How I forgot what happened in a British court in 1999 and what really happened

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog headed A Rare Case of British Justice about a court case which happened in 1999, when I had to write a character reference for someone I knew who was being prosecuted for a second time over the same incident.

‘Harry Hardwicke’ (not his real name) had been found guilty about a year before over something he had done, but had been given a sentence which the police considered too lenient.

Now, over a year later, they were prosecuting him again over the same incident.

He had been driving with his girlfriend and a male and female friend in a car. The two men were in the front; the two girls were in the back. A police car, for whatever reason, appeared behind him and signalled him to pull over. Harry was about to do this when the man beside him lifted up a small bag containing pills and said: “You can’t stop. They’ll search the car.”

Harry accelerated, pursued by the police car. They drove towards his fellow passengers’ home. The other man suddenly said: “Pull in here”. It was a narrow entry and, by the time Harry had pulled off the road, the police car had caught up with them. All four jumped out of the car and ran away. The man with the bag of pills had time to bury it under a tree.

Harry kept away for a while but, when he returned, his girlfriend and the two friends were arguing loudly with the police.

His girlfriend and the other girl had had time to talk about the situation and realised that only Harry’s girlfriend could admit to having driven the car. Harry was banned from driving; the other man was banned from driving; the other girl had no licence. So only Harry’s girlfriend could legally have driven the car.

The police believed (wrongly) that they had seen four men in the car and seen the car being driven by a man in his early 20s.

Harry and his girlfriend gave statements saying she had been driving but, in the meantime, the other man told the police Harry had been driving.

So the police were able to charge Harry with six offences: perverting the course of justice (for the false statement), driving while banned (twice), driving without insurance (twice) and failing to stop when commanded to by the police.

He faced two charges of driving while banned and two charges of driving without insurance because, in each case, the first charge referred to the occasion when he was stopped by the police. The second charge in each case was because, when he was arrested, the police found a petrol receipt in his wallet therefore, they reasoned, he must have committed the offence of driving while banned and without insurance on another occasion too.

The police had then taken the immense time, trouble and expense of going to the garage and going through the video security camera’s tape until they found pictures showing Harry buying the petrol and driving off at the time the receipt in his pocket stated (and getting into the driver’s side of the car).

The charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The police said, if they failed with this serious charge, they would then prosecute him on the less serious charges of driving while banned and driving without insurance.

In court, Harry’s solicitor was able to get the prosecutor (a young woman who lived next door to Harry’s solicitor) to drop the failing-to-stop charge.

Harry and his girlfriend pleaded guilty to attempting to pervert the course of justice; this triggers an automatic jail sentence. The girlfriend got two months in Holloway; Harry got four months in an open prison. Both got the normal 50% remission on their sentences, so they served one and two months. The lesser charges were left to lie “on file”.

Now, more than a year later, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to prosecute Harry on the lesser charges of driving while banned and driving without insurance.

Harry was sent a summons to appear in a magistrate’s court, but had been avoiding opening official-looking envelopes on the basis they might be bills which he couldn’t pay. On Saturday 2nd January 1999, he was arrested at home by police for not appearing in court. They held him in London until the Monday morning, when he was taken down to a court outside London.

So now Harry was being charged with – on two occasions – driving while banned and driving without insurance.

I wrote in my blog two weeks ago that he received a conditional discharge in court. In fact, my memory was faulty. He did not.

He appeared in court this week in 1999. At the time, I kept an electronic diary. So what follows, as written in that diary, is true:


At court with Harry Hardwicke for his sentencing. I collected him and his three children, depositing the children with his ex-wife and then carried on to the court.

Harry told me he had yet another new solicitor. The last one was busy and the founder of the firm had come out of retirement to help out, as he sometimes does. He was old, tall, thin, bald, bronzed and bright-eyed.

We had been called for 2.30pm. The case before Harry’s somehow involved a small, wiry middle-aged woman with a nervous look and curly brown hair; a teenage girl with short dyed-blonde hair; and a youth of about 18 with short mousey hair. I guessed it was a mother and her two kids. Before that case was due to restart, their solicitor came through and said to the woman: “There’s no reason for you to be nervous.” – “No,” the woman said, agreeing.

Halfway through their hearing, as Harry and I sat outside in the waiting area, the mother emerged, red-eyed, and sat with her back to us, sobbing. After a few minutes, she went back in. A few minutes later, the daughter emerged, blubbering tears and sobs and went outside sobbing. Later, she went back into court. Eventually all three emerged, shaking with emotion, the woman and girl crying. The girl was sobbing hysterically to the mother: “He won’t be able to take it. He’s already tried to top himself twice. He’ll never be able to face it.”

At this point, their solicitor emerged, ashen-faced.

“Was it me?” the mother asked him. “Was it me walking out of the court in tears?”

“No, no,” the solicitor reassured her.

“I did my best,” she sobbed on. “I gave evidence, didn’t I? I did my best.”

“Yes,” the solicitor said reassuringly. “Yes, you did.”

Then all four left the building,

“That doesn’t fill me with confidence in the softness of the magistrates,” said Harry, looking glum.

His previous solicitor had told Harry he thought he might get away with two weeks in prison plus a fine with costs awarded against him. The ‘dream outcome’ might be a community service order. The Probation Officer’s pre-trial report (they had met on Wednesday and Harry had broken down in tears during the meeting) suggested the “highly unusual option” of giving him a conditional discharge for two years.

But, in court, the magistrates rejected the Probation Officer’s report and the solicitor’s suggestions and said they were taking the “highly unusual” option of giving Harry an absolute discharge with no fine and no costs awarded against him… but they did impose a six month driving ban to start today, knowing that he is already banned from driving until June next year, so it has no practical effect.

Harry’s solicitor was gobsmacked: he said he hadn’t even attempted to argue for an absolute discharge because he didn’t think it was a possibility. He also thought the magistrates were actually wrong in law in that they could not give someone an ABSOLUTE discharge AND a driving ban, even if the ban had no practical effect because the person was already banned.

After I drove Harry home, we had a chat. He broke up with his girlfriend about a week ago (the long-term one who had been involved in the original court case).

On his own laptop, he had stumbled on an email which his girlfriend had written. It was to a female friend she had made while in prison and said she had re-met a man she had had an affair with a year ago and was again sleeping with him and liked him very much. She thought the relationship had a future etc. But she was not going to leave Harry yet. Her message said:

I am going to leave Harry not just yet but as soon as I can get myself together. I have to lie to him because I have so much to lose. I have to get myself somewhere else to live and some money into the bank.

I am seeing (she gave the boyfriend’s name) and we are both totally mad about each other. This is not why I am leaving Harry. I am leaving Harry because now I am not off my head I am now awake. I cannot continue. I gave a go. I tried to make it work, it hasn’t and now I am ready to move on.

I feel so good at the moment I can barely wait to start over. I have no idea where I am going to go or what I am going to do but I am overwhelmed. It’s weird how different life can feel if you make a change. I have no intention of telling Harry my plans. It will be better for both of us this way. I am not in a situation where I can just leave now.

All my love

x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x
x x x x

Harry told me it was her lying that took him aback because “she used to be so honest”.

He went on to me about how much money she cost him and how much he realised too late was “going up her nose”. When I said I thought the cocaine might have had something to do with her change into constant lying because it changes people’s personalities without them knowing, he did not agree – presumably because he still takes it himself.

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Filed under Legal system, Psychology

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