a nearby road. The difficulty for the prosecution was that the parcel was not found on the route the car had taken, nor close to where my client had run. In his defence, I relied on a set of plans of the area and cross examined the detectives as to which streets the car had been driven along and which ones my client had run along. No police officer was able to say they had seen anything dropped by the defendant as he ran away.
When the officer who had found the package was called he gave the name of the street in which he had found the package and he identified it on the plans. He relied for his evidence on notes he had made as soon as he returned to the police station, as he was entitled to do. I got him to mark the map and asked the jury to do the same on their copies. His explanation for the package not being in the road the defendant had run along was that he must have thrown it over the garden walls.
The next day one of the jurors handed a note for the Judge to the usher. He had been to look at the scene and he judged it was impossible to throw anything from one street to the other. The Judge was very annoyed because the only evidence a jury can take into account is that which they have heard in court. He had two options. The first was to abort the trial and start again with a different jury, or allow all the jury the opportunity to look at the location. He chose the latter. We all had to wait until the afternoon before a coach could be arranged to take the jury and a car to take the Judge. Counsel and the police officer had to make their own way there. My recollection is that I walked and still arrived before the coach. When the young police officer saw the street he had named, his mouth fell open as he realised he had made a terrible mistake. The Judge was furious.
Had the defendant been in possession of the drugs or was it a plant by the police? The jury came to the conclusion they couldn’t be sure of the defendant’s guilt and acquitted him. I’m sure that police officer would never make the same mistake again.
There was another feature of the case that makes it stick in my memory. ‘Gray’ was a professional musician and claimed to have played with Bob Marley.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
Although I have been in close proximity to quite a number of very violent men I have only been assaulted twice in the course of my work. The first time was whilst I was still working as a solicitor and had been instructed to represent an Iranian man who was charged with a number of rapes. He was in his late twenties and, when I first met him, was quite charming. Because of the seriousness of the offences I instructed a QC to defend him.
The allegations divided into two groups. The first two were made by the same young woman, who said she had met the defendant in Covent Garden where he had told her he was a student, newly arrived in London and knew no one. She took pity on him and at the end of the evening she invited him to her flat. It was there that he had forced himself upon her on two occasions, despite her resistance. His case was that she was a willing participant in the sexual activity. My client had left the flat the next morning and despite the police being called immediately they were unable to apprehend him.
The second set of offences was rather similar, but took place a few months later. Again he had met a young woman who was sympathetic to him and invited him back to her flat. What he was unaware off was that she was living with a female partner, who returned to the flat later that night and found the defendant with her lover who was clearly very distressed. The partner called the police and he was arrested running away from the premises.
We made an application to sever the two sets of allegations and to our surprise the Judge granted it. My client was acquitted of the first group of rapes but was convicted of the second. His defence that the woman had consented was not believed by the jury, not least because her sexual preferences were quite clear. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Immediately after being sentenced he was held at Wormwood Scrubs and soon I began to receive letters from him telling me he wanted to appeal against his conviction. We had already told him he had no grounds to appeal when we saw him in the cells below the Old Bailey, but despite that oral opinion and knowing, as I did, that no appeal was possible, I did obtain a written advice from the silk in the case. I forwarded that to the prisoner and hoped that was the last of it.
A week or two elapsed and then the letters started again, begging me to file grounds of appeal. I ignored them. One day after I had been in court I returned to the office to find amongst the usual list of telephone calls to which I needed to respond, a message from the Probation Officer at the Scrubs. I returned his call and he asked me to come and see my client and explain why he was unable to appeal. I agreed somewhat reluctantly to see him the next time I was at the prison, which I knew was only a matter of a couple of days hence.
Once in the interview room I repeated the opinion of the QC and tried to explain why learned counsel thought the verdict was not appealable, in as simple a language as I could muster. The client became very angry and told me I was nothing more than a whore because I did not cover my legs and my head. I told him I was leaving. By this time, he was screaming abuse at me and as I stood up to leave he lunged across the table at me and grabbed me by one arm. He didn’t get any further, as the prison officers had heard him shouting and they seized hold of him by the scruff of his neck and dragged him away from me.
It was a distressing experience and I needed a stiff drink that evening.
A stroll through Holland Park, with its colourful flower displays took me onto Kensington High Street by the former Commonwealth Institute
The Commonwealth Institute was designed by Robert Matthew, Sir Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners, architects, and engineered by AJ & JD Harris, of Harris & Sutherland. Construction was started at the end of 1960 and completed in 1962. The project was funded by the UK government, with contributions of materials from Commonwealth countries.
Regarded by English Heritage as the second most important modern building in London, after the Royal Festival Hall, the building had a low brickwork plinth clad in blue-grey glazing. Above this swoops the most striking feature of the building, the complex hyperbolic paraboloid roof, originally made with 25 tonnes of copper donated by the Northern Rhodesia Chamber of Mines. The shape of the roof reflected the architects’ desire to create a “tent in the park”. The gardens featured a large water feature, grass lawns, and a flagpole for each member of the Commonwealth. The interior of the building consists of a dramatic open space, covered in a tent-like concrete shell, with tiered exhibition spaces linked by walkways. Despite its iconic status the building fell into disuse and began to deteriorate. As it was a listed building plans to demolish it were always resisted. Now the garden is a building site, but the ‘tent in the Park’ has retained its original shape without the copper. Still I thought it was looking good and hopefully will provide an exciting new home for the Design Museum.
Kensington High Street is not the fashion centre it used to be – most of that has, I suspect, moved to Westfield just over a mile away. Would it be too much to hope that more independent shops will start of open up along this important thoroughfare. Certainly one has, and an unusual one at that. The shop is an old fashioned hardware store called Skillman and sons. The original Skillman and sons was opened by Alfred Daniel Skillman in 1900. What a super name for someone selling tools. The store was famous for selling everything from watering cans to musical instruments. Today at Skillmans, you will find some of the best hand tools from around the world, together with top quality hardware and ironmongery from the U.K, as well as the most functional cleaning products made from all over Europe and the rest of the world. Would it be too much to hope that more independent shops might open along this important thoroughfare. Certainly one has, and an unusual one at that. The shop is an old fashioned hardware store called Skillman and sons. The original Skillman and sons was opened by Alfred Daniel Skillman in 1900. What a super name for someone selling tools. The store was famous for selling everything from watering cans to musical instruments. Today at Skillmans, you will find some of the best hand tools from around the world, together with top quality hardware and ironmongery from the U.K, as well as the most functional cleaning products made from all over Europe and the rest of the world. See http://www.skillmanandsons.co.uk
I am not referring to the journalist, Martin Bell, who stood for Parliament some years ago but to a solicitor who had an office close to West London Magistrates Court. This was before it moved to being in the shadow of the Hammersmith Flyover. I had only just started working for another local solicitor’s practice as the second string advocate, when the outdoor clerk, a Welsh lady who liked a drink or two or may be three, told me I needed to meet Bob.
‘He’s really good looking, and single,’ she said acknowledging my own status. And so he was, six feet tall, a mop of dark hair and a sonorous voice with just a trace of an accent I recognised as being like my own. He was one of the many Lancastrians who had moved to London hoping to make their fortune in the big city.
When the court doors opened in the morning, the outdoor clerk would dash across the road to see if any of our regular clients were in the cells, and to try and get our share of the unrepresented prisoners. She would then come back into the office and prepare a list of the cases we had to cover. There were two courtrooms in the building and I was meant to do the shorter list, usually with the less serious cases and the man who was the main advocate would do the more important ones. It never seemed to work out that way and I found myself covering most of the work in both courts, which brought me into contact with the ‘man in the white suit.’
Actually it wasn’t his usual choice of dress, he normally wore a grey or navy blue pinstripe, but sometimes in the summer and when he wanted to make a dramatic entrance into court, he wore white. I liked Bob, but quickly worked out that he was not the man for me; far too eccentric.
However we worked well together in the courtroom even though we were competitors for business. A long list of clients meant there was too little time to see them all before the stipendiary magistrate came into court. Bob and I learnt to work the list officer so that our cases were not listed consecutively and so allowing a little time to see a client who had not yet appeared.
Cases in the magistrates’ court can be very amusing, and West London had its quota of fun, often provided by the homeless men who lived on and around Shepherds Bush Green. They were usually brought before the court for being drunk and disorderly, and although we wouldn’t be paid both Bob and I often addressed the court on their behalf. One man, it was impossible to tell his age from his appearance, he was so unkempt in a dirty mac, torn green sweater and a once white shirt was before the court for stealing a tin of salmon. He was one of Bob’s clients and this was one of his white suit days. The contrast could not have been more striking.
The defendant pleaded guilty to the theft and Bob stood up to mitigate on his behalf. He was immediately interrupted by the Magistrate, ‘Your client has been in prison too many times. What am I going to do with him? Send him back for a tin of salmon?’
‘That’s exactly what I am asking you to do. The last time he was in custody, he got his teeth seen to. The upper jaw. He’d like to go back to get his lower ones sorted out. That’s why he stole the tin of salmon. He needs a sentence of a least three months for the prison service to sort that out,’ said Bob.
He got his three months. Whether he got his teeth sorted out, I don’t know because that winter he died of exposure, and it was me and Bob together with the list officer who organised a whip round to pay for his funeral.