Cock Up

When the wheels of justice fall off the chariot

Damian Clarke
Jul 23 · 5 min read

I had been in the room for three hours. I was glad I’d brought a book to read.

A woman wearing a backstage pass entered, looked at me, was surprised, checked carefully for anyone else in the quite small, obviously empty room, and backed out slowly. She returned with the man who had showed me into the room that morning. He scanned the empty room and pointed me out to her. This time they both backed out slowly.

Before their visits, I had come to the conclusion that not many people sat in that room, or even this part of London, wearing a suit and tie. Their visits reinforced that conclusion.

The man returned again, with another man. A man also wearing a suit and tie. The man in the suit and tie introduced himself.

I fleetingly wondered if they always tried to find someone who matched garment-for-garment, the person they were talking to. Should I have told them I also speak business casual — like a native — and can get by in both formalwear and workwear?

The well dressed man introduced himself as the magistrate and sat down on the coffee table in front of the couch. Earlier I had been lying on the couch with my feet up, reading my book. I was now pleased that I had sensed impending activity, sat up and tidied myself when all the people started coming in and looking at me.

“I’m terribly sorry about this sir. I don’t know how to describe it beyond saying that there has been a complete and utter cock up. You are here unnecessarily.”

“It’s the CPS — they’re horribly understaffed, and they just get things wrong, like this. Your case, because it was so serious, will be dealt with by the Crown Court, around November. Today’s case concerned the same defendant, but was a different case all together. The CPS has just seen your name in the paperwork and called you in without checking, and the prosecutor has only discovered that you were not needed when he got the file an hour ago, at 4pm. I’m terribly sorry sir, you are free to go.”


A few weeks earlier, I was making phone calls from the back of a taxi in New York. I don’t usually catch taxis, but I was late for a meeting after inadvertently catching the uptown W-train instead of the downtown-W, and hadn’t realised until I got to Queenboro Plaza. A downtown-7 got me back to 42nd Street — Grand Central Station — five minutes before my meeting was due to start near Wall Street. I had to get above ground to call and tell them I was late, my colleague’s mantra, “Better not, than late!” ringing in my head.

I ran up pale marble stairs, then dark metal ones, to the street — a street, any street — straight across the footpath and into a taxi that was stopping for the red light. “Downtown please — 140 Broadway — just past City Hall.”

I was self conscious the first few times I had to reel off a New York city address to a taxi driver. I felt like some silly try-hard, trying to make himself sound more glamorous than he is — like those slightly tatty cafes in suburban shopping centres that call themselves The Manhattan Diner, or the Madison Ave Burger Bar. But you can’t be self conscious for long in New York, or you’d never get anywhere. So I reeled off the address and rang Nikki, hoping she was in the office, and could give me the phone number of the people I was meeting. One phone call turned into many, between my taxi in New York and Nikki in New York, Karen in London, Tamsin in New York, Vicky in New York, Nikki again, Karen again — finalising the last minute minutiae of the seventy people we had coming to our event that afternoon.

The taxi stopped at an intersection and turned right. I caught a glimpse of Gramercy Park — finally locating myself on my mental map of the city. The phone rang again. An English number — must be Karen again. I answered informally, to a very formal, unfamiliar English voice.

“Mr Albion?”

“Yes”

“Are you familiar with the case of Mr Not Very Good Burglar?”

(The man who would have only been marginally easier for the police to identify if he’d left a note, or a business card, as opposed to several pristine finger and hand prints on our windows.)

“Yes, he’s the guy who the Police identified as the guy who stole my laptop when he burgled our house a few weeks ago.”

(And old, unreliable and slightly broken laptop, that probably bought him a beating from whoever he sold it to.)

“Thankyou sir. I have a letter from the judge hearing the case. He asks if you would appear as a witness on Wednesday. Are you able to attend?”

(Gosh, that’s prompt, I thought.)

“Yes — can you send me the details please — I can’t really take them down now.”

“Yes sir, we will send you an information pack.”


Later in the day, with a slight air of smugness, I notified my bosses that I wouldn’t be in on Wednesday afternoon, because I would be riding the wheels of justice in Thames Magistrates Court.

We known how that went. Here is the rest.


Wednesday afternoon, wearing my white shirt and going-out-visiting tie, I caught the tube to be in court by 1.30pm, like it said in the letter. I arrived fifteen minutes early, like it said in the letter. The court seemed abandoned. The lady at the desk said it was lunch break until 2pm. The Witness Officer directed me to the sandwich shop. I returned by 2pm and was shown to the stinking hot witness room. I was given a sip of water, and I waited.

I had taken some work to do, so I did it.

I waited some more.

A lawyer turned up — that he was from the Bronx amused me, given I was back in London — gave me a copy of my statement, and I waited. I finished my work and waited. The lawyer came back, said he’d passed the case to someone else, and it was going to be delayed — he was surprised I was still there.

The witness officer came and said that something was happening, and that either I would be called soon, or dismissed. Either way was fine for me — I was done working, done reading and done waiting.

The lady came in, looked at me and backed out slowly.

You know the rest.


They said I could claim expenses.

I checked. I can claim about £4.20.

Copyright © Damian Clarke, 2020. First posted on the Our Albion Blog, July 23rd, 2007.

Our Albion

he story of a guy with a hammer, some nails and an old…

Damian Clarke

Written by

I’m a writer and publisher working in Sydney, Australia and London, UK. I specialise in finance, technology, insurance, property, medicine and sustainability.

Our Albion

he story of a guy with a hammer, some nails and an old house to use them on.

Damian Clarke

Written by

I’m a writer and publisher working in Sydney, Australia and London, UK. I specialise in finance, technology, insurance, property, medicine and sustainability.

Our Albion

he story of a guy with a hammer, some nails and an old house to use them on.

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