My view from the Magistrates’ Court dock by Tracey McMahon
My purgatory was to last for nine months. A week after I was interviewed by the police, I received a phone call from the PC who had interviewed me. She requested that I sign a form authorising the police to make further enquiries. If this turned out as I had relayed the story in my statement, then there would be what is known as, an NFA (No further action) I arranged to go into the police station the following week to sign the form.
Here’s the thing. As any conscious offender will tell you, I use the word ‘conscious’ for a reason. This is because I was now beginning to wrestle with my conscience. One of the allegations was false, of this there was no doubt. (It’s a long shot asking people to believe me, I mean come on – I’m a criminal right?) The other allegation was true. I made sure the sand was keeping my ears warm for sure. I was planning my wedding and nothing was going to stop that, least of all a criminal charge. Here’s a picture of my rings. Beautiful eh?
After signing the form at the police station, life moved on and as I watched my phone each and every day and shook every time it rang, I began to relax as the weeks went by and I heard nothing from the police.
On the 27th August, I was hanging out the laundry as the postman walked into the garden and handed me that day’s mail. I saw this envelope and it was then, call it a sixth sense, I knew what was inside the envelope. The Crown Prosecution Service was charging me. I was summonsed to appear before the local Magistrates’ Court to answer the charges put before me. I had never been formally arrested. There’s no need for that in today’s modern-day provision of ‘services’
On the 18th October at 9.30am I entered the Magistrates’ Court and went through the scanner while the court security guard had a quick poke through my handbag. I had at this point instructed a solicitor and told him prior to the court hearing I was pleading Not Guilty. If I pleaded Guilty to one charge, he would attempt to get the false allegation dropped. I wasn’t having that, I wanted it my way and I set about my own investigation. It was at this point for the first time I was to see the transcription of my police interview. I was handed the paper work and I couldn’t believe what I was faced with. Now, I don’t know what the criterion is for entering the police service these days, but I’d expect them to at least be able to write. Or even worse, if an administrator had written up my interview then he or she deserves to be fired on grounds of gross misconduct. This document to my knowledge was to be placed before a jury of my peers and was my defence. It looked like I didn’t give a shit, that I didn’t care and where I’d answered “yes” during the interview, it had been written “yeah” It was frankly an appalling display of our mother tongue. The prosecution’s evidence against me was even harder to understand. Their photocopier had clearly run out of ink and their girl Friday must have copied that on a Friday afternoon at 4:58pm and couldn’t be arsed to do it all again. It was a piece of paper which presented nothing. Even my solicitor had the grace to be a little bit embarrassed as I looked at him in horror before I launched into a diatribe of how shit we are in the UK at teaching our secondary school children their own language and was it any wonder that the rest of Europe laughed at our inability to speak and write our own language never mind theirs.
As I was seated in the court waiting area, I watched those around me. It was like watching an episode of Shameless (incidentally, the TV show Shameless was based on a sink estate where I grew up and was the very town in which I was sitting in the Magistrates court of) as people with various colours of track suits sailed past me dragging children with snotty noses behind them. There were mothers, fathers, grannies, brothers and sisters with members of their family who were ‘up’ for ‘stuff’ I’ve never seen as much snot in my whole life and I’ve cried buckets. I vowed next time I was in there I would be taking a box of tissues to wipe brats’ disgusting noses. Likely I’d get a clout or a profanity edged comment thrown at me, but its snot. I hate the stuff.
I asked the woman next to me if she would like a coffee. The coffee was 30p per plastic cup of shit. Whoever passes that off as coffee should be reported to Trading Standards. She looked terrified and I could tell she was on her own. She then broke down in tears as she told me her whole sorry tale of why she was there. I still speak with that lady today. I have helped her with her CV, written cover letters for her and she is now working for a pharmaceutical company and was given a conditional discharge for her crime. Oddly enough, which we laugh about now, she thought I was her solicitor.
Finally, my snot-induced nightmare was to come to an end. I was called through to Court No. 1. I know that Court No. 1 is serious business. I was told amongst the snot. Comments such as “You’re obviously in the shit if you’re in that court” and “the press are always in there”. Well, the press were. I’m a scriber; I know when someone’s writing in a hurry. We were told to rise as the three Magistrates entered the room. Everyone else sat down, so did I. Moments later I was asked to stand as my name was read out and I answered the charges which were put to me. I remember listening as the Prosecutor read out the charges. I was then asked to enter my plea. I spoke calmly but clearly. Not Guilty. This was my Plea Hearing. The Magistrates’ bench consisted of two females who were separated by the male in the middle; it was all frightfully proper. I remember looking at the three Magistrates and thinking these people are, for the next few minutes, going to decide what was going to happen to me in the next few moments. The Prosecution had applied for conditional bail. Now, I’m not a lawyer, but the charges were from 2011 and it was October 2012, I’d turned up. Any person who was not devoid of any intelligence could clearly see that I was hardly a flight risk. Equally, the chances of me contacting my victim were slim. Had I been in the business of contacting him, trust me, I’d have been standing there answering a charge of murder. My immediate thought was that they were going to put a tag on my ankle. Still, it was winter so at least no person would see it. My solicitor won the argument and I was granted unconditional bail. The Prosecutor was clearly new and very young. She stumbled with her words a little. I felt for her. I couldn’t help it. I wanted to go up to her and say “you’ll be fine” Odd thought process, given the scenario.
Finally, a date was set for a committal hearing. In six weeks I was summoned to go through it all again. We all stood up again as the Magistrates left the court room. I have visions of them going into their little room at the back and commenting “She doesn’t look the type” and the other two shaking their heads, acquiescing. I’d heard stories in the waiting room among my “new friends” about Magistrates’ comments. One lad sticks in my mind, “I was told last time that if I was brought before the bench again, I’d be going down” he claimed. I was expecting a huge bollocking, don’t ask me why. I don’t know. Not the case, I was treated with impassion and as far as I am concerned, that’s absolutely okay.
It was to be another six months before I appeared at Crown Court. I had my committal hearing (yes more snot and I did take the tissues. I also managed to leave with my face intact)
I can write with humour about the situation but there is nothing more humbling than being charged with a criminal offence. It was a humbling experience when I came face to face with people I’d likely have crossed the street to avoid previously. We all had something in common. We had been charged with a crime. It’s so hard to define my true feelings. It was the day my life began to unravel. I draw again on people in my life who have pulled me back from brinkmanship so many times. “If you cannot feel Tracey, you must hurt” That hurt started, like a pressure cooker with the lid on. Round and round in my head I went. Turmoil and torment were simmering nicely under the lid. I met myself again. Everything I had pushed away deep in the very core of my mind began to rise and catch up with the cold, hard, impassionate woman that stared back at me every morning. That’s what lying did to me. I justified my lies with never having to feel the guilt.
Guilt is a killer. It twisted me, it changed my moral compass and drove me to hurt the people I love. With the same impassion I’d been shown by the Magistrates’ that day, I lied to myself, to my fiancé, to my defence team and I was to continue lying… for six months.
Those lies were to cost me everything. Home. Fiancé. Friends. Father.B rother. The final knife I stuck into myself and twisted incessantly, I’d lost the chance to rebuild anything with my children.
I’ve been in a “system” since being a child. Back in 1977, I’d stood in a county court as a nine-year old, explaining in only the way a nine-year old can, how my mother was neglecting me. I watched my parents rip chunks out of each other over me. Of course, that wouldn’t happen today. Then 25 years later I was to stand in a front of a Family Law Judge fighting for my children. I’m pretty used to “systems” I’ve been in the High Court with a Family Law barrister. I’m a system slut in all honesty. I’ve been around the “systems” of the UK for the majority of my life.
Now, I was in the Criminal Justice System.
By Tracey McMahon
About the author: Tracey McMahon is a 45 year, copy writer/transcriber/translator. She has been convicted of a criminal offence and is currently serving her sentence.