Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Frustrations of Being a Magistrate: Episode 3: Inefficient Management of Bail Breaches

Deciding on the bail status of a defendant is quite possibly one of the most important roles of the Magistrates' Court.

Stood before the court is a defendant who has not yet been convicted of the offence with which they are charged. There are a multitude of factors that need to be carefully considered before the court arrives at its decision to either grant bail, with or without conditions, or to remand the defendant in custody.

Anyone unfamiliar with the Magistrates' Court bail process is invited to consult our earlier whistle-stop tour of the subject. The primary legislation relating to bail is the Bail Act 1976.

Frustration 1: Bail Time Limits
As mentioned in our earlier article, under section 7 of the Act the police have 24 hours to produce before the court anyone arrested for breaching their bail conditions. It would appear that the police sometimes struggle to achieve this within the allocated time limits.

In a rural area, with a sparse distribution of courts and police custody suites, it might take several hours to transport an alleged breacher to the police station and book them into custody. In those circumstances it would be unlikely they'd appear before the court on the same day. Any difficulties or delays the following morning might mean they cannot be produced within the 24 hour time limit.

What do the police do in those circumstances? I hear you ask. Well, what they cannot do is hold on to the individual for any longer than 24 hours in the hope of bumping them into the next available court. To do that would amount to unlawful detention. The police's preferred course of action is to release the detained person with words of advice (e.g. make sure you comply with your conditions, because next time we might get you to court in time).

There is nothing more frustrating than sitting on the Bench of a remand court and being told that Mr Bloggs on the list won't now be attending because he has been released due to time or transport constraints. It is even worse if Mr Bloggs is accused of a serious or violent offence, or has committed such offences previously.

Frustration 2: Ineffective Communication
In the not too distant past I was sitting on the Bench of a Monday morning remand court. On our list was a defendant arrested for breaching his bail conditions.

The defendant had appeared at the Crown Court the previous Friday and the Judge had decided to vary his conditions of bail by removing an exclusion requirement. Unfortunately the CPS prosecutor present at the Crown Court had failed to notify the police of the change.

That weekend the man was arrested for breaching the exclusion requirement that had been removed by the Judge. He was downstairs in the cells ready to appear before us, when the prosecutor in our court got the news that he hadn't actually been in breach and should never have been arrested.

After a series of embarrassing phone calls the man was released from custody. No doubt he went straight to see a solicitor about making a claim for his unlawful detention.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

GPS Location Monitoring in Practice

We're now several months into GPS location monitoring in my area and my first impressions are very positive.

For those that don't already know, a GPS enabled ankle tag can now be fitted to anyone released on conditional bail or sentenced to a community or suspended sentence order. Data from the tag can be used to monitor the wearer's compliance with curfew and exclusion requirements imposed by the court.

Over the last couple of months I have been a strong advocate of the new technology and collectively, as a Bench, we have used it to good effect on several occasions. Until the introduction of the GPS tagging there was a certain degree of trust that anyone subject to exclusion requirements would actually comply with them. Now there is the reassurance that anyone stepping even a few metres into their excluded area will be detected, arrested and brought back before the court.

A couple of weeks ago I was in a remand court when one such transgressor appeared in the secure dock before us.

He had been the passenger in a vehicle that was travelling along a main road that bounded his excluded area. The driver of the vehicle had pulled up at the side of the road and nipped into a shop to buy a paper. The GPS tagged passenger, thinking nothing about it, took the opportunity to buy some chewing gum from the same shop.

By unwittingly entering the shop, therefore encroaching only 4 or 5 metres into his excluded area, a breach was detected by the system. A few hours later the police turned up and the man was arrested for breaching his bail conditions. After a sobering night in the cells he was stood before us the following morning.

The man immediately admitted the breach and was seemingly contrite for his lapse in judgement. Given that we had a map showing his exact movements to the nearest few paces, he couldn't plausibly have denied it. As this was the man's first breach and seemingly accidental we were content to re-bail him on the same conditions, with a few words of advice about the sensitivity and reliability of device he was wearing.

In that same court a second man appeared in custody, having been arrested a couple of days earlier and charged with a very serious (non-violent) indictable offence. He chose to withhold his plea until his appearance at the Crown Court the week after Christmas.

This man was lightly convicted and had nothing of note in the last five years. In the distant past he had failed to surrender to bail on a couple of occasions - this, coupled with the severity of the charge at hand, persuaded the CPS to make an application to have him remanded in custody.

Despite the defendant's lack of plea, his solicitor told us that he was under no illusions that he would be facing a significant period in custody. He wanted to spend Christmas with his family, as he realised it would be the last opportunity to do so for several years.

The defence solicitor asked that we grant his client bail with strict conditions, instead of remanding him in custody and separating him from his family during the festive period. We were also reminded of the defendant's prima facie right to bail, given that the charge in hand related to an alleged offence that was not committed whilst on bail.

Prior to the introduction of GPS tagging it would have been almost inconceivable that he would have been released on bail. Having carefully weighed up both the Crown and defence positions, we decided that strict conditions could be imposed that would allow his movements to be very closely monitored.

In this case we imposed strict GPS monitoring and police reporting requirements that would effectively confine him to his home town. Of course should he breach those conditions colleagues on the next Bench are unlikely to be as understanding.

It is reassuring that this new tool gives the court greater freedom and reassurance when granting bail or imposing community or suspended sentence orders.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Blackpool Man Convicted of Animal Cruelty for Cropping Dog's Ears

A Blackpool man has been convicted of animal cruelty for having the ears of his dog cropped.

Simon Broscombe, 35, of Bela Grove, Blackpool, admitted one charge of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal, contrary to section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

He also admitted charges of allowing another person to carry out a prohibited procedure on an animal, contrary to section 5 of the Act, and failing to ensure the welfare of an animal, contrary to section 9 of the Act.

District Judge Jane Goodwin, sitting at Blackpool Magistrates' Court on Wednesday, 27th November 2019, heard that Broscombe had the ears of six-month-old puppy Tyson cut into points to give him a more "street cred" look.

As a result of information received, the RSPCA was granted a warrant under section 23 of the Act. The RSPCA and police executed the warrant at Broscombe's property on 19th March 2019.

The court heard how Broscombe, when confronted by RSPCA inspector Amy McIntosh, grabbed his phone and tried to delete WhatsApp pictures of Tyson from it.

However, the investigators traced messages from Broscombe, with one stating: "...with big floppy ears. He not the kind of dog I want."

Pictures were also found of Tyson with his ears intact.

RSPCA prosecutor Paul Ridehalgh said: "This dog is a cross between an American pit bull and American staffie.

"The investigators found pictures of Tyson with his ears intact and the defendant knew that ear cropping in the UK is illegal.

"Owners want cropped ears because it makes the animal more intimidating.

"These ears were mutilated and [Broscombe] would not say who did it which obstructed the RSPCA investigating."

Broscombe paid £2,000 for Tyson, who was born in Holland. He described the dog as 'his pride and joy', and forked out £3,000 for a solid gold collar.

Trevor Colebourne, mitigating, said: "My client bought the dog via a breeder thinking it had had his ears cropped in Holland before being brought into the UK.

"He would not name the person who carried out the procedure as he had been given a threat to keep his mouth shut and not be a grass."

Sentencing Broscombe, Judge Goodwin told him: "Despite your claim to be a responsible animal lover you became involved in a seedy operation which was a deliberate attempt to cause suffering.

"You will not name the vet you claim was involved and this dog will have suffered for up to five days."

Broscombe was sentenced to 12 weeks' custody, suspended for 18 months. He was ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work and pay £600 in prosecution costs and £115 victim surcharge.

An order was imposed banning him from keeping animals for a minimum of seven years.

Ownership of Tyson was transferred to the RSPCA.

RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: "Ear cropping is a process where ears are removed or surgically altered, usually for the purposes of appearance.

"We do not believe dogs should be mutilated for cosmetic purposes and we'd urge people not to buy a dog with cropped ears as - whether the process was carried out here or overseas - they still will have undergone this very painful process."

Salford Care Workers Convicted of Abusing Dementia Patients

Two callous care workers have been convicted of abusing dementia patients at a Salford residential care home.

Abana Arshad, 23, of Crumpsall, denied a charge of ill-treating a person without mental capacity, but was convicted after her recent trial at Manchester Magistrates' Court.

Amy Greenhalgh, 24, of Eccles, admitted the same charge at an earlier hearing.

Ill-treating or wilfully neglecting a person without mental capacity is an offence under section 44 of the Mental Health Capacity Act 2004.

The offence has a maximum penalty of 26 weeks' custody and/or an unlimited fine on summary conviction; 5 years' custody and/or an unlimited fine on conviction on indictment.

The pair worked at Laburnum Court Care Home in Salford, which offers around the clock nursing care for elderly residents with complex medical and mental health needs.

The specimen charges relate to incidents that took place on 15th July 2018, when the pair were working together on Laburnum Court's specialist 31-bed elderly mentally inform (EMI) unit.

District Judge James Hatton heard that the despicable duo loaded their pockets with gravel to later hurl at their victims. As the gravel rained down the pair laughed and used their mobile phones to capture the distress caused.

Arshad and Greenhalgh are thought to have targeted up to seven of Laburnum Court's elderly residents. They carried out the abuse behind the backs of the unsuspecting colleagues, who were acting professionally and in the residents' best interests.

Workers at Laburnum Court had made the unusual discovery of gravel on the floors of several of the residents' rooms. The mystery was finally unravelled when Arshad was observed filling her pockets with gravel from the driveway outside.

Fearing they were about to be exposed, the pair tried to shift the blame towards some of the residents and branded a senior colleague a "crackhead" in an attempt to discredit their concerns. They also conspired with each other to delete incriminating posts from Facebook and footage from their mobile phones.

In a Facebook exchange Greenhalgh said: "Someone's reported us about stones being thrown."

Arshad responded: "Are you for real? You can't trust anyone in work I swear. Haha. Just say Jack threw something at Cindy. Delete it all off your phone to be on the safe side."

Greenhalgh added: "Did we get all the stones off the floor in the rooms?"

Abana replied: "Don't think anybody will clock that. I'll back you."

A senior Laburnum Court colleague told the court: "One pair of rolled up gloves was thrown at a female resident called Cindy and she thought another male resident called Jack had thrown it and a verbal altercation then broke out between them.

"But it was either Abana or Amy who threw as one admitted it to another carer.

"Later on Jack was in the garden shouting out in what I would assume to be pain. He was saying 'ow' and he became physically aggressive.

"One of the other carers was not able to bring him into the lounge and this was being recorded and Amy and Abana where in the back laughing and recording on the phone in the back of the lounge.

"Later when I went outside on a break I saw Abana, stand up from bending down and put something into her pocket. A couple of stones dropped out of her hand and she put her hands into her pockets and returned through the main entrance.

"Upon returning one of the other residents was shouting: "Stop it. Why are you doing that? Get away". It was over and over again and she was quite distressed.

"Abana and Amy were both there in the doorway of her room. I went into the lady's room and there was some stones on the floor under her chair on in her lap.

"I spoke to her but she wasn't able to tell me what had happened so, I just reassured her. Then I could hear the resident next door shouting: "Stop doing that. Don't throw them at me, don't throw them at me".

"I went into her room and there were stones on the floor. I asked Abana and Amy what they where doing but they were just laughing and didn't give me proper reasons.

"There was a comment made one of the other residents who had been in bed and she tried to chase both of them when they threw stones at her. Abana threw a stone and then blamed another resident."

Robert Stevenson, a mental health nurse at Laburnum Court, said: "I was working in my office and a member of staff came into the office and said she had just witnessed two members of staff throwing stones at residents and filming them.

"Abana had left the building already but I asked for Amy to come to the office to talk to her. I was told Abana had thrown a glove at another resident and I said a report would have to be done and I escorted Amy off the premises.

"I spoke to Cindy and she said somebody threw a glove and there was lots of laughing.

"She said it upset her a bit but as people were laughing she assumed it was "okay." I did know that one members of night staff did say she found some stones in some of the rooms that these events had alleged took place in.

Ashad and Greenhalgh were arrested and interviewed by the police, but gave conflicting accounts and tried to blame each other for the incidents.

District Judge James Hatton said: "Both defendants provided care for people who had mental impairments. They lacked any capacity and not be able to defend themselves.

"Both these defendant lied in interview and blamed each other, two colleagues and sought to shift responsibility onto other residents.

"They clearly knew what they were doing was wrong and amounted to ill treatment. What other inference could I possibly draw from people that are throwing stones and laughing at people they should be caring for.

"Both were present, both were involved and both laughed. They are as guilty as one another and they stand convicted and at risk of an immediate custodial sentence."

Ashad and Greenhalgh will be sentenced next month and the Judge kept all sentencing options open.