Stuff happens. I was arrested for a criminal offence and was on bail for three years before the case against me was dropped in a UK Crown Court. I was confused, angry, in fact, mad as hell, so I tried to be creative and ending up writing two books about it. I intend to include abridged extracts here on Medium. It might be of use or interest to someone some day. Here’s how I managed in those first few days, weeks and months after the police raided my home and confiscated all my computer equipment (I say ‘manage’, it was the beginning of the madness …) and six tips from a police detective on what to do if you are arrested.
The day after my arrest …
On a normal day, I would sit down at the computer colour-correcting the movie and compile film paperwork. But … I had no computers, so I revived the original plan for the previous day and decided to walk to the local shops for a cooked breakfast. During the fifteen-minute walk I found myself walking more slowly than I had ever done in my life. After all what was the rush? Everything had changed.
The events of the previous twenty-seven hours were going to affect every conceivable aspect of my life. Bizarrely, it was also rather humbling. All film and career options were now hanging by a frayed string over a deep, dark sea. I was now wholly and utterly at the mercy of events far beyond my sphere of influence. A life pretty much devoid of choice, self-determination. A different world from the one I had known since a boy when everything seemed possible. All the busyness that had preoccupied me up to the previous day had dissolved. Bizarrely and sadly, I noted, I didn’t even have the energy to miss it.
As I edged along the pavement mulling over this state of affairs, a black cat pattered down the front garden path of a bland, suburban home to my left and poked its head through the gate railings looking at the pavement in front of me. I stopped for a moment to let it slip through the gate and cross my path in the spirit of an old wives’ tale, but it just stood there looked up at me and waited. It didn’t move. Man and cat locked in a game of chicken. It was almost taunting me — I did not qualify for any good luck. Taking the hit, I sauntered on but turned around a few paces further down the pavement. The cat padded out through the gate and across the path behind me. Did that qualify as bad luck? Or just the absence of luck? To make matters worse I noted that its paws were white. It wasn’t even fully black. Typical — even the non-fully-black cats weren’t crossing my path.
The café had a few tables in the front window by the main service counter which were bathed in sunlight with a clear view of the street (with the street having a clear view of the tables). A gloomy dark corridor (in which a couple of small, poorly-lit tables were squeezed) led from the front of the café to the establishment’s large back room which was bright but cheerless. Seated, I sipped my latte and tried to read an old newspaper I had brought just in case there were no papers available. I certainly didn’t want to gaze into nothingness; the illusion of reading was much preferred. The cooked breakfast arrived — baked beans, mushrooms, two sausages, a single fried egg on toast. In spite of my nausea, I managed to put away the egg and toast. The beans weren’t too difficult either. I couldn’t face the mushrooms. Tried one, forced another, but I felt I was going to throw up, so I left the rest and half a sausage. A first for me. I would normally clear the plate. First the cat, then the cooked breakfast. I wouldn’t have made a pretty sight — a hunched figure with a woolly hat pulled low over his eyes with one hand slowly shovelling beans into his mouth, the other hand over his eyes propping up his head, elbow on the table. Anybody with any sense of compassion seeing me might have felt compelled to enquire after my well-being, but I had chosen my gloomy corridor table well and I was undisturbed. I rose to my feet making sure an emotional spasm wasn’t imminent and edged my way off the premises unnoticed, like a shadow thrown by a passing cloud.
The days became a week. Without a computer there was very little for me to do. Visiting a local gym to burn off some nervous energy I overheard a sport centre staff member talking on the phone as I entered the building.
‘No we don’t do CRB [Criminal Records Bureau] checks on people who use the gym,’ he said.
I couldn’t believe it. Normally I would have shaken my head in disbelief at the erosion of civil liberties, but now I couldn’t raise a flicker of anything. Was this the future? Would my arrest appear on a CRB check? Or did it only apply to convictions?
The shock eased over the next week. The numbness lasted a little longer, but the fire and fight had been knocked out of me completely. When meeting my brother for coffee, I didn’t mention anything. That was the agreed plan after all. Say nothing. Nothing could be done until 30 June. Four and a half months away.
Exercise was a good distraction. The karate club had known me for years and fortunately CRB checks did not appear to be on their radar. (Or if it had been practice, I had missed it, just like much else referring to criminality before my arrest.) Although I understood the need for teachers and instructors to submit to such checks, it was noted in the Press that attendees of courses (for instance in Further Education) were not required to submit to checks. Nevertheless, when my instructor looked troubled and preoccupied on one particular occasion, I suddenly wondered whether the police had approached him and advised him of the bail status of a club member. Taking place immediately before the senior class there was a ‘family’ session that I usually skipped unless they asked for my help. Now, I thought, I decided I would avoid the family sessions altogether. (Why? Because the thought that there could be any suggestion that I had an ulterior motive made me feel sick.)
The days following the arrest I made a point of getting out of the house — going to the cinema and playing squash with my long-standing squash buddy, Ryan.
‘How’s your week been?’ he asked, as he must have done every week for the previous ten years.
‘Fine,’ was the only possible reply.
Never had I thought that I would spend a birthday (39 years old) on police bail. I had received a handful of cards and one package — a small box of dark chocolates from an old work colleague, Mel. She had emailed me earlier in the week asking how things were going and for a new postal address. Her email, card and chocolates served only as a reminder that there was another phase yet to endure. What would these people think? Would they ever know? How would they know? Via the Press? Word-of-mouth? Would I have to tell Mel and others in person? Would it change things? How? Would they skip sending birthday cards and gently withdraw? Or would they be understanding and defer judgement?
The purpose of taking the career-break-sabbatical had been to focus on the film options. In the months leading up to the police visit I had attended various courses and became a fully qualified ‘Apple Pro’ in Final Cut Pro editing software. I had edited together a show-reel of my short and feature-length films and the week before the police visit I had been registering with agencies with a view to working freelance. I sent CVs to colleagues and contacts for whom I had already done some video editing as part of my job. Now that the film had gone, I had not an ounce of creativity in me, coupled with the fact that I might find myself in a criminal court in a matter of months which would throw any freelance job offers out the window. I therefore desisted from any further self-promotion or registration with agencies. Therefore it was a surprise in April to receive an email from my former employer asking me to film (and therefore edit) a few lectures. My efforts pre-arrest to promote myself had borne fruit. I would be paid as a freelancer. It was my first offer of work.
The email sat in my inbox and I looked at it for a day, then another, then another. I had no means to deliver edited footage. I did consider arranging a bank loan to purchase a whole new suite of editing equipment, but any money I made would not make a dent in the loan. I never replied to the email.
With no film activity and no income, I was therefore obliged to consider returning to paid employment in a non-creative context. I did submit a few speculative applications for administrative posts in creative organisations, but times were difficult post-2008 credit crunch and I wasn’t successful. Thus my attention turned to work I had hoped I had left behind — administrative posts in higher education, but there were difficulties there too. Some jobs were simply off-limits — they required (or might have required) a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check, which I could do without.
On job applications’ ‘How to apply’ instructions, I would often come across a request that had flitted across my mind in the previous few weeks: ‘Have you ever held convictions….’ or referred to ‘criminal proceedings’? I certainly wasn’t going to put the details of my predicament down on paper. After all I didn’t know where the information would end up.
‘It’s a sign,’ my mother would say, ‘stick with the creative stuff. You’re not meant to go back to that kind of work.’
I ended up emailing solicitor Alison to ask about my status in terms of employment applications. Were there currently ‘criminal proceedings’ against me or would that come later, after a charge? I had a reply a day or so later:
David, to me proceedings mean “before a court”. At the moment you are simply under suspicion and you have not been charged with an offence. Therefore I interpret it to mean that proceedings haven’t begun yet. I will look it up and email you by the end of the day if I am wrong. If you don’t hear from me then I am right!
I didn’t hear from her.
My understanding was that my arrest shouldn’t show up on the standard CRB check — only convictions or possibly charges, but one never knew and so I never felt it was worth the risk. It could possibly appear on the ‘enhanced CRB check’. In the end I applied for nearly fifty jobs before I was short-listed for a local administrative job in higher education.
Aside from the distractions and applying for jobs, I felt obliged to educate myself about the predicament I was facing. Unpleasant though it was, I made a point about researching the law, other criminal cases and police practice. Firstly, the options open to the police.
I researched the law and learnt the difference between the charges ‘making’ and ‘possessing’ indecent images. My inexpert legal understanding suggested the ‘making’ of an image did not require ‘taking a photograph’ (as one might think) but could mean merely ‘making it appear’ on a computer screen (i.e. presumably opening a file). ‘Possessing’ images seemed to mean the knowledge of the image(s) existence on a computer (which might not involve the ‘making’ of the image on a computer screen). Possession did not require ‘making’. I read around various articles and comments on forums including those from disgruntled people who had felt badgered into accepting cautions for offences (for which they did not feel responsible) only to regret it at a later date. Just conducting the simple research made me feel ill, so I soon dropped it adopting the view I would revisit the matter only if circumstances required it.
Nevertheless, I soon came across newspaper articles which led me to reports of a ‘blog’ by an anonymous writer called ‘Nightjack’ about life in the police force. The blogger was eventually ‘outed’ by The Times newspaper as a police detective with the Lancashire Constabulary. For years Nightjack had blogged about life as a Detective Constable (DC — the same rank as my arresting officer, Lauren Hopkins). The blog had been eventually deleted (police officers are not permitted to express opinions), but some postings survived on the Internet in different forms including the postings giving advice to ‘decent people’ about what to do if they are arrested. There was advice under headings such as: Complain First Always; Make a Counter Allegation; Claim Suicidal Thoughts; Actively Complain About Every Officer and Everything They Do, amongst others, but a number of sections were particularly telling:
Never explain to the Police: If the Police arrive to lock you up, say nothing. You are a decent person and you may think that reasoning with the Police will help. “If I can only explain, they will realise it is all a horrible mistake and go away”. Wrong. We do want to talk to you on tape in an interview room but that comes later. All you are doing by trying to explain is digging yourself further in. We call that stuff a significant statement and we love it. Decent folk can’t help themselves, they think that they can talk their way out. Wrong.
Admit Nothing: To do anything more than lock you up for a few hours we need to prove a case. The easiest route to that is your admission. Without it, our case may be a lot weaker, maybe not enough to charge you with. In any case, it is always worth finding out exactly how damning the evidence is before you fall on your sword. So don’t do the decent and honourable thing and admit what you have done. Don’t even deny it or try to give your side of the story. Just say nothing. No confession and [the] CPS [Criminal Prosecution Service] are on the back foot already. They foresee a trial. They fear a trial. They are looking for any excuse to send you home free.
Keep your mouth shut: Say as little as possible to us. At the custody office desk a Sergeant will ask you some questions. It is safe to answer these. For the rest of the time, say nothing.
Claim Suicidal Thoughts: A debatable one this. Claiming to be thinking about topping yourself has several benefits. If you can keep it up, it might just bump up any compensation payable later. On the other hand you may find yourself in a paper suit with someone watching your every move.
Always, always, always have a solicitor: Duh. No brainer this one. Unless you know 100% for sure that your mate the solicitor does criminal law and is good at it, ask for the Duty Solicitor. They certainly do criminal law and they are good at it. Then listen to what the solicitor says and do it. Their job is to get you off without the Cops or CPS laying a glove on you if at all possible. It is what they get paid for. They are free to you. There is no down side. Now decent folks think it makes them look like they have something to hide if they ask for a solicitor. Irrelevant. Going into an interview without a solicitor is like taking a walk in Tottenham with a big gold Rolex. Bad things are very likely to happen to you. I wouldn’t do it and I interview people for a living.
Show no respect to the legal system or anybody working in it: You think that if you are difficult, unpleasant, sneering, uncooperative and rude things will go badly for you and you will be in more trouble. No sirree Bob. It seems that in fact the worse you are, the easier things will go for you if, horror of horrors, you do end up convicted. Remember to fake a drink problem if you haven’t developed one as a result of dealing with us already. Magistrates and Judges do seem to like the idea that you are basically good but the naughty alcohol made you do it. They treat you better. Crazy I know but true.
So there you go, basically anything you try and do because you are decent and straightforward hurts you badly. Act like an habitual, professional, lifestyle criminal and chances are you will walk away relatively unscathed. Copy the bad guys, it’s what they do for a living.
It was both reassuring and unsettling. It was reassuring that it matched what others familiar with the police were saying; it was unsettling that this was a police detective talking.
MAD AS HELL (Parts 1 and 2) available on Amazon and in bookstores. Further extracts and articles to follow on the law, mental health, court appearances, in fact, the whole three-year, life-defining episode.