A view from…the Crown Court dock – pleading guilty

It took a fuel stop, an hour’s pissing around at a Police Station in Manchester, where I was given a sandwich, handcuffed, walked to another cell, locked in for 40 minutes and five hours to get me to the Crown Court; in the wrong town (The G4S driver had miss-spelt the town we were supposed to be going to and I knew we were heading to the wrong town – how was I supposed to know? They could have been picking someone up from there) then to the Magistrate’s Court in the right town when I was supposed to be at the Crown Court. It was now 3 pm and my bloody suit was fairly crumpled.  I was asked by the driver via the female guard where the back door was for the court. Sighs…  At this point I wanted to slit my own throat. I mean, how I am supposed to know that?  I know where the front door of the court is for pity’s sake.

Lyndon Harris asked me to be honest in this account of my experiences and I’m going to honour that request. In December of 2011, I was convicted of fraud for the first time. I’d taken out a credit card in my stepmother’s name, paid it; she found out, reported me.  I didn’t even wait for the bank to produce the evidence, Police called me, I went in and pleaded guilty right from the off. I had to pay off substantial debts left to me by my ex-husband; fees that I’d built up over a five year battle in Family Law courts to see my children.  I wasn’t sorry; I’m a mother, who fought for her children. Show me a mother who wouldn’t do anything to fight for her children and I’ll show you a man that never plays with himself.  It’s not an excuse, its honesty, love it loathe it.  As a result of that offence, my sentence was a custodial sentence of 12 weeks, which was suspended for one year. This offence had been committed a week after this sentence was passed and I was in breach of that suspended sentence. That suspended sentence was completed on November 24th 2012. I knew it was off to the big house for me.  Of course, there is a long story behind why I did what I did and I am not sorry. Not in the slightest. I am sorry only for the pain I have caused my family. There, I have said it.

I was taken to another cell; this was far less pretty than the Warwickshire one. Oh my, how do people etch things into cell doors? What do they use, anyone?  There was no pleasantness this time. No smiling custody sergeant, no chatty WPC to help me through. No, this is G4S, one woman (questionable, but I’ll run with it) told her colleague that I wouldn’t be able to take my handbag into prison and that she had her eye on it. I mean whisper it, by all means, but she was quite overt around her plans for my handbag. They’d made their mind up I was going to prison. I could sense their underlying hatred for me. Nice handbag, nice clothes, nice shoes and I’m pretty in tune with body language, they were almost sneering at me. I might have lived on a canal bank, but I still had pride in the way I presented myself. The night shelter run by the Salvation Army let the homeless in for showers and a coffee. I didn’t have much, but what I had was good quality. They didn’t give me any eye-contact whatsoever. Now there’s impassion and then there is being downright bloody ignorant. I was collected (more handcuffs) and taken through the cell corridor and up to civilisation where Jeremy was standing waiting for me, leaning against a door frame looking as cool as a cucumber. I found some resolve from somewhere and I managed to hold it together.

We went through my case. Jeremy explained what would happen. I would be convicted today and sentencing could be in a few weeks. I would likely be remanded in custody and Probation would do a pre-sentence report for sentencing purposes. I was taken back to the cell, by a man this time, who was far more pleasant. No handcuffs this time. Not that I cared at this point. I was done for. Then ten minutes later I was taken to the court room.

I sat in the dock then rose when the Judge came in and we were all seated. I scanned the room and there she was; the journalist. I threw her a warning glance just because I wanted to. I then put my head down. I wanted to die, right there and then. I heard the prosecutor say his part and I waited for Jeremy to state my defence. I was guided to stand up by the woman sitting next to me. I was at the point where I simply wanted to crumple to the floor and pray for an early death. I answered “Guilty” to the charges laid before me. One was for “Failing to Attend” court and the one which was going to send me to prison was: Fraud by Misrepresentation.

In December 2011, after I was sentenced for the first offence, my partner and I split up for the first time and I moved into the property of a man who told me he owned the property and he was looking for a lodger. It was a little out of town and after the press had printed a nice spread around my first case in the regional paper; I decided to tell him that I had been convicted of fraud. He was accepting of the situation after telling me he had been convicted of fraud and had had a couple of suspended sentences. His father had also been convicted of a million pound fraud back in 2004 when he was a local councillor. His father had the book thrown at him as he was a “respected councillor” I suppose you’d call them both rogues. I’d written him a cheque for two month’s rent; £875. I’d had a client who had disappeared and I was running out of funds quickly. With the sentence, caring for my mother, splitting up with my partner, a nine year battle to see my children, my mind was mashed

Now this landlord was beginning to become a little familiar with me. It was the last thing I needed at the time. I rejected him. At this point, my ex-partner had found me and asked me to return home. I did, having remained with the rogue for three weeks. The cheque bounced and his campaign started. He knew I was on a suspended sentence the messages came through. Just in case he couldn’t have me on the cheque bouncing, he made a claim that I had stolen £900 cash, a Rolex and a Breitling watch from his bedroom. I’d moved back with my partner on December 9th. I’d returned to the property to collect my goods on 20th December 2011, he helped me to load the car and was with me the whole time. I have never returned to the property since.  His statement to the police claimed I’d been at the property on the 6th January. My partner was my alibi. I was at home with him on the 6th January. I was a convicted fraudster, not a thief. This is the thing, theft and fraud, while both dishonesty offences, are not the same. They are two different acts; two different charges and two different crimes. In his statement he claimed he noticed the watches and cash were missing an hour after I had been at the property. Yet he didn’t make his statement until the 22nd of January.

Did I intend to defraud him?  Prosecution stated I did, I pleaded guilty, and minds are made up. The bank provided account evidence which showed my behaviour, a regular income, up until the middle of November, no discrepancies there. I was told that the Prosecutor would insist that I was only pleading Not Guilty because I knew I was in breach of my suspended sentence. “Intent” That’s the word isn’t it? That’s the letter of the law. Did I feel guilty? No, do I feel a sense of injustice?  I did, that’s seeping away now. That one signature on a cheque, which actually should have only been £250.00, me signing my name, taking that decision, fearful that I would be homeless, rendered me what I was trying to avoid in the first place. That might explain why at the start of this journey I may have come across as though I was trying to get away with something. Would he have had me charged had I not told him that I had been convicted previously? That I was on a suspended sentence? Or would he have called me up and told me in no uncertain terms that my cheque had bounced and demanded his money?

I told my partner everything apart from the unwanted advances the rogue had made on me while living there. His soon to be ex-wife called me and told me that it was her house, not his and that he had accused her many times of stealing cash and had reported her to the police. I drew down the Land Registry report and it was in there I saw she was telling the truth. He was allowed to live in the property as long as he paid the bills, that was the agreement she had with him. She had no idea he had taken in a lodger. He was simply angry at me for the cheque and for rejecting him. I haven’t made that up. I have every single SMS he sent me telling me I would regret turning him down and writing him a rubber cheque. A 10×8 was where I was going. In the police transcription, the words “texts not threatening” were written down next to where I told the officer.  He was also highly in the mire financially himself

Anyway, enough of that…

The Judge spoke with the court Probation Officer who agreed to see me the next day for a pre-sentence report. I was ordered to return for my sentence hearing on the Friday. This was Wednesday. Surprisingly, the Judge allowed me bail. I couldn’t believe it. It was all wrapped up in ten minutes and I was allowed to go. I was taken back down to the cell for ten minutes. A form was brought to me by the pleasant guard which I had to sign and I was released to be taken up the back stairs to meet with Jeremy. I was reunited with my goods. Jeremy was as surprised as I was. But, it was only 48 hours. It did however give me time to talk to my mother. I could stay with her till Friday. For the first time in over 38 years I sobbed in my mother’s arms. She never left me alone all night. She simply sat and watched over me.

I had my meeting with the wonderful Nick who did a thorough report on me. It took over three hours and he rather cleverly got to the bottom of my offending behaviour. He was going to recommend to the court that prison would benefit no-one least of all me and that Probation had done everything they could for me as my Probation Officer from my previous offence had given me a great reference on how I’d worked with her. There was nothing that Probation could do for me. He would be recommending a suspended sentence without any orders attached.

By Tracey McMahon

About the author: Tracey McMahon is a 45 year, copy writer/transcriber/translator. She is a convicted offender and is currently serving her sentence.

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