I was behind a tinted glass screen in the public gallery and it made everyone in court look a little bit tanned – apart from the elevated judge and the defendant, both of whom could be seen over the top.
The first defendant was a portly man of about 35. He had availed himself of his employer’s company credit card and he had committed fraud to the tune of 18 thousand pounds. The Clerk of the Court read out the charge and recited the entire long number from the credit card concerned. I was surprised by this excessive detail and half expected her to ask the defendant for the expiry date and 3 digit security code before the case continued.
The portly man did a very convincing contrite face and was bailed.
A long pause ensued. I was getting used to the long pauses in court – they afforded the barristers and judge the time to catch up on their reading. They were ripping through their list at some rate and had scratched out a couple of cases for non-attendance or lack of substance. The pauses also gave the clerk and the stenographer the chance to quietly chat on a little:
‘Chilly over that side isn’t it. I’m right under the heater here, I’m boiling.’
The video link was then switched on.
'Good morning Durham,' said the Clerk.
On screen was an empty office chair in a brightly lit room. After a short while the voice of an unseen speaker responded.
‘Good morning Newcastle.’
‘Could we have Bradley Gilmartin please?’
After another long pause:
‘He’ll be with you directly.’
The judge and barrister were busy reminding themselves of the details of Bradley’s case and today's charge against him – that of ‘dwelling burglary’.
Some stirring could be heard in Durham. Bradley appeared and sat. He looked gaunt and scared. He stared agog into the webcam and confirmed his name. He was about 17 years old. Bradley’s brief informed the judge that Bradley intended to contest the charge.
‘I would advise that the evidence is pretty compelling,’ noted the judge.
The judge went on to ask the barrister if he had fully advised his client, whose trainer prints were found at the scene of the crime, of the consequence of a not guilty plea i.e. a trial.
Bradley’s defender replied that his client fully understood – as his client was ‘no stranger to the workings of the judicial system’. Wry smiles were exchanged. The judge stopped just short of a titter. Bradley was, I reckoned, very much a stranger to:
· Fresh vegetables
· Further Education
· Good Luck
The judge agreed a pre-trial date with all those in the room in Newcastle and then told Bradley to hold the date – a Wednesday in early January. I hoped that Bradley might create another lengthy pause and produce a pocket diary or an i-phone:
‘Well, let me just have a quick look at that week. I’ve got a round of golf on the Tuesday and my book club on the Thursday night. Think I do have a window on Wednesday morning, before the matinee at the Theatre Royal….’
Bradley just nodded. The Clerk switched Bradley off.