So, to set the scene, this all takes place in March 1998, when the RCS (one of the societies at Imperial College) had their annual dinner. Now, I'm not a member of the RCS - come to that, I'm not even an IC student. But that's never stopped me hanging around with ICSF :) In this case, baratron was organising the dinner, and she was having trouble making up the numbers for it, so I decided to tag along anyway. I wound up on a table with other ICSF people, so that was good. It was one of those posh black tie things, and that's actually where the photo came from on my ICSF bio page (haven't worn my DJ since). The meal itself went well, although they had some bizarre rules of etiquette that I wasn't familiar with. For example, blokes weren't allowed to remove their jackets until after the toast to the Queen at the end of the meal, and nobody was allowed to leave the room during the dinner without the president's permission; if you did, you had to down a penalty pint on your return, which happened to quite a few people on our table! They had a disco afterwards, and while I abstained from dancing, I sat and listened to the music, chatting to people who were taking a break.
Things got a bit more interesting on the way back. The event finished at about 2 a.m., by which time all the trains had stopped running. There is a night bus service, but it's a bit sporadic, so I decided to walk home, since it was a nice night (pleasant weather). When I was almost back, I met a woman at a bus stop, who asked me for the time. I wasn't wearing a watch, but I said that I thought it was about 02:45 (based on the last time I saw a clock en route). Then she asked me for a cigarette, but I said "Sorry, I don't smoke". She then asked me whether I wanted to see some girls in their underwear, which was a bit of a shift in the conversation! I declined, and she started asking me why not, making comments like "You only live once". I didn't want to appear as Mr Judgmental by saying something like "Begone, foul temptress of the night!", so I just said that I was tired, and I wanted to go home to bed, which was true enough. She then offered me a card, saying that I could think about it and come back another evening, so I agreed to this, thinking that I'd get rid of her. I'd assumed that she'd give me a business card from a wallet, but she didn't. I think that she then made some comment like "I'll show you where it is, so that you can find it again", as I wound up accompanying her back down the road. After a little while, I noticed that we seemed to be going a fair old distance, so I asked her if it was much further, and she said "Oh, it's just round this corner". Just to set the scene, she had initially been telling me that this place was some kind of strip club, but as we walked along she was telling me about the relative prices for various sexual favours, and started asking me what type of girls I liked. I basically evaded the questions, but I was still trying to be polite.
We then turned down a side street. It did occur to me that this was probably something I shouldn't make a habit of, since theoretically it could be dangerous, although I didn't think it was going to cause me any trouble in this particular case. Anyway, at this point my conscience got the better of me, and I told her that I was just going to go home and call it a night. She kept trying to persuade me to go in and take a look, but I kept refusing. She then said that if I just went in, but didn't stay, she would get a five pound commission, but I still refused. At this point I considered just giving her the money myself, so that we could go our separate ways. However, I changed my mind about this, with what happened next (the reason that I'm telling this story).
She asked me to give her the commission, to make up for wasting her (!) time, and this made me a bit uncomfortable, so I refused. All of a sudden, things took a definite turn for the worse. She told me that I would give her the money, and started making threats.
Firstly, she said that there was a man behind me who would beat me up if I didn't give her the money. I turned around, and couldn't see anyone, but she said "Hey, he could appear in front of you, just like that. Joe, come here!" I didn't believe her, and said so.
Next, she said that she would tell the police that I'd tried to rape her. Apparently, she was attacked a few years ago, so the police all know who she is. She then asked "Who do you think they'll believe, you or me?" My attitude was "Me, because you're clearly insane", but I thought that it might be tactless to say that out loud... Previously, when she'd been trying to persuade me to enter the building, she'd said how safe it would be, with all the police patrols around to protect us. (She'd also assured me that there were only women inside, no men, which contradicted her claim about her invisible ally...) I made some comment like "Oh, I feel so much safer now!" Possibly I was somewhat more flippant than the situation warranted, but there you go. I guess I've been reading too many Spider-Man comics; he deals with the stress of the situations he gets into by making jokes, and this has rubbed off on me.
Finally, she told me that she had a pair of scissors and said that she'd stab me unless I gave her the money. Being the stubborn type, I still refused! We kept walking all this time, and eventually wound up back where we'd started. At this point, she actually produced the scissors; she was holding them in her fist, with the point sticking out like a spike. Her approach varied; she'd threaten me, then cajole, then threaten again. As I told her, I don't like being threatened; when people try it, I tend to do the opposite of what they want. I also thought that at this point if I did give her just a couple of quid then she'd probably grab my entire wallet, and maybe march me over to a cashpoint machine to get money out of that. On general principles, I didn't want to accede to her demands, on the grounds that it would send out a bad message, namely "This is a good way to make money".
My initial plan was to act passive, i.e. not to do what she wanted, but not to move against her either, so that she would eventually give up on me as a lost cause. Her plan was apparently similar, as she was trying to wear me down, hoping that I'd give her the money to get rid of her. I did consider this, but stuck to my guns. I then tried to walk away a few times, but each time I tried this she stepped right in front of me, blocking my path. At one point, she grabbed hold of my jacket, and pushed the scissors against my side, assuring me that she would stab me if necessary. I had a look around, but there were no police cars or anything like that around that I could signal for help. There was a phone box, but it was on the opposite side of the road, so there was no way I could get to it. (This was before I got my mobile phone, and was actually the catalyst that spurred me to get one.) It was kind of like my school days; I knew that the only person who was going to get me out of that situation was me.
My options were also slightly limited, because of her gender. Basically, if a bloke had been threatening me like that, then I would have thumped him one. I might not necessarily have won a fight, but I'd have given it a good go. (I wasn't the most popular boy at school, so I've been in my share of tussles...) However, I have a certain "programming" hard-wired into my brain, that says "You don't hit women". (A bit like Spike's chip...) I guess you could call that chivalry or chauvinism, depending on your point of view. I've debated the relative merits of this with elyon a few times, since he is much more egalitarian in this regard. However, the point is that it's not a conscious choice. Even if I want to, I just can't do it. This does have it's downside at times like this... On the other hand, there was a rather disturbing episode of Angel I saw recently, which dealt with brutality towards women, and I was quite relieved to know that I will never cross that line.
Anyway, I then started to think about making a run for it. As I say, I didn't want to get into a fight with her, but I figured that I had a decent chance of being able to outrun her, although I hadn't been diligent about doing exercise at that point. Eventually I couldn't see any alternative (other than giving in), so I tried to move past her again. As usual, she blocked my path, and I could see her lifting up her hand with the scissors in. I grabbed her "weapon hand", by cupping my hand over the point, and blocked her other hand to stop her grabbing hold of me, then pushed her back, and ran away as fast as I could. She called a threat after me (something like "Yeah, go on, run, I know your face"), but I was more interested in what I didn't hear, i.e. her footsteps. When I got to the end of the road, I turned around, but I couldn't see any sign of her, so I relaxed a bit, and slowed down to a walk. I then looked around me and realised that although I had a vague idea of where I was, and what direction I needed to travel in, I was in a place that I'd never been to before, specifically a big housing estate. Time to run again! I wound up running all the way home (I was about five minutes away at this point), and got back at about 3.20 a.m.
On my return, I called the police, which was a challenge in itself, as I didn't know the telephone number for the local station. I thought about calling 999, but I wasn't sure whether this would qualify as an emergency, since I was now out of danger. I had a look in the Yellow Pages, but that was no help, so I wound up calling Directory Enquiries. They gave me the number of a police station, although it turned out to be the wrong one, but they put me through to the right one. I told them briefly what had happened, so they sent round a couple of officers to my house. One of them did say later that he would have called 999 in that situation, which is worth knowing for future reference.
I was going over my story with them, when a call came over the radio, saying that another patrol had found someone matching her description. I agreed to go round and identify her, so they drove me round. Basically, she was stood by the side of the road with the other police patrol, and "my" car drove past slowly, while I stared out of the window. I was able to say that it was definitely her, so she got arrested, and I went to the police station to make a statement. I have to say, I was pretty impressed by the way the police reacted; I had called them up not really expecting anything to come of it. Anyway, I gave them a full statement, which took up until about 5 a.m. They had offered me the chance to see a doctor when I first got here, but I said I was alright. During the course of my statement, I looked at my hands, and noticed that I'd actually been cut on one of them, which must have happened while I was blocking the woman's hand with the scissors. It wasn't a serious injury, but the police said that I should see the doctor, as it could be used as evidence, since it matched the scissors. Unfortunately, the doctor had left by this point, so I had to wait another hour for her to return. I eventually got home again at about 6.30 a.m.! On the plus side, I asked the police whether there was any danger of me being charged with attempted rape or anything, and they said no, as there is no evidence against me. Basically, they were very much on my side, and didn't even attempt to corroborate her story.
So, who says that computer geeks lead boring lives? I guess the moral of this story is "Don't walk through the East End of London at 3 a.m. wearing a DJ"!
In the aftermath of this, I went back to the police to give a supplemental statement to C.I.D. (I was initially speaking to the uniformed division). As part of that, the detective had to ask me some potentially awkward questions. For instance, he was asking whether I'd ever been to a prostitute before. Again, he was on my side - the point was that he didn't want to get any surprises during the trial, since the defence lawyer would be bound to ask me the same questions. Similarly, he asked me whether I'd hit her, saying "It's ok if you did - I would have done, but we need to know". Anyway, I assured him that I was pure and chaste, etc. He then proceeded to give me the "Good Prostitute Guide to London", which was rather bizarre! He said "Look, if you ever do want to go to a prostitute, don't go to one of these East End girls - you'll probably wind up catching some horrible disease. Go out to the West End - you'll pay a bit more, but they'll treat you like a king, so it's well worth it". Um, thank you... Of course, I don't do that kind of thing, and you shouldn't be telling me this! However, I took the advice in the spirit in which it was offered, so I thanked him politely. What's interesting about this is that it ties in with the other story I posted earlier today - he's talking about people like my old neighbour. It all links together...
So, anyway, back to the main story. The woman was charged with attempted robbery, and the initial trial date was set for the 17th of April. This is where she had to plead "Guilty" or "Not guilty", so I wasn't directly involved in that, although the judge would take my statement into consideration when (s)he decided whether to grant bail etc. There were basically two scenarios here:
a) She pleads "guilty". At this point, I'm out of it, and the courts deal with her.
b) She pleads "not guilty". I then have to go in as a witness, and be cross examined by the defence lawyer.
Unfortunately, she followed through on her threat, and claimed that I attacked her, so she pleaded not guilty, saying that she was acting in self defence. One of my friends is a barrister, and he said that this was the only hope that she would have of getting off. He also predicted that this would be nasty, as her lawyer would try everything (s)he could to discredit me, e.g. "You wanted to have sex with her, didn't you?". The lawyer's objective would be to muddy the waters, and establish doubt, so that she could be acquitted.
After that, things slowed down a bit, as the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) then dragged their heels a bit. Basically, they didn't want to take the case to court unless they were sure that they would win. Part of the problem was the issue of identification. The "drive by" thing that I did was relatively new (although it may be more established by now, four years on), so they thought this might cast doubt on events. I'm not sure why, since she freely admitted that I was there (in order to support her claim that I attacked her), but hey. So, they decided that I should do a traditional line-up too, which I was quite happy to co-operate with. I didn't hear anything from the police for ages, so eventually I phoned them. It turned out that they tried to arrange a line-up in May, but she didn't turn up. After that, they got been in contact with her solicitor, trying to arrange a date to get her in. On the plus side, I figured that this had to be a good thing from my point of view. If she did a runner, that must weaken her credibility. I think that after that she was kept in prison, pending the full trial.
A few weeks later, the police contacted me to do an identity parade. I took the day off work, and turned up at the police station at the appointed time. About two hours later (!) they said that they would soon be ready to go, and briefed me on the routine to follow. The idea was that I would go to a room, with four windows on the wall. There would be four women sitting on stools on the other side of these windows, and I was to go along and look at each of them at least once. If I was sure that I recognised her, I would then give the police her number. Meanwhile, her lawyer would be hanging around to make sure that proper procedure was followed. The police did say that the woman I'd identified previously (on the night) might not actually be there, so I shouldn't identify anyone unless I was absolutely sure. This was a possibility which hadn't occurred to me before, but I guess it makes sense. Anyway, I waited a while longer, and then the police came back and said that the ID parade wouldn't be going ahead after all; the woman's lawyer had vetoed it. As I found out later, the reason was that they had brought in women from the surrounding offices to make up the numbers, and her lawyer felt that they all looked too smart and healthy to be confused with her; not "hard faced" enough. After all, they mustn't make it too easy for me, eh? Anyway, the new plan was that I would do a video lineup at a later stage. This would involve viewing tapes of various women, to try and identify the one from that night. On the plus side, I could do this after work, so it wouldn't require any more time off. As it turned out, however, this never actually came about.
In early August, I was contacted by the police again, to ask whether any dates were inconvenient for me to go to court as a witness. I told them about a science fiction convention I was going to, but that aside from that I was free. There was another big gap after this without much activity, and then the police called me on a Wednesday afternoon (the 9th of September). They had now arranged a court date - the morning of Thursday 10th of September! Thanks for the notice, guys ... Anyway, I cleared it with the boss, and got there more-or-less on time. I was slightly late as I had to get my suit dry-cleaned, but the case was delayed anyway so it didn't matter.
Anyway, once I got to court, I had to wait outside for a while, as I wasn't allowed to hear the opening speeches in case they influenced me. Meanwhile, I was given copies of my previous statements to re-read. They (the police and the CPS barrister) were very keen for me to remember everything in them; every time I spoke, they just said "Shut up and read faster!" Meanwhile, the CID guy that I've been liasing with was trying to get me to relax, and he kept telling me that I wasn't on trial; whatever happened, I would be going home that evening. It didn't help much, as I was still pretty stressed; I could feel my heartbeat without actually putting a finger on my pulse ... When I went inside, the usher took me to the witness stand, which is aptly named since I had to stand up the whole time. In the TV shows I've seen, the witness box has a chair inside it, which I think makes more sense, but there you go. Rather than swearing on the Bible, I opted to take the affirmation instead, which means that I just gave my word to tell the truth. This is partially because I'm not quite sure where I stand on religion at the moment, and partially because there is a passage in the Bible that says "Don't swear on the Bible"! Not a lot of people know that ... The police told me previously that they wanted to avoid getting a personality clash between me and the defence lawyer, so I should speak to the judge whenever I said anything, rather than looking back at the lawyers. Once I actually started, the CPS lawyer told me that I should address the jury instead, but I guess the same principle applies.
First of all, the CPS lawyer led me through my testimony, and prompted me to tell my version of events. That was the easy bit. After that, the defence lawyer did the cross-examination, which was a bit rough, although he didn't take the approach that I'd expected. I thought he was going to go down the route of "Have you ever watched a pornographic film", etc., which he didn't. He asked me whether I'd ever been to a strip club, and I said no, so maybe he thought that it would weaken his case if he kept asking me questions along those lines and I kept saying no.
Essentially, the defence guy mocked my version of events, and accused me of fabricating. (An aside: have you ever heard the term "over egging the pudding"?!) I remember hearing a while back that there are two golden rules for giving evidence - don't tell jokes, and don't lose your temper. Well, one out of two isn't bad ... I guess I just use humour as my way of dealing with stress. Anyway, the judge came in to defend me a couple of times. The first time, the lawyer was saying that I'd tried to proposition this woman, so I said that I wasn't at all attracted to her, and he asked me why not. My response was basically "I don't know - ask my hormones!", but the judge stepped in and said "You can't ask him that, or he may have to give a response that's not very gallant." The lawyer was saying "Well, yes", so I guess he wanted me to insult her. Later on, I said that I wasn't sure that I could outrun this woman, given that I hadn't been out running since I was at university. Her lawyer reacted to this with incredulity, and said "Is that really your evidence?" I said yes, and the judge said "Of course it is, he just said it, so obviously it's his evidence!" Aside from this, there were various times when he said "Can I suggest that blah blah blah", to which my response was usually "You can suggest it, but it isn't true". I liked that judge, particularly his comment about being gallant!
The police also gave evidence, and then the CPS lawyer (the prosecution guy, on my side) read out a statement from the doctor who examined me. Apparently I am a "well nourished male" ... is she calling me fat? :)
Later on, the woman came to the stand, and her defence lawyer started asking her how long she'd been a prostitute (20 years), and how many convictions she'd had for loitering (100). He also brought up the fact that she had a conviction for assaulting a policeman back in the 70s. At this point, I was starting to wonder whose side he was on! However, I think what he was getting at was that in all these convictions, she'd only been violent once, and that was a long time ago. Also, she pled guilty to all the loitering charges, so the fact that she pled "not guilty" here should be significant. Anyway, her version of events was that she had asked me for the time and a cigarette, and then I had brought up the subject of girls in their underwear (no sex, just posing). She took me to the place, and then I freaked out, and started waving my arms around, so she pulled out the scissors to defend herself. "My" lawyer brought up some interesting points in the cross-examination. For instance, she was on her way to work in the west end when I saw her (she doesn't work the east end), but when she was arrested she only had £1.22 on her - not enough for the £1.50 night bus fare. He therefore claimed that she was desperate to get the money she needed, whereas she claimed that she earlier had £3.00, but it fell out of her pocket when I was pushing her around. He also said that if she smoked, but didn't have cigarettes of her own, this was because she couldn't afford any. She apparently has various past convictions for obtaining property by deception, etc., which probably threw doubt on her honesty. One interesting thing is that her whole story only came up in court - she said "No comment" all the time when she was being interviewed by police, apparently on the advice of her solicitor, although the judge said that that is no defence.
In the summing up phase, my lawyer basically said that I was naive, and she saw me as a "mug punter". Her lawyer said that it was my word against hers, and I'm weird. He thought that I was too blasé about it, since I was being philosophical (I told them my theory about life and death (see below), which he considered unusual). In his words, I acted as though I was on University Challenge, rather than in the middle of an attempted robbery!
Afterwards, I was speaking to the CPS guy, and he said that she has probably done this lots of times before, but most people in my situation would be married, with kids, etc. and would have no intention of standing up in court about it. He said that she picked the wrong person this time, as I am intelligent and single (his words, lest you think I'm bragging!).
On the Friday, I had a call from the police with the verdict. The jury came back after half an hour, which is apparently very fast. Their unanimous verdict was that she was Guilty, which was a relief - I guess that means that they all believed me. The case was then adjourned until the 2nd of October, at which point the judge would pass sentence. One option would have been for the judge to pass sentence immediately, and say that since she had been in custody since the start of June, she had already served the time for this crime, and so she could go free. Since he didn't do that, the police reckoned that he'd give her a longer sentence, maybe even three years.
I wasn't there when the judge passed sentence but the police called me to let me know what happened. The result was that she got 18 months, which is quite a long time. He (detective) reckoned that this was because of her criminal background; it wouldn't have been that high for a first offence. Personally, I think it's fair, and it has bolstered my faith in our system. At the end, he said "Don't take this the wrong way, but hopefully I'll never see you again", and I assured him that the feeling was mutual :)
I mentioned my theory of life and death above, although some of you may not have heard it before. Basically, the woman said to me "If you don't do this [give her the money], you'll die". My attitude was that even if I did give her the money, I'd still die; after all everyone dies sooner or later. It's not like she was selling the elixir of life for a fiver! I believe that the important thing is the way you live your life while you've got it, rather than how long it lasts. Essentially, it is a question of quality rather than quantity. Also, there's the issue of being philosophical. My view is that philosophy isn't just something you discuss on a Wednesday afternoon in comfy armchairs (although that's fine), it's something that defines the way you live your life.
One interesting follow-up is that I met another Durham friend a while back, and it turned out that one of her friends was on the jury for my case. Small world syndrome strikes again! Anyway, this meant that I got to hear about the other side of the trial, which I normally wouldn't. Basically, when the jury all conferred, they all agreed right away that I was telling the truth - no doubt in any of their minds. So that's quite flattering :) Mind you, the less flattering comment was "Hey, if we all wrap this up quickly, we get a 3 day weekend!" Ah well, you have to allow for pragmatism I guess... One concern I'd had was that the jury might think I was wasting their time, by kicking up such a fuss over a fiver. However, he (juror) was fine about that, which is a relief.
Since this was all back in 1998, that means that she'll have finished her prison term by now. I was a bit concerned that she might come looking for me - I imagine that my name's on record with the trial details, and so if you were determined you could probably find me on the electoral roll after that. However, nothing ever happened. Without wanting to sound too cocky, I guess she figured that last time she tangled with me she wound up in prison, so she'd do better to stay clear in the future. Either that, or she really was rehabilitated. Or she just didn't have the brain-power to find me, which might be the most likely explanation :)
As a postscript, this has left me with some opinions about the way the justice system works in our country, and I think it has a few flaws. You see stories in the newspapers about crime rates, and pressure being put on the police to maintain law and order. However, in this situation, the police arrested the criminal within about 30 mins of the crime being committed, but it took 6 months to bring the case to court, and I only had one day's notice (well, less than that, really) that I was needed. So, really, the police did an excellent job - it's the CPS who were holding things up. I'm also reluctant to blame them too much - it may well be that they have limited resources, so they need to be selective about which cases to prosecute. Still, the point is that there's more to it than simply putting extra policemen on the beat. As for the court case itself, I personally think that both lawyers (prosecution and defense) were presenting a skewed view of events. In my opinion, the jury should be allowed to ask questions themselves (either directly or through a third lawyer, who acts on their behalf). Otherwise, they have to hope that the two lawyers balance each other out, and cover all the relevant ground. Still, in the end justice was served, so I guess the system does work, which is encouraging.
Anyway, here endeth the saga :)