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A Week in the Life of a Criminal Solicitor – Tuesday

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

This is the second 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 first part of the series, please click here.

Day Two – Tuesday

Today my role is duty solicitor on the police station rota scheme. There are misconceptions about the role of a police station duty solicitor and I often spend a great deal of time explaining to clients that police station duty solicitors are completely independent of the police. Many clients think the role is that of a “police solicitor” who assists the police in some way. This is simply not the case.

Many of the firms in London practising in criminal law have a contract with the Legal Aid Agency licensing them to provide duty solicitor cover for the police stations across the city. It is a rota based system where a firm will provide legal advice for those requesting it at a police station where that firm is covering that particular police station’s jurisdiction at a particular time. The service is free – anyone arrested for a criminal offence is entitled to free representation at the police station regardless as to whether they request their own solicitor or the duty solicitor.

Today I’m covering a duty slot in south east London which covers two police stations. It is approaching 3pm and I have already represented two clients since the morning.  On leaving one police station I immediately get a call from my office directing me to attend another police station for another matter. Brief details are given – the client is a 14-year-old boy named Kane. The offence he has been arrested for is possession of a bladed article in a public place.

I arrive at the station and I am met in the reception area by an array of family members – Kane’s father, his mother and a host of other siblings and friends with worried looks on their faces. I make a swift introduction and then enquire as to who will be acting as the appropriate adult. As with the youth court, a person under the age of seventeen must be accompanied by an adult when being interviewed by the police.  However, unlike the court, there is no requirement that the adult in question must be a parent or guardian. The family confirm that Kane’s father will act as the appropriate adult.

Kane’s father cuts quite an imposing figure. He is a heavy-built man and, unlike the other family members, he has a look of anger rather than worry on his face. He is very eager to get things moving, but I politely tell him that we will have a chance to talk in detail when we get into the custody suite. I then call the police officer investigating the matter to notify him of my arrival.

The officer meets me and takes me through to the custody area. Kane’s father has to wait and will only be called in for the purposes of the interview unless Kane gives his consent for him to be present during Kane’s consultation with me. I then speak with the investigating officer in private in a consultation room in order for him to provide me with the pre-interview disclosure.

The investigating officer is open and candid in his disclosure to me. The police are not required by law to provide a solicitor with any information about an allegation prior to an interview, but they will usually give you enough information in order for you to be able to advise your client effectively. However, the officer willingly gives me all the information he has available.

The allegation is straight forward. Kane is fifteen years old and was arrested at school today for being in possession of a kitchen knife. The school had conducted a routine search of some of the students’ bags after fireworks had been let off in the lunch break, and the knife was found in Kane’s bag. The officer confirms that Kane has no previous convictions, but also states, as I expected, that Kane will most likely be charged with the offence after the interview and bailed to attend the youth court on a later date.

In many circumstances when dealing with youths who have been arrested for the first time, the police are willing to deal with an offence by way of an out of court disposal such as a formal warning or a referral to the Youth Offending Service. However, there is generally a zero tolerance policy when it comes to weapons, so ultimately if a youth is arrested in possession of a knife they are charged.

The officer is not overjoyed about the fact that Kane will be charged and he expresses sympathy towards him and the youths that he regularly encounters in his job. Like me, he is alarmed at the apparent increase in youth violence and knife crime in the area. He then regretfully informs me that there had been a murder of a fifteen-year-old boy yesterday evening nearby and that another murder of an eighteen-year-old male outside a local sixth form college had just been reported that very afternoon.

Kane is brought for our pre-interview consultation and I introduce myself and explain my role. I tell him that he will be interviewed about the offence and make it clear to him that anything we discuss is subject to legal privilege and is therefore confidential. I urge him to be honest with me and tell me everything in order that I can advise him properly. I explain that it is up to him whether or not he wants to have his father present during our consultation.  I then relay to him the disclosure that the officer had given to me and ask him to give me his version of events.

Kane, somewhat reluctantly, confirms that he is happy for his father to be present in our consultation. I have reservations about this as I fear that Kane may not be comfortable talking candidly with his father present. However, even with his father casting a daunting shadow, Kane speaks openly and honestly. He accepts having the knife and explains that he took it from his kitchen drawer before going to school that morning. He said he did this because the previous day he had been approached by a boy who had threatened him with a knife on his way home from school. He said he was worried about encountering this boy again so he took the knife to protect himself.

I advise Kane that he should answer the questions in the interview and explain himself. What he had told me did not amount to a defence and I explain that, unfortunately, he will be charged and a given a date to attend the local court. However, I advise him that being forthcoming and honest about the circumstances will stand him in good stead when he goes before a judge in court. I tell him that, given his lack of previous convictions, he will be sentenced to a Youth Referral Order from the court and explain what this involves.

Kane’s father is very angry at Kane’s explanation and spends a good few minutes giving him a piece of his mind. He is particularly annoyed as he feels that Kane should know better as Kane’s older brother had recently been convicted of a knife related offence and was currently serving time in prison for this. For a brief moment I wonder whether Kane would prefer to stay in police custody that evening rather than go home to face more of his father’s wrath.

As agreed, Kane answers all of the questions put to him in the interview and explains the reason why he decided to bring a knife to school. After the interview, the officer takes some time to talks to Kane off the record about the dangers of carrying knives. He tells him about the boy of fifteen who had been killed locally the previous day and about the latest killing of the eighteen-year-old that afternoon. He explains that Kane is potentially throwing his life away by carrying a knife as he could one day hurt someone badly and face a long prison sentence or even be stabbed and killed himself.

After the interview, Kane is charged with the offence and released on bail to attend court on a later date. I agree to represent him at the court on this occasion. I leave the police station and make my way home. At the train station I pick up the local evening newspaper and there on the front cover I see his picture. He looks a few years younger, but it is definitely him. It is Jay, the boy I represented in the youth court yesterday. He is the fifteen-year-old boy the officer had been referring to who had been stabbed to death yesterday evening.

I stand there in shock for a moment before I can bring myself to read the article in full. Apparently, Jay had gone to a local fast food shop yesterday evening, not long after returning home from his court hearing.   Whilst he was outside the shop he was approached by a gang of youths and, after some words were exchanged, one of the youths stabbed Jay once to his chest with a large knife. Jay collapsed at the scene and a member of the public tried to help him.  However, he could do nothing to stop the bleeding and Jay died there in his arms before an ambulance could arrive. The member of the public was reported as saying that Jay’s last words to him were “I think I’m dying”.

Please click here to read Wednesday’s blog