Kings Cross in London in 1993 was a well known as a place to buy or sell drugs. In order to clean up the area the police began an operation known as Operation Welwyn. Undercover officers posed as buyers and when they were offered drugs the person selling was arrested and charged with offences under The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. They used video cameras in fixed positions and also in vans. Many people were arrested in the course of this operation and it resulted in a number of trials. There is a fine line when undercover officers make such a purchase between encouraging the crime and trapping a defendant, which is illegal, and simply taking advantage of the dealer’s willingness to supply the drugs.
My client, Angela was of mixed race and in her mid-twenties. She was charged with one offence of supplying cocaine in the form of crack. The police officers said they had bought cocaine from her. Angela was filmed meeting the two officers and going to a telephone booth. According to the officers they paid her for drugs and she handed them over when they gave her two twenty pound notes. That transfer of drugs and money was obscured by a large traffic sign pointing the way to Cambridge and The North. There was no question that it was anyone other than the defendant. She was clearly identifiable wearing a denim jacket and her long hair tied up with a brightly coloured ribbon.
Angela was arrested some time later. This was to avoid others being alerted to the ongoing operation. When she was interviewed she denied supplying drugs to the police officer but said she made a telephone call to another person who could have supplied the police woman with cocaine. If that was the truth then she would still have been guilty of the offence but on a different basis, although it raised the issue of entrapment. Legal argument on that point was resolved by the Crown agreeing that the jury could only return a verdict of guilty on the grounds that Angela had sold cocaine to the officers.
When the two police officers gave evidence they said they had spoken to Angela on the street and asked to buy drugs from her. She had suggested the deal took place in the telephone booth and they had followed her but had stood outside while she took the drugs out of her handbag. They had handed her two twenty pound notes in exchange for the crack. The numbers of the notes had been recorded, but none were found in Angela’s possession. The Crown’s explanation was she had spent it between the offence being committed and her arrest.
Although the traffic sign obscured not only the telephone booth but the two officers as well, I could follow their shadows as they crossed the pavement. At no time had they approached the telephone booth, instead, after they had spoken to Angela they had walked towards a pedestrian crossing where they became visible on the film. They were unable to explain their movements when I cross examined them.
The Judge trying the case became so interested that on his way home he drove to Kings Cross to see for himself the location of the traffic sign and the telephone booth. He summed up for an acquittal and Angela was found not guilty.
This story along with others appears in the very slim volume Trials and Errors.
I have just received the proof copy of a slim – anorexic actually – volume of tales from my Life at the Bar. It includes some of my blog posts and some new stories. The front cover shows the colonnades between Inner and Middle Temple built after WW2 when the building on that site, if my recollection is right it was called Fig Court, was destroyed along with Inner Temple Hall by enemy action.
There is also the first chapter of my novel Crucial Evidence.
The book is already available on Amazon without the final proof reading and will be available for your Kindle on 24th October. I hope you enjoy this little book.
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.
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.
One of my favourite books is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Indeed it was the first book on the reading list when I began to study law at the University of Sheffield. In it Esther Summerson describes going into Old Square Lincoln’s Inn ‘we passed into sudden quietude under an old gateway, and drove on through a silent square..’ and in The Mystery of Edwin Drood the change as one passes into the Inns of Court in this case Staple Inn is evoked in these words – ‘It is one of those nooks the turning into of which out of the clashing street imparts to the relieved pedestrian the sensation of having put cotton in his ears and velvet on the soles of his boots.’
I’m not sure it is so quiet these days but walking into Middle Temple towards Fountain Court one does leave much of the bustle of modern London at the entrance. Today the gateway under the sign of the Knights Templars is guarded by a modern barrier to prevent any entry by motor vehicles. It does look rather incongruous.
There is a small shop at the entrance that is now the premises of Thresher and Glenny Tailors and Outfitters for three hundred years, the blackboard proclaims along with the boast that they were the inventors of the Trench Coat and through the window I could see a khaki coloured coat looking rather battered as if it had lived through two world wars, as indeed it may have.
As I walked down Middle Temple Lane where my imaginary Burke Court is set squeezed in between other sets of Chambers, rather like platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross nothing has changed for two centuries, although I suspect it is rather cleaner than it was. I did see a noticeboard with posters warning about terrorist threats, thefts and events in Middle Temple Gardens; similar lunches may well have been enjoyed in the Garden, indeed the Inns were known for their conviviality, but City of London Police posters would not have been evident until recently.
In Fountain Court, where John Westlock woos Ruth Pinch in Martin Chuzzlewit, the fountain splashes into the round stone basin, the mulberries stain the ground around it and a young man eats his lunchtime sandwich from a Pret A Manger carrier bag.
I have described The Temple in the following passage taken from my novel, Crucial Evidence-
‘Cassie’s chambers were at 3 Burke Court, part of that area of London inhabited by lawyers for centuries and known as The Temple. Walking through the arch bearing the Pascal Lamb, was like time travelling; each time, she was stepping out of the tumult of the twenty-first century into the ordered calm of the eighteenth. She was reminded of her home town, where similar Georgian buildings surrounded the castle, built by John O’Gaunt, which remained a centre of law and punishment, judges and offenders at its heart. So unlike The Temple which turned its back on the bulk of the Royal Courts of Justice across the Strand, a row of the banks and sandwich shops providing a barricade to the noise of traffic and the bustle of pedestrians, and creating a sanctuary of narrow lanes and courtyards for its lawyer inhabitants.’
As I have remarked here the changes are ‘de minimis’ to quote a legal phrase.
The protagonist in my novel Crucial Evidence, Cassie Hardman walks from the Old Bailey to her chambers in Middle Temple Lane and as my novel is set in contemporary London I wanted to find out how much it had changed since the days when I took the same route. At the beginning of my career Fleet Street was the home of the newspapers. Here journalists and lawyers rubbed shoulders in the pubs and bars, although only males if El Vinos was your drinking hole of choice.
As you can see from the map along the street are some fascinating places redolent with history. I have already mentioned St Brides Church but not the Institute and Printing Library, which is attached to the church. Shoe Lane runs north and there is a library on the western side of that lane. Between Shoe Lane and Fetter Lane are a number of Courts, narrow lanes and squares of a type familiar to all who read Dickens. Dr Johnson’s House.a 300 year old town house nestles among these narrow lanes at 9 Gough Square (see http://www.drjohnsonshouse.org) On Fleet Street is the public house with which the Dr is associated ‘The Cheshire Cheese.’
On the same side of the road is the building that was occupied by the Express group of newspapers. The curve of black glass a contrast to the shop fronts next to it. It is difficult to tell what the building is used for now. I noticed a number of serviced offices being advertised. One of the old Inns of Court, Sergeants Inn has become a hotel. The photograph shows it with the ground floor hidden by the red London bus.
Some things remain the same, the signs outside the public houses, but there are now banks, coffee shops and the small stores the supermarkets have reinvented rather than the offices of newspapers. The Church on the right in the photograph of the map is St Dunstan’s in the West.
St Dunstan-in-the-West was a well-known landmark in previous centuries because of its magnificent clock. This dates from 1671, and was the first public clock in London to have a minute hand. The figures of the two giants strike the hours and quarters, and turn their heads. There are numerous literary references to the clock, including in Tom Brown’s Schooldays, the Vicar of Wakefield and a poem by William Cowper (1782):
When labour and when dullness, club in hand,
Like the two figures at St. Dunstan’s stand,
Beating alternately in measured time
The clockwork tintinnabulum of rhyme,
Exact and regular the sounds will be,
But such mere quarter-strokes are not for me.
The courtyard also contains statues of King Lud, the mythical sovereign, and his sons and Queen Elizabeth I, all of which originally stood in Ludgate. The statue of Queen Elizabeth I dates from 1586 and is the only one known to have been carved during her reign. Taken from the website http://www.stdunstansinthewest.org Here too there has been change as the church now caters to the Romanian community in the city.
El Vino’s was of course the inspiration for Pomeroys Wine Bar beloved of Rumpole in John Mortimer’s books.
One of the other changes I noticed was that the vehicles using the street were mainly the buses, taxis and the little white van. Private cars pushed out by the congestion charge no doubt. Parking was always a nightmare, very expensive and difficult to find a space.
It’s summer and here in Devon it is the time for Literary Festivals both large and small.
I spent the whole of Monday at beautiful Dartington Hall where the Ways With Words Festival has held for the last twenty years. The highlight of the day or rather highlights among so many stars were the talks by Jill Dawson and John Goodby. Jill Dawson talked about her latest book ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ and explained how she works from real life events into fiction. She talked about writing in the gaps between the known facts. I think all writers do that to a greater or lesser degree. After all facts don’t have feelings and it is in that unknown place the writer can work.
I have been trying to read Dylan Thomas’s poems from a collection I bought many years ago at the boathouse in Laugharne South Wales, where he worked. The collection says on the cover that it ‘contains most of the poems I have written, and all, up to the present year that I wish to preserve.’ The collection was published in 1952, a year before his death. I have been struggling with them so I was pleased to listen to John Goodby talking about Thomas’s use of word with multiple meanings, and his use of puns. I wanted to know if the collection was chronological as I found it hard to equate the poems I was reading (I’d got as far as Death has no Dominion) with ones like Fernhill and of course the humour in Under Milk Wood. Professor Goodby said I should wait until his annotated collection of Thomas’s poems is published in October which includes other poems and demonstrates how he developed over the years. It does make one query whether the author is the best judge of his own work? Is he too influenced by his own mood at the time?
A librarian friend commented that he thought the plot of my novel Crucial Evidence was ‘dodgy’ because he couldn’t see why the police had arrested Barker for the murder of Shelley Paulson and why they were so convinced he was guilty just on the basis of a witness identifying him as the killer. It’s an interesting comment and I have questioned myself as to why he thinks that is a fault in the plot. Is it because when a reader opens a crime novel they expect it to begin with a murder followed by a detective following up clues which lead to the identification of the killer and his arrest? Of course that is what many crime stories do, but I wanted to write something different and my story begins after the investigation has finished and at the point where lawyers have been instructed to represent Barker and the trial is about to begin. It is written from the point of view of the barrister, Cassie Hardman and she would not be concerned with why Barker was arrested only whether there was enough evidence to support a prosecution.
Do crime novels present an unrealistic view of policing and of their powers of arrest? Don’t police officers act on anonymous tip offs and informants whose names they don’t reveal? They would be criticised if they did not and programmes like Crime Watch would have little or no part to play in investigation. An identification of the perpetrator of an offence is good evidence and if the accused has admitted he was close to the scene of the murder it seems reasonable for the police to believe he is the killer. Again on the basis of that evidence the relatives of the deceased would expect the accused to the prosecuted and let the jury decide, wouldn’t they?
Colin Stagg the man accused wrongly of killing Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common was arrested because they had information he frequented the common. They arrested him and decided he was rather strange and therefore he must be guilty. There was virtually no evidence against him apart from a forensic psychologist’s assessment made on the basis of letters written to an undercover policewoman offering sex if he admitted to the crime. He did not make any admissions, but was charged with the murder because the police were convinced he was guilty. I remember well the TV shots of Rachel Nickell’s grieving parents as they were interviewed outside the Old Bailey, saying if only the jury had heard the whole story, They were clearly convinced their daughter’s murderer was walking free, and that conviction can only have come from their conversations with police officers.
Is truth stranger than Fiction?
Last night I went to a production of the Dylan Thomas play Under Milk Wood by Clwyd Theatre Cymru at the Northcott Theatre Exeter. I have always loved this play since I first heard the recording with Richard Burton playing the first voice. I rushed out to buy a copy and still have it. Last night’s production was memorable with an imaginative staging and I know has had some very good reviews. It is on tour so look at the website http://www.undermilkwoodtour.com for places and dates and go and see it if you can.
The real interest for any writer is Thomas’s use of language. Almost the first line ‘It is a spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible black, the cobblestreets silent and hunched, courters’-and rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack fishingboad-bobbing sea.’ makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The magic of a master of the English Langauge, whose descriptions paint such vivid pictures that there is no need of anything else.
And what about the imagination needed to create characters like blind Captain Cat, Rosie Probert and Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard. Apparently Thomas was worried because there was no plot, but he didn’t need one, just following the lives of these characters for a day is enough. It is the centenary of his birth this year and so it seems appropriate to dig out your copy, or if you haven’t got one, buy or borrow one, and read this magnificent work
I rewarded myself with some free time away from a computer on Friday when I went to the Exeter Food and Wine Festival. It provided some opportunities to watch people in a different environment from cafes and bars. In the large marquee’s the emphasis was all about the food. The behavior of individuals as they approached the various stalls varied; some were diffident and declined to look at whoever was manning the stall, others talked confidently about what they liked and why they were interested in a particular product. Among the crowds were the professionals looking for new products for their shops or restaurants, They listened carefully to the stall holders and also to customers who came up to buy. But the most fun was watching the professional chefs show off their skills in the cookery demonstrations. The top chefs are showmen, wielding knives as a stage prop and talking incessantly. They seemed to find it easy to build a rapport with their audience despite spending most of their time behind the scenes in their own restaurants. The one we watched Peter Gorton was a great raconteur and as he worked told tales about doing private dinners and on one occasion he had set the kitchen alight. The hostess was disappointed he hadn’t done more damage as she was trying to persuade her husband to buy a new one.
On the train home I watched a young man writing a letter -yes a real letter on real paper. When I sat opposite him, he was reading a letter written on pale cream paper with a decorated border. I assumed it was written by a young woman on notepaper given to her as a Christmas present. My imagination decided the contents were a plea to resume their relationship, a plea that from the firmness of the man’s jaw and the lack of any sparkle in his eyes I assume he was about to reject. He took from his brief case a folder containing notepaper and began to write. He was left handed and I noticed how his left hand curved round the top of the notepaper as he wrote, quite quickly from left to right. He held the pen between his thumb and forefinger with the hand above the pen. The position gave the appearance of hiding the contents of the letter as I remember children trying to protect their schoolwork from prying eyes. I recall that the word sinister comes from left handedness, and it did indeed seem a strange and secretive way of writing.
So my day out provided characters for my writing. Do other writers give themselves time just to observe?
Oh the popcorn. Well my favorite stall at the Festival was the Portlebury Popcorn Company.