Fifteen years ago today – in 1999 – I had to write a statement for a court about someone I knew who was standing trial for the second time over the same incident. He had been found guilty about a year before over something he had done, but had been given a very short sentence – something the police clearly considered too lenient. Now, over a year later, they had prosecuted him again on a more serious charge related to the same incident. This is the statement I wrote. I have changed his name to Harry Hardwicke (nothing like his real name) and have blanked-out some identifying details:
I have known Harry Hardwicke for about 20 years. We worked together briefly at ***** in ***** then later at ***** in *****, ***** in ***** and ***** in *****. I have also known him personally over those years, when he had three separate long-term loving relationships, including his marriage. He has stayed friends with these ex-girlfriends. He has always been an outgoing person – ‘life and soul of the party’ is a phrase that could have been coined for Harry. I have seen him regularly but not often over the years – perhaps every three or four months so I can, perhaps more than most, see the changes in him.
When I visited ***** Open Prison where he was incarcerated for two months over the same incident he has now been charged with again, I was rather taken aback by the change I saw in Harry: he was extremely quiet and noticeably withdrawn. In my ignorance, I thought life in an open prison would be rather ‘cushy’. That was certainly not the case for him. The imprisonment and separation from his three children, on whom he dotes, had taken such a visible toll that I was shocked by the effect on him. He was also upset and concerned by his inability to be available should his mentally ‘delicate’ sister suffer one of her not-too-uncommon relapses. (Although no danger to anyone else, she has been in-and-out of mental institutions over the 20 years I have known Harry and he is, in effect, her only family member.)
As both Harry and I are British males born in the 1950s, confiding innermost thoughts to each other is not a normal thing except in extremis. But, in the months after his release from prison, he did frequently tell me in person and on the telephone how he had despaired in prison and the shame he felt as a result of having been imprisoned. He despaired to the extent of not wanting to see or be seen by anybody. I believe at one time he was almost suicidal with despair.
He seemed to be coming out of this depression in the last few months of 1998 – before this case reared its head again. He had only just started to pick up the threads of his life and his career which would certainly be broken again should he be imprisoned once more.
Two very visible effects the ***** Open Prison sentence had on his personality was to damage his normally reliable work – his concentration on release was affected by depression – and to devastatingly damage his relationship with his long-term girlfriend. His severe depression and abnormal introversion caused a very painful breakup in the relationship though they have since slowly and successfully patched things up.
Harry is petrified of going to prison again, petrified by shame and embarrassment at the effect his actions have had on his children and on the relationship in which he puts so much hope. I believe he has already suffered disproportionately for his admitted crime – certainly way beyond the intention of his original sentence.
Should his character be broken again by imprisonment, I have no doubt that these additional strains could be nothing but devastatingly harmful to his long-term relationship, enormously destabilising for his children, abnormally destructive to his career and totally destabilising for his mental condition.
Harry received a conditional discharge. A rare case of justice in the UK.
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A couple of weeks after I wrote the above, I found out it was factually incorrect. For the real outcome, see HERE.