On 15th May 2014 Peter Anderson had lost his driving licence and consequentially his job. He was homeless and couldn’t find work and was suffering from depression. He decided to take his own life and attempted to throw himself under a train at Leigh on Sea train station in Essex.
Police there stopped him and did what anyone would do when faced with a suicidal man at the end of his tether – they prosecuted him.
On 4th June Mr Anderson pleaded guilty and was conditionally discharged for three months.
What was the offence?
The news report says ‘trespass’ but that is not, of itself a criminal offence (it’s a civil wrong for which you can be sued, but not prosecuted).
We think that the offence was Aggravated Trespass under s68 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. This requires an act of trespass, but also a requirement that the defendant does “in relation to any lawful activity which persons are engaging in or are about to engage in on that or adjoining land , does there anything which is intended by him to have the effect—:
(a) of intimidating those persons or any of them so as to deter them or any of them from engaging in that activity,
(b) of obstructing that activity, or
(c) of disrupting that activity.“
This was designed to stop raves, but has been applied to other areas since. Does it cover this? There is an issue as to whether he was ‘trespassing’. If he didn’t have a ticket then he would be, if he threw himself on the tracks he also would be (as members of the public are not allowed there), but if he was on the platform preparing to jump, but was then stopped, then it might not be.
The ‘activity’ referred to would be people travelling on the train. Whilst they would be obstructed and disrupted had Mr Anderson killed himself, it is unlikely that he would have been intending that effect (even if he was, or would have been had he thought about it, aware that that would have been the impact).
For this reason it is not immediately clear that he would be guilty of this.
There is also an offence of Endangering Life on a Railway contrary to s34 Offences Against the Person Act 1861. This states that “Whosoever, by any unlawful act, or by any wilful omission or neglect, shall endanger or cause to be endangered the safety of any person conveyed or being in or upon a railway, or shall aid or assist therein, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years,”.
The trespass may count here as an unlawful act. Although this is not obviously designed for this sort of a situation, it is arguable that if he endangers his own life then this could count as the person who’s safety was endangered.
There are several summary only offences (s16 Railway Regulation Act 1840, s23 Regulation of the Railways Act 1868 and s55 British Transport Commission Act 1949) but these all require a warning to be given before an offence is committed.
So, on balance we’d guess that the correct offence was the Endangering Life on a Railway. Even then, it is not clear that the offence was made out.
What do you make of the sentence?
There is no minimum period for which a conditional discharge can run, but 3 months is about as short as it gets. Short of an absolute discharge (which may have been a more appropriate sentence, but is very rare), it’s the least he could have got.
There is no mention of the victim surcharge, but Mr Anderson would have had to pay £15 for this (a further demonstration of what nonsense this is).
Why was he prosecuted?
On the face of it, this seems a ludicrous prosecution. There is a Code for Prosecutors that sets out when a prosecution should be instigated and continued. There is an ‘evidential’ part (which would be met’ and a ‘public interest test’ – a prosecution should not be commenced unless it is in the public interest.
The CPS said “the prosecution was in the public interest. In this case, due to the fact the defendant was on prohibited land, namely train tracks, and by his doing so could harm or cause distress to other members of the public and/or their safety it is clear that it was in the public interest to proceed.
‘This course of action we hope would also deter anyone else from acting in the same manner in the future, which is dangerous and could potentially endanger lives. The safety of the defendant or anyone on or in the proximity of train tracks is paramount. “
I have to say that this appears to me to be nonsense. It’s always possible that there are more facts than in the newspaper (and it is the Daily Mail after all) but there is nothing on the CPS website to indicate that they disagree with the facts.
Leaving aside the question of whether the offence was actually made out, I cannot see how it was possibly in the public interest to prosecute Mr Anderson. The idea that this will deter others from trying to take their own life seems implausible, and it seems to me that the CPS have made a mistake on this one …