Monday, November 22, 2010

My Twenty Seconds of Fame

I'm watching Football Focus on Saturday morning (a popular national show about football on terrestrial tv). I notice the two guests are Mark Lawrenson  and Martin Keown (Arsenal legend!!) sporting a new shaved head look. So I randomly post the following tweet along with a picture.

About 10 mins later, this happens...

Dan:    Talking about haircuts, we've had this tweet in from neo peo. You'll like this Martin. *reads tweet*

Martin: Well that's very kind of him! :-)
Mark:   Scuse me scuse me. Oozit from??
Dan:    neo peo
Mark:   NEO.... PEO.... wossalldattaabouutt??? :-|
Martin: He sounds a bit wrong doesn't he! :-D
Mark:   The world's gone mad. 
Dan:    Lawro's not really up with twitter.
Mark:   No. :-|

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jury Service - Part Three

Third and final post. Let's start with more about how crappy this place is. I went to the canteen to get a coffee. The machine does it automatically. Coffee. White. You then add in sugar and extra milk if you like.

Three sugars in mine. I take the lid off the milk container to add a little more. A fucking fly flies out. Yeah I'll pass on the milk thanks.

And on Friday i believe it was, when it was raining quite heavily outside, the roof starts leaking in the jury waiting room in a few places. One of the jurors put a bin underneath it haha. What a shock the cleaner is gonna get when she (or he) empties it.

Over the next few days, all three defendants, a senior member of WH security team, as well as 2 policemen involved in the police raid on the flat, took to the stand giving their account of what happened.

A true account of the events was slowly becoming clear to me. Tania had gotten hold of these QuickCash vouchers. How she obtained them, the prosecution wasn't sure. But she had access to the branch keys whilst working there, and possibly had knowledge of the alarm codes. It was suggested she had aided the burglars in their robbery.

But she had a problem. These QuickCash vouchers had to be applied to an online WH account then withdrawn in-store using photographic ID. She contacted Jessica and told her she had won some money gambling online. She told her she was unable to withdraw it as current or ex WH employees are not allowed accounts. She asked her to help her out by making an account under her name (Jessica's) and withdraw the money for her. Tania created the account herself asking Jessica for her details and then asked her to go withdraw it for her.

She did the same with Evelyn. And crucially, Jessica and Evelyn didn't know each other and yet their police interviews matched. There was also a number of circumstantial pieces of evidence that together made the ultimate difference.

As the case was coming to a conclusion, I had a little glance towards the dock and noticed Jessica was rocking to and fro, from stress or anxiety I imagine. She was the youngest of the lot at 20, student and a part-time singer. She had the most to lose from all the defendants.

A friend of Jessica's took the stand to give a character reference and also to support Jessica's claim that she and her knew Tania. Quite a ballsy young lady this one, pointing straight at Tania confirming she knew her. Very confident. At the end of her statement, one of the lawyers asked her if she has ever been arrested.

Jessica's Friend: "Yeah"
Lawyer: "What for?"
Jessica's Friend: "Umm, assaulting a police offer" she mumbled quietly.

Half the courtroom broke out in muffled laughter.

After about 4 hours of deliberation, which i am definitely not allowed to write about, the verdicts were unanimous.

Tania, guilty.
Jessica and Evelyn, not guilty.

As the verdict for Jessica was read out, she screamed YES in delight. So much joy from her and her family. It was quite a satisfying feeling knowing you cleared two peoples names. No reaction from Tania.

The case finished just before lunch time and we all went out separate ways. After lunch back in the waiting room, we all sat together and one guy comes and tells us in his cockney accent...

"You missed out there guys. Jessica's family celebrating in the pub down the road with champagne and everything. I didn't realise. One minute I'm having a pint and the next everyone's hugging me and giving me drinks. It was quite awkward. I only went there for a quiet pint!!!"

One lady mentions she wants to go. Several times. So at the end of the day, two hours later, we thought we'd pop in. It was the most surreal moment in my life. Jessica and her mother went around hugging every one of us about twice each. Her mother in particular was a picture of relief and mentioned that whilst all three defendants had been sitting in the dock together, Tania was making regular threats towards Jessica.

Ultimately, Jessica and Evelyn were very naive in doing favours for Tania involving such large sums of cash (one withdrawal amounted to £4000) and they've learnt a very harsh lesson. A year and a half of the whole affair hanging over them til they were finally cleared.

What amazes me about the trial was how naked the defendants were to everyone in the court. Including their own family. Every possibly relevant detail was exposed. The defendants bank statements and general financial situation. Home address. Phone number. Relationship history. Sexual orientation. Previous arrests. Involvement with drugs. All these things were no longer private. I can't imagine the can of worms some of these details opened up for the defendants and their families. It probably isn't much of an issue with the cleared defendants with the joy and relief of being cleared overwhelming any other feelings. For Tania, who is likely to get a suspended sentence with an electronic tag, things will not be so well.

There were mentions of intimidation and possibly bullying towards Evelyn whilst they lived together. I don't think she'll feel safe for a long while as it didn't seem like she had the same level of support from friends and family behind her as Jessica did.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jury Service - Part Two

Everyone i talk to about my recent jury service mention they'd love to do it. Let me tell how boring it is though. If you're not called on a case, and there are always a few people unlucky enough, you have to sit there in a silent room all day. No TV. You are sat down for a long time. You can try and strike up conversations with people, but you know what London is like. Many people like to keep themselves to themselves. But i found most are quite nice on jury service as its random members of the population, not the wanker-banker types you see on a tube or train during rush hour.

Even when you do get on a case, you are sat down for 3 hours listening to lawyers giving evidence in a language where many sentences start "Might I suggest..." or "I put it to you...".  They speak very slowly too, with a lot of gaps in between their sentences. This is intentional so that the stenographer (the person who types up a script of every word said in court) can keep up, as well as the jurors and judge who may be writing notes.

It's all veerrryyy slow. I have no problem keeping concentration in this type of environment. What i do struggle with is sitting still. As I do at work, long car journeys, or in the cinema, i slipped my shoes off and put my feet up, occasionally sitting cross-legged.

Of the people i spoke to, I noticed that the ones who found it most difficult were the types who had physically active jobs. One was a football coach. Another was a mechanic. They looked reaaalllyy fed up and stressed. As for Mr RightAngle Hunchback, he's retired. He was regularly nodding off. It's easier for the likes of me who work in I.T. and sit down most of the day anyway. I've not had to write so much for years though! My hand-writing is proper fucked now.

Anyway, back to the case. The judge mentions the charge in question with brief details as soon as the full 15 entered the courtroom. The charge is 'Conspiracy to Defraud' involving William Hill. If any members of the jury are currently employed or have shares in William Hill, or if you knew any of the three defendants, you will not be able to serve in this case due to conflicts of interest. It applied to none of us.

The prosecution started with the details. It is a complex case so bare with me while i try to explain it in the least boring way.

Three young ladies, Tania, Jessica and Evelyn, aged between 19 and 24, were on charges of conspiracy to defraud William Hill. We were given a massive pile of documents which would be referred to during the course of the trial.

He explained what William Hill was, and the different ways you could place a bet. You could do it all in store. Or online. If you do it online, you can either transfer funds in to your online WH (William Hill) account by credit/debit card or bank wire. There is another method not used so much nowadays where you go in store with cash and they will hand you a QuickCash voucher for the equivalent sum of money which you can then apply to your online WH account to place the funds in there. There is apparently no limit to the amount that a QuickCash voucher can be issued for.

Once you have applied the voucher code to your account, the funds have been transferred. You can then use this to gamble or print out a withdrawal receipt of a chosen amount and take this to a WH store and exchange it for cash.

The prosecution explained that in this particular case, the evidence can be classed in to two main groups. Direct evidence (facts, documents, CCTV, DNA, fingerprints, items found during property searches, etc) and Testimonial Evidence (evidence from witnesses, victims or the defendants themselves).

He started with the direct evidence. Tania used to work for William Hill but was sacked for gross misconduct involving falsifying documents. Apparently she issued incorrect amounts of winnings on three occasions. During her time there, she had a set of keys which she used to open up the branch on occasions of staff shortages. The prosecution states she had cut the keys for a copy of them which were for the robbery. When she was sacked she had to hand her keys back.

Three weeks after she was sacked, the store she worked at was robbed. There was no forced entry. The burglars had keys and had the alarm codes. CCTV wasn't active in the store for a number of weeks or possibly months due to some problems they were experiencing with it.

Another branch was also robbed within a few days. Another defendant named Victoria had already pleaded guilty and therefore wasn't part of this trial. She had worked at this other branch and had also been sacked for gross misconduct (details unknown). It was burgled in the same way although CCTV was available in that branch. Crucially, Victoria, Tania and Evelyn knew each other.

Other direct evidence. Tania, Victoria and Evelyn shared a flat during that time (a tenancy agreement was shown). Jessica lived about a mile away.

WH weren't aware those branches had been robbed, due to the stealth nature of the robbery, til a number of weeks later when their accounts didn't add up. Police then did a surprise search of the house many weeks later and a few of the stolen QuickCash vouchers were found in the hallway and in Victoria's handbag, identified by serial numbers on the voucher itself. The online accounts were created in Evelyn's and Jessica's name. They had to be legitimate accounts because when you withdraw money as mentioned above, you need to take identification.

CCTV footage of Evelyn and Jessica on different occasions withdrawing money from WH

I don't want all this to get too boring so I'll sum it up for what I've mentioned so far.

Defendants: Tania, Jessica, Evelyn. (Victoria already pleaded guilty).
Flat shared by: Tania, Evelyn, Victoria.
Sacked WH staff: Tania and Victoria. Tania had a set of keys to open up branch.
WH accounts that laundered money: Jessica and Evelyn.
Stolen QuickCash vouchers found in the flat.

The direct evidence was damning. 

He then spent three of the longest hours of my life going through a timeline of all the transactions and events IN A LOT OF DETAIL. Making special point of the time of each one. I'm not even ashamed to say i fell asleep on many occasions. Later i heard a few others did too, including Mr RightAngle which didn't surprise me one bit. Poor old guy. He nodded off on many occasions, often with his pen still in his hands and then it dropping as he fell asleep along with his head rocking to one side. One time he dropped a whole bunch of papers as he fell asleep and slid across his desk. 

They really ought to use some kind of software so that the information can be read out in an interesting voice like Morgan Freeman rather than the drone-like Prince Charles we were stuck with. 

Occasionally the judge would grant a short break if she felt it was needed. One on occasion, one guy fell asleep and snored. She then asked one of us to prod him awake then told the guy she was okay to give a short break to everyone if he needed one, but he said it was okay. I'm sure the sheer embarrassment of being sounded out in the whole court woke him up just fine.

We were at the end of day two and it looked a straight forward case to me. From what i'd heard so far, i was thinking all three guilty.

Now the testimonial evidence. And this made all the difference. Let's start with the police statements of each of the three. We were given HUGE piles of documents for this. Their police statements, the interview at the police station after being arrested. It was read out by the prosecution lawyer. I'll only mention the important parts.

Tania obviously denies any knowledge of any fraud. She mentions she knew nothing of Evelyn's or Victoria's involvement and that she had no idea who Jessica was. She says she was wrongly dismissed from her job.

Jessica stated an ex-boyfriend asked her to make an account as a favour and she didn't know why and that she was not aware of any illegal activities. She says she doesn't know a Tania. The police then let her know about phone records at which point she crumbled a little and admitted she does know Tania, who is a sort of friend of hers and that she had asked her to make an account for her as she had won some money but couldn't withdraw it as she is a previous employee of WH. She says she doesn't know Evelyn.

Evelyn said a similar story to Jessica. Tania had asked her to make an account. She said she doesn't know Jessica. 

I was pretty confused by now. I couldn't work out who was telling the truth. Jessica and Evelyn were either very very stupid girls getting themselves caught on CCTV and opening accounts in their own names. Or they were less stupid for helping someone launder money with Tania being slightly clever here.

Continues tomorrow. The boring parts are over and I'll have a few more interesting stories including finding a fly in the milk. The roof in the jury room leaking when it rained. And bumping in to the defendants in a nearby pub. 

Jury Service - Part One

So, I've been called up for jury service. AGAIN. The first time was about 10 years back and involved a road-rage case. In summary, guy A got angry with guy B's driving which nearly caused guy A to crash his car. Guy A got out and attacked guy B. Guy B's momma came out to break it up or maybe even attack guy A too, who knows. Then guy A kicked guy B's momma.

Quite a ruckus indeed. Anyway, he went down. Just. On a majority vote.

I was the only one of the 12 jurors to go for not guilty. Although that was due to the charge itself and not for the assault. The charge was Racially Aggravated Assault. And the evidence for the racial slur at the start of the altercation was simply his word against the others. The prosecution lawyer was pretty amateur though. I'm wondering if it was him who chose that charge and not just a straight assault?

In fact, i forgot to mention we were one juror short on that case cos one lady decided to JET OFF ON HOLIDAY DURING THE CASE.  Apparently she had booked it before her jury summons but didn't tell anyone. She was supposed to let the court people know so that she isn't put on any long cases or they could defer it to another date. But NOOOO she decides to come in, start a case she knew she would walk away from in the middle. 

The judge explained to us he didn't stop her going as he didn't want anyone on jury service that wasn't going to do it properly. And i think i recall her using her headphones in court too. Some african lady with poor english.

Anyway. That was in the lovely Southwark Crown Court. This time I'm in the disgusting Inner London Crown Court near Elephant and Castle. It is so shit. No TV. Cramped seating. Vending machine doesn't work. The toilets remind me of the type you see at a boys-only secondary school. The court rooms themselves are tiny too.

And then there's the surrounding area. Piss shit. Road works all over the place. Dirty cafe's everywhere. Hoodies at every street corner.

First day arrives and i'm ten minutes late. Wasn't a problem though. It started with some boring lectures about the whole process and rules and regulations, plus a boring video. They also mentioned that you can't go out for smoke breaks in case your name gets called on a case. Those poor bastard smokers couldn't smoke in between approx 9.45am - 1pm and 2 - 4pm. And with nothing to occupy them while they wait for a case, must have been difficult for some. Having said that, I did smell a strange odour in the toilets. A mix of shit and smoke if i had it correct. I can tell you now, those two do NOT go well together.

They explained if anyone is finding it difficult being smoke-less for so long, they may come to the office to get some patches. But i guess most just did it on the shitter.

Anyway, so we had to just wait til your name is one of the randomly chosen ones to go on a case. Cases start quite regularly. Every half hour or so.

So i sat back, got my laptop out and browsed Facebook and Twitter. All the while, i'm getting fully paid by work. Pretty cushty. Internet access was £5 per 90 mins. Or £25 per week. Fucking rip offs. But no i didn't pay for it. I used a clever little function on Android phones called tethering which allows me to use my phones internet access. 

Lunch time arrives and they pay £5.71 per day for food. They put it on a smart card and you can use it in the building canteen or go eat outside and claim back the accrued amount on the smart card at the end of your jury service.

I was called on to a case shortly after lunch. They choose 15 people and pick 12 people randomly from within the courtroom (the other 3 are reserves in case the defence reject one of the jurors for one reason or another).

It was some long-arse walk to the court! Go down the corridor, down those stairs, and those. Then down that corridor, turn right, the left, then right, go down the corridor, then up those stairs.

One of the 15 was this really old guy, musta been late 60's (the upper age limit for jurors is 69 - interesting choice of number). He has a massive hunchback. Everyone just stares at him everywhere he goes, mainly at wonder how he manages to get around cos he literally at a right angle while he stands. At the top of the final set of stairs he tripped and fell over. Not too bad though.

As we get inside the courtroom, there were only 14 seats available at the back. I was the 14th one to get in. I think, shit. I turn around to see who's behind me cos i remember it was the old hunchback guy. So i let him take the seat even though i was tempted to facepalm him and claim it for myself. He's a right angle anyway, how's he gonna sit down on a chair?

But no, i stayed stood up whilst they picked 12 random names, one of them being mine, and walked my way to grab a seat in the jury section. An end seat. I had no idea what a saviour that was gonna be later on. Having one side free to stretch legs and arms. 

The judge was a rather MILFish looking south asian lady. Her eloquence would even challenge the Queen herself. She KNEW she was the boss though. She'd occasionally snap at lawyers (but not in a bitchy way) for wasting time. She briefly explained the charge and the procedures of the court and the case started right away with the prosecution introducing the main details of the case which i will describe in tomorrows blog entry.