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A Week in the Life of a Criminal Solicitor – Friday

Between April 2018 and March 2019 there were 4,500 recorded knife and weapons offences committed by children in London.

This is the final blog in a five-part series documenting a week in the life of Darrell-Ennis Gayle, a Senior Associate in Hodge Jones & Allen’s Criminal Defence team, representing youths in police stations and courts across South East London. The names have been changed, but the cases are real and represent a true reflection of the impact of knife crime and the experiences of youths in the criminal justice system.

To read the series from the beginning, please click here.

Day Five – Friday

Tyrone’s hearing is listed at the Old Bailey for 2pm. It is a preliminary hearing which is basically a case management hearing. Tyrone will not be expected to enter any pleas to the charges he faces at this hearing. That will happen at a later date. Today the court will simply set a timetable for the proceedings.

I spend most of the morning on the phone. I speak with Tyrone’s mother first thing in order to confirm her attendance and the day’s arrangements. We agree that she will meet me at the court in the afternoon prior to the hearing. I then call a barrister’s chambers to instruct a barrister to act for Tyrone at the hearing.

Commonly, a defendant is entitled to be represented by a junior barrister and a senior barrister – a Queen’s Counsel (QC) – in a serious matter such as a murder. However, a QC will not be appointed until later on in the proceedings so, at this point, I only need to instruct a junior counsel. I instruct a female barrister I have worked with before who I know has vast experience in dealing with youths and vulnerable defendants who have been charged with very serious offences. I brief her on the facts, email her the initial case papers and we arrange to meet at the Old Bailey at around noon.

Later in the morning I receive a call from one of the detectives who had interviewed Tyrone. He tells me he has received intelligence to suggest that many of Maxwell’s family and friends were planning to attend today’s hearing and he wants to know if any of Tyrone’s family would also be attending. He is concerned about the potential for a confrontation. I confirm that, as far as I know, only Tyrone’s mother is planning to attend and I agree to speak with her in order to give her the heads up. I call her straight after and relay what the detective had told me. She confirms that she will still be attending the hearing and that she will be coming alone.

I meet the barrister in the canteen at the Old Bailey at around lunchtime. She has familiarised herself with the initial case papers and is honest in her early assessment. Unsurprisingly, she advises that, in her opinion, the prosecution’s case against Tyrone is extremely strong and her opinion is reinforced when I outline Tyrone’s account of the incident to her. She then confirms what I already know – that Tyrone has no chance of being granted bail from the court today and will be remanded into custody until the proceedings have concluded. Defendants are very rarely granted bail in murder proceedings and the fact that Tyrone is a youth is no exception.

We meet Tyrone for our pre-hearing consultation at 1.30pm. The consultation is via a video-link from a booth in the court connecting us with Tyrone to a booth in the youth detention centre. I introduce Tyrone to the barrister and then ask him how he was and how he managed his first night in the detention centre. He confirms that he is okay but admits that he is very scared and that he misses his family. The barrister then explains her role and what will take place at the hearing. She also gives him the unfortunate news that he will not be going home today.

As arranged, I meet Tyrone’s mother outside of the court shortly before the hearing. She apologises to me profusely about not having been able to attend the police station or court on the previous occasions to assist. She explains that she works in a care home for elderly people and simply could not get the time off work. However, she assures me that she is there for her son and will do whatever she can to support him. She is devastated that he has been charged with murder; however, she maintains that she knows her son well and that there must be an innocent explanation for what has happened. I explain to her what will take place today and assure her that the barrister and I will explain the situation to her in more detail after the hearing.

The court rooms of the Old Bailey are imposing. They have barely been modernised and their layout and design are much the same as they have been for hundreds of years. The prosecution barrister sits on the right and Tyrone’s barrister sits on the left hand side of the front bench facing the judge’s chair. I take my seat in the row of benches behind the barristers. There are gallery seats on the left and right hand side of the court room. On the left sit a few members of the press and on the right the seats are occupied by court staff and a number of the detectives investigating the case. There are also a middle aged West African looking man and woman in the seats near the detectives. They both look distraught and the woman is wiping tears from her eyes. I realise that these are obviously Maxwell’s parents.

Tyrone is eventually connected into the court room via a video-link and appears on a number of large monitor screens. He looks a lot younger than I had noticed before. His youth seems emphasised against the backdrop of the massive court room. The court clerk then asks everyone to rise as the judge enters the room.

The hearing is brief. Tyrone is identified and the prosecutor gives a brief outline of the facts. Interestingly, the prosecution confirm that another eighteen-year-old male has been arrested and is currently being interviewed in relation to Maxwell’s murder. It transpires that this male is Tyrone’s friend and has been identified as the person who had handed Tyrone the knife. The prosecution expect that he too will be charged with Maxwell’s murder on the basis of joint enterprise and will be joined to the proceedings at a later date. A timetable is then set for the proceedings – Tyrone (and his friend) will appear back before the Old Bailey in a month’s time to enter their pleas and a provisional trial date is set for six months’ time. The judge confirms that Tyrone will be remanded into custody until the conclusion of the proceedings.

Tyrone ended up pleading not guilty to Maxwell’s murder and to being in possession of an offensive weapon. His co-defendant pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to being in possession of an offensive weapon – he admitted having the knife in his possession and handing it to Tyrone.

Tyrone gave evidence at his trial and explained that he truly believed some of the boys in Maxwell’s group had knives and that he genuinely feared he could have been stabbed himself. He maintained that he stabbed Maxwell in self-defence. He admitted that he could not be sure that he only stabbed Maxwell once and that he could therefore not rule out the possibility that he inflicted the fatal wound. He expressed remorse for Maxwell’s death and said he wished things could have turned out differently that day. The jury took less than a day to arrive at their verdicts and found Tyrone guilty of both charges. The jury found his co-defendant not guilty of murder.

Tyrone was sentenced a few months after the conclusion of the trial. In the meantime, he was assessed by a child psychiatrist who gave evidence at the sentencing hearing confirming that Tyrone suffered from a previously undiagnosed autistic condition that, in all likelihood, would have affected his decision making process in terms of his actions leading to Maxwell’s murder.

Maxwell’s father read out a victim impact statement at the sentencing hearing in which he spoke about his devastation at losing his son, who he truly believed was acting as peacemaker and had been trying to diffuse the situation on that fateful day. He went on to explain that he was heartbroken, but also that he held no malice towards Tyrone and forgave him. He said that he understood that the true tragedy of the situation was that two boy’s lives and two families had been destroyed by Tyrone’s actions. He said that he wished the youth violence in his community would stop.

In sentencing, the judge remarked that Tyrone’s age and lack of maturity would be reflected in the term of imprisonment he would receive. She also gave weight to the psychiatrist’s evidence that had been presented to the court and consideration of the fact that Tyrone had expressed remorse for Maxwell’s murder in a letter that he had written to Maxwell’s family prior to the sentencing hearing. She sentenced Tyrone to a life term of imprisonment with a minimum tariff of sixteen years. This means that Tyrone must serve at least sixteen years in custody before he can be considered for release by the parole board. Tyrone’s co-defendant was sentenced to twenty months’ imprisonment for the weapon offence.

Tyrone was advised that the sentence was fair under all the circumstances and he expressed no wish to appeal against it. Although he and his family are devastated by the fact that he will not be released from prison for many years, they accept the decision of the jury and the judge’s sentence. Tyrone knows the road will be hard and long for him in prison, but he is determined to continue his education and wants his story to be a lesson to other youths who choose to carry knives. Maxwell’s father has started a charity in honour of his son to help vulnerable youngsters and has expressed a wish to meet with Tyrone. Tyrone is not ready to meet with Maxwell’s father yet, but hopefully will be some day.