Life at the Bar – Never Call Mother.
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Identification issues used to be a frequent problem for the courts. The case of George Davies highlighted how unreliable an eyewitness can be. As an aside a friend of mine was involved with the Free George Davies campaign and was one of those who dug up the cricket pitch at Headingley just before a test […]
Life at the Bar – Three is Murder part 2.
The trial was to take place at the Old Bailey and the Crown main’s evidence was that of the Professor. Although he had never seen Enid he wrote a full report on her and the dead children, dismissing the results of the post mortems and concluding she had murdered all three children. The silk leading me wasn’t over impressed but he didn’t think we could object to the report being presented to the court. We also sought the advice of one of the most experienced forensic pathologists in the country. He thought the Professor’s report was probably correct. We had a conference with him to try and see if there was any way of disputing it. One of the features of the case was that all the children were very premature.
‘Is it possible that being born prematurely would make them more susceptible to being the victim of SIDS?’ I said. I asked the question because I had been recently diagnosed with late onset asthma and my GP had asked me if I was premature. When I confirmed I was, she said there was a link between poor lung function and asthma. Also a friend of mine had a young child who was very premature and I knew he still had a number of problems.
‘The children wouldn’t have been discharged from hospital if there had been any risk,’ the pathologists said. The QC nodded his agreement.
It began to look as if there would be no defence to the case. However the psychiatrist’s report from the secure unit described Enid as having an IQ of 65, very low indeed. Additionally she had no sense of reality and confabulated all the time. That meant she told lies and she remembered her lies better than the truth. Their view was that her admissions to the social worker and the police were unreliable. Without the admissions the prosecution case was reliant on the Professor who didn’t examine either the children or Enid and was in conflict with the evidence of the pathologists who had carried out the post mortem.
The prosecution had their own psychiatrists examine Enid and they too came to the conclusion the admissions could not be relied on. The prosecution was dropped and Enid acquitted on all three counts of murder.
That wasn’t the end. When Enid gave birth to her fourth child the baby was taken into care and the subsequent care proceedings in the Family Courts confirmed that decision. The judge found on a balance of probabilities she had killed her children, but of course he was relying on the Professor’s theory which has been discredited.
So did she kill her children? What about the low IQ of both Enid and her husband? In addition the children were all born prematurely; what role did that play? Both Enid and her husband smoked – a known factor in SIDS. Then they were very poor and that too may have meant Enid could not afford the new mattresses, a recommendation to reduce the risk of cot deaths. Enid was probably incapable of raising a small child but a finding of killing your child must be very difficult to recover from.
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.
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 – 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 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 – The Rapist from Iran
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.
The Fatal Step
This is the working title of my new novel and so far I am about half way through the first draft. Some how the summer has not been conducive to writing – who wants to be stuck in front of a computer when the sun is shining outside. I think too, I am rather daunted by the task I have set myself. I didn’t think about it with Crucial Evidence. I’d started that as part of my dissertation for my MA and I just kept going until I’d finished. Then I drafted and redrafted without thinking, each time telling myself that this time it would work and when I sent it to agents someone would love. They didn’t and I began to realize that it wasn’t my writing that was the real problem but the type of book I wanted to write. Also talking to agents at places like Winchester Writers’ Conference and at The London Book Fair I knew any publisher would want a series of novels and I didn’t want to be tied to writing a book a year. In the end I decided to publish the book myself. In the process I’ve learnt at lot about writing and publishing, but that makes the mountain I have to climb much higher and harder than the first. I know how long it takes and how difficult it can be.
But you have to begin somewhere so this is the first page of my second novel. It follows the career of barrister Cassie Hardman as she gets her first leading brief in a murder case.
‘As Cassie hurried along the driveway from Snaresbrook Crown Court towards the tube station, she turned on her mobile phone. Amongst the emails from fashion houses, department stores and restaurants, there was a message showing the subject matter as Paul Sadler. He had been the defendant in a rape trial, who she had successfully defended at the Old Bailey the week before last. She didn’t recognise the name of the sender, Malcolm Delaney. Normally she was very careful about opening emails from unknown people but it was from someone who knew about her involvement in the Sadler case. She clicked the message open and read, ‘Miss Hardman, I wanted to congratulate you on your representation of Mr Sadler. Your cross examination was very effective and your closing remarks were obviously persuasive. Clearly they carried the jury along, as you know from the verdict. I would like the opportunity of congratulating you in person, and would like to invite you to have lunch or dinner with me. We can arrange a time and place later. I look forward to hearing from you. Malcolm’
The email gave no clue as to how Malcolm Delaney, knew she had represented Paul Sadler or what Delaney’s connection to the case was. Was he a police officer, a member of the court staff or just a spectator from the public gallery? She knew there were a number who came regularly to watch the proceedings at the Bailey; the staff described them as ‘groupies’ and she had been told by one of the ushers that some of them would ask which barristers were appearing in which court and make a point of watching their favourites’ cases. The wording of the message was a little old fashioned so perhaps it was one of them. The thought that one of the men from the gallery wanted to invite her to dinner amused her, but nothing more.
Back in Chambers, the senior clerk, Jack, summoned her into his room and closed the door behind her. On his desk were four lever arch files, tied with pink tape, the front sheet bore the title R v David Winston Montgomery. Jack beamed at her. ‘I’ve managed to get you a leading brief in a murder at the Bailey. I assume you’ll want to apply for silk in a couple of years. This is a good one; you’re ready for it, even though it’s a murder. None of the silks want this. Scared they’ll get tarred with a racist brush, I dare say. A woman won’t of course. Judge Crabtree is in a bit of a panic thinking the defendant might want to represent himself. I said, to Colin in the list office, my Miss Hardman can handle it. Spoke to Tim. Didn’t take long to persuade him you could do it. So there you are a leading brief in a murder.’
Any comments to make about that so important first page.
Old Bailey London
My novel Crucial Evidence is set in the London with which I was very familiar. Until a few years ago I was often working at the Central Criminal Court, more commonly known as the Bailey to the lawyers who work in there. The original Edwardian building houses the famous Number 1 Court and the hall with its painted ceiling. Next to that, opened in 1970 by the then Lord Mayor of London, is a newer building in which the courtroom 12, where much of my novel takes place, is situated. My journey to work was by Central Line Tube from Notting Hill Gate to St Paul’s. The map shows where the Old Bailey is on the edge of the City of London.
I would walk along Newgate Street to the Old Bailey which is the name of the street which gives its name to the court. Quite often, when a terrorist trial was taking place the police would hold the traffic and pedestrians back at the junction with Warwick Lane to allow the prison van to sweep into the yard of the court. They would be dressed in bullet proof vests and carrying guns. I thought it was a bit stupid to hold up to twenty people where they would be in the line of fire if anyone tried to free the prisoners. The police may have prevented the escape but they risked a number of dead bystanders.
I wanted to see if the area had changed since I had last been there and if, when I described the places my main character, barrister Cassie Hardman would see on her journeys around the area, they were the same as I remembered them. In the novel Cassie stands in the Bailey looking out onto a wet street scene. She describes the cobbles of Seacoal Lane glistening in the rain. If you look at the map, the lane has vanished into the middle of an office block. In another scene she looks sees the spire of St Brides Church – the journalist’s place of worship – now a new building under construction will hide it from view, if it has not already done so.
I will have to do some editing when I come to the part in may next novel, whose working title is The Fatal Step where Cassie is looking out of the windows of the Bailey. At the moment as she gazes across the city the spire of St Brides in sparkling sunlight, but it will not be visible so instead she’ll have to look at the glass of the building opposite. But at least it was worth while going to London and walking around to see these changes for myself and, of course see how or when I can work them into my story. I’ll continue my walk along Fleet Street another time, but there have been changes there as well. Creating that sense of place in a novel really does rely on knowing the streets scenes you are writing and there is nothing like walking around with a camera and capturing it to take back to your desk.