“See that crossing there?” the chirpy breakfast waiter pointed to the busy road outside the hotel’s picture window. “Well two people were run over there last week by a bus…..”
Welcome to Swansea!
Swansea didn’t endear itself from the start after spending the best part of 90, rain-swept minutes in rush hour crawling tortuously around it’s one way system in a bid to get to the hotel. A building that was actually in sight for much of that time but tantalizingly out of reach in gridlocked misery.
Unfurling cold, muddy, tired limbs from the car in the wet twilight my spirits were as low as the cloud cover. Even the promise of a warm bed and a free dinner wasn’t enough to lighten either mood or tension thinking about the court case the following day.
The time had arrived to face down the man who, just a few short weeks ago, in a dark, isolated, storm drenched campsite launched a bizarre attack, terrorizing myself and a friend forcing us to flee into the night.
Up to this point I’d been pulled between numerous conflicting emotions.
On the one hand this court case all felt a bit overkill, a bit of a storm in a tea cup as my Grandmother was fond of saying. After all, what it boiled down to was an angry man chasing us from our campsite in a fit of drunken and/or disturbed pique. No actual injury to person or possessions (by that I mean my beloved bike).
Conversely, the justice system did seem to be attaching some importance to it as here we were in a hotel, expenses paid and prosecution pending. My limited knowledge of the law at least led me to believe that the legal community is loath to prosecute cases in which they don’t think there’s a good chance of success.
Thirdly and more complex are my own feelings. I’ve had a long career working in the health and social care sectors, fighting for better care and treatment for those with addictions, alcoholism and with mental ill health. And having worked within that system I can more than appreciate and empathise with the revolving door of often poor treatment and support available to individuals.
Too many people still slip through the care net to become homeless, self-medicating, marginalised.
I’m unable to say for certain but I would wager heavily that the defendant in this case fell in to one or more of the above categories. This gleaned from both his behaviour on the night in question and through subsequent information from the police.
Detached understanding is one thing however, but being on the receiving end of such an episode is not something I’d want to repeat in a hurry. I’ve dealt with far worse in a work environment but that was backed up by trained, supportive colleagues and a whole lot less personal.
In the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, with no idea what’s happening or how far an individual will go, puts another spin on things.
This time, no physical harm or damage was caused, but the next? And whatever the mitigating circumstances, it never gives someone the right to threaten, bully, terrorize others just to get their own way.
With all of the above swirling around in my head, sleep was in short supply that night. Next morning however a quiet resolve took over. There’s something about facing a situation head on, which helps mightily to dissipate its power over you.
Swansea Magistrates court was a drab grey building despite its best efforts at modernisation. After airport style security my friend and fellow witness and I were led into a private room to wait for the court to begin session.
The re-reading of the witness statements from that night was a bizarre experience, made more surreal by the lovely, but very chatty septuagenarian, aka the Witness support volunteer, who brought drinks, magazines and non-stop conversation. Regaling us with the antics of her fellow pensioners on recent coach trips around the country, in between snippets of advice on dealing with the defence’s cross examination and other legal fripperies.
After nearly an hour of coach-trip stories the prosecuting barrister appeared to say that our defendant was a ‘no-show’ but that the court would sit in his absence. After originally having opted to defend himself, then gone AWOL, this also meant no cross examination would occur – phew!
As only one statement was now required I was selected to provide it. Being shown into the (what felt like) cavernous court room by the usher was truly an intimidating experience. It certainly cemented my resolve never to return on either side of the law!
Stumbling over every word of the oath when being sworn in, I was then guided haltingly through my statement by the barrister.
The magistrates were either fully content with this, or, more likely, in a hurry to get to lunch as just a few short minutes later I was back in the witness room and awaiting the verdict. Delivered very soon after, it was returned as ‘guilty’ with an additional ‘contempt of court’ charge.
Academic in some ways as the defendant wasn’t around to receive it but, with a warrant out for his arrest and a known, long previous record, there’s the strong possibility it won’t be long before he surfaces again.
And that was it. Less than 2 hours from start to finish, less than 15 minutes in court for an absentee verdict.
Was it worth it? The expense, the time, the personal stress? It’s hard to quantify but it does provide a sense of closure at least to something opened up by the whole process. It also feels good to have been able to have the chance to stand up and say ‘this behaviour is not acceptable’, whatever the personal circumstances, if indeed there are any, someone has no right to threaten and intimidate. An atonement of sorts and an end to the matter. My hope remains though that when he does finally appear before the court that any sentencing or recourse is geared towards the therapeutic rather than the punative. The chance to receive long term help and rehabilitation being of much greater benefit and efficacy and giving the best possible chances for the future.
Thus concluded, what better way to round off the trip than with some more mountain biking. Grabbing a final few precious and gloriously sunny hours we stopped for a last ride up the Pennhydd trail at Afan Park. Cycling up past the campsite where this all began and onto the trails, laying to rest a few ghosts and eeking the last bits of energy out of tired muscles before the long journey home.
Looking back now, the whole saga can probably be summed up by a stock childhood phrase of my mother’s. When she knew I wasn’t going to like something but was desperately trying to persuade me to do it anyway, she would unleash the immortal phrase, “Go on, it’ll be an experience”.
Well it certainly was and I guess that’s what life’s all about!