Monday, August 27, 2012

the recording

Bilal is waiting for us in his taxi, his headlights the only lights in the street. Everything is dark and quiet, with a silvering of early morning mist across the rooftops.
He gets out and leans against the bonnet as I park up.
‘Do you want to come on board to talk?’ I say to him, whispering a little and leaning in, although there’s precious little point – the ambulance diesel engine must already have woken everybody up. He nods, and limps after us up the steps and into the back.
‘What’s happened?’
Bilal pulls up his left trouser leg, then plants his left foot on the seat in front of him.
‘See what injury they cause,’ he says. ‘See here. Look. Is broken skin, and blooded. Here. Look. Is gate they smash across the leg only when I ask them just to pay.’
‘So what exactly happened then?’
‘Okay. I take drunk girls all the way home. They say to me can we be stopping at cash point for to get the cash. I say fine, I have done this before. I say is okay. But when I stop at petrol eh-station, the girls they don’t get cash. They go straight away inside to buy the foods. I watch them from the cab. They buy many foods – the crips, and  the nut, bag of cake, cocas-cola. Much foods. So then they get back into cab. And I tell them, I say Please -  do not be eating these foods inside the cab. Is not far to go and can you wait please until home. I point to sign I have on window, saying this things. And – one thing – I put on my phone and put it on seat next there, and I record it, because this happen before and there was much trouble. So then listen to this. Please.’
Bilal takes out his phone, finds the record function, places it on the trolley beside him and presses play. After a second or two there’s a dreadful noise. If he’d told me he’d lowered a microphone into a cage of wolves at feeding time I wouldn’t have disbelieved him. And in amongst the crunching and grinding and gulping and smacking and swallowing and belching the occasional word or two: please! don’t! from Bilal, and a semi-human response of drunken swearing from the girls.
Bilal turns it off.
‘You see,’ he says, trembling. ‘So then when I get to their house and ask for the fare, they swear at me. They say I insult them and bully them and cause trouble, and they say they will not pay me the fare. Then they laugh at me and they go inside the house. So what I do? I put on my recorder phone again – for the evidence later on, because this has happen to me before – and I go to the door, and I knock on the door. After minute and minute one girl come out again, and before I can speak she swear and then she – how you say ... ‘ Bilal makes a gesture, describing an arc from his mouth out into the air.
‘She spat at you?’
‘Yes. She eh-spitted on my face. Then she punch with fist in the eye, and when I go back and back like this ...’ he puts up his arms and leans backwards in a mime of pantomimic horror ...’she slam gate of the garden on my leg. Shall I play you this recording also?’
‘No. It’s okay, Bilal. Have you called the police?’
‘Yes. And I think it was police who call you.’
Just at that moment there’s a knock on the back of the ambulance. When we open it, two police officers lean in.

‘So do you understand what I mean by Community Resolution, then, Bilal?’
‘If you could eh-splain it again, please.’
‘Okay. So Community Resolution is a way of settling disputes outside of the courts. They’re quite effective because they have an immediate result, right here and now. They force the offender to acknowledge the crime, there’s a record made of it so that if they commit any other crimes it’ll be taken into consideration, and from the police and court’s point of view, it gets the whole thing wrapped up quickly. So – is this something you’d like to see done tonight, Bilal?’
Bilal shrugs and rubs his leg.
‘Hm. I think I just want this not to happen again. I just want make honest money. I don’t want trouble. But these girls – they make mess of my car with the crips and the nut, and then they refuse to pay what they owe. It’s not good, sir. Not good at all.’
‘No. It’s not good, Bilal. But what you’ll get is the fare paid, an amount on top agreed by all parties as suitable reparation for injuries and damage, and a letter of apology.’
‘A letter?’
‘Saying sorry.’
‘But the other way...?’
‘The other way means statements, attendance at the station for all parties, and then a case for criminal assault. The fare itself you’d have to pursue through the civil courts.’
Bilal winds his trouser leg down, puts both feet firmly on the floor of the ambulance, and sighs. Then he takes out his mobile phone and holds it out to the policeman.
‘You want hear recording?’ he says.


Anonymous said...

I've never heard of this situation before, is it common? (Not the cab driver abuse, sadly it probably is.) I don't think we have anything like that here in the States. We either press charges or not. Maybe someone more in the know on these things can correct me. I am not sure how I feel about it. I think I like it, since it bypasses the legal system somewhat (our judicial system can be slow torture I've heard) but a record is still made and reparations as well. Hmm. Interesting.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Anon.
Well, to be honest I'd never heard of it before, either. I think it's quite a new thing, and possibly even a trial, I don't know. But it does seem to make sense. I'm guessing it's the same in the states as it is here - hundreds of cases clogging up the courts and using up police time in taking statements etc, when sometimes a simple reparation and note of the event is probably all that's needed.

Daniel Rutter said...

There's a Web site for Community Resolution; it does indeed (based only on 3 seconds of Googling, so I could be completely wrong) seem to be a UK-only thing:

The idea seems simple enough - it's sort of like a Small Claims court, but for criminal rather than civil matters.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Daniel. I'll check that out.
I can see the benefits and logic behind it. In Bilal's case I wasn't so sure, though. He was treated pretty badly. And I don't know how much of a deterrent a letter and 50 quid would be to the girls. The fare itself wasn't far off that.

jacksofbuxton said...

I have sympathy for Bilal there,but as long as he got his car cleaning and fare covered then a sensible solution.Saves court time and costs.

Spence Kennedy said...

I know what you mean, Jacks. Except I think a letter of apology for someone spitting in your face and thumping you in the eye doesn't feel quite enough. Definitely frees up the courts, though, and that's got to be a good thing. Interesting that this whole idea hasn't featured more in the press - not that I've seen, anyway.

An English magistrate said...

I don't think that we have Community Resolution in my area. In any case, I think that this assault should have gone to court.

Obviously, you will not have included all the details, Spence, if only to maintain the anonimity of the incident; hence, there is not enough evidence for a detailed analysis or sentencing exercise.

However, this would clearly be an Assault by Beating (the 'by beating' effectively means that there was physical contact - which includes spitting), and there is also the failure to make payment for the service provided.

Take a look at our Sentencing Guidelines:
(Common Assault - page 23)
(making off without payment - page 79)

A likely sentence would be a Community Order including Unpaid Work and/or a curfew, and a Compensation Order for the injuries and the unpaid fare - and perhaps also for the cleaning of the taxi.

If the incident was racially aggravated, this would increase the sentence.

[Long time reader, first time comment]

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much for the input, EM. Really interesting to get that side of things. I'll check out those links to sentencing guidelines etc. You're right - I didn't include all the details for anonymity, but you get the gist. I don't think there was a racial element - although I'm sure the offenders didn't hesitate to use any point of leverage. I felt so sorry for Bilal. A guy working hard to make a living and improve his situation, subject to abuse like that. I know that as far as the judiciary goes (incl. the police), there's always a balance to be struck between the law, civil restitution and day to day practicalities. It's an imperfect world, so coming up with 'real world' strategies that straddle both camps is a laudable thing to do. I think Community Orders are probably a good idea. It'll be interesting to track their progress.
Thanks again for the comment - and for reading all this time!

An English magistrate said...

Apologies, Spence. I started writing in English, but then lapsed into Courtspeak, and I think I may have confused you in the process!

There are lots of possible out-of-court disposals (too many, and too frequently used, IMHO!). Community Resolution would be one; others include Restorative Justice, Fixed Penalty Notices, Cautions (which incidentally give you a criminal record), and - for under-18s - Reprimands and final Warnings.

When a case goes to court, a Community Order is a possible outcome. Community Orders are (surprise, surprise!) served in the community, as opposed to in prison. Most or all of the sentence is supervised and enforced by the Probation Service, so you might possibly think of this as being "on probation".

Sometimes, the court will specify some or all of the work to be completed (anger management, alcohol or drug abuse programmes - it depends partly on what is available locally); other times, it is left to the supervising officer to make the decisions.

Unpaid Work (= Community Service = Community Payback = whatever 'they' are calling it this week) is frequently part of a Community Order; curfews can be very useful in keeping people away from places where they might re-offend - in the case you have described, a curfew would probably run from early evening until the following morning, which means they can't go out and cause trouble. It's rather like being under house arrest, and is nearly always electronically monitored with a 'tag' (and don't believe what the tabloids tell you - any interference with the tag or monitoring equipment is noted, and we do have breaches brought back to court, when we will impose a further penalty or even revoke the Order and re-sentence). Curfews are monitored by private companies (G4S, Serco etc.) rather than by the Probation Service.

Sorry, another long comment. I'll return now to my corner and lurk quietly.

Spence Kennedy said...

It's good that there are plenty of tools for the courts to use. I imagine the more flexible you can be in your response to a case, the more likely you are to find a positive outcome. Given the high number of crimes that are committed by people addicted to drugs, it's also probably a good idea to balance punishment with rehab.

Your comment reminds me of a wedding I went to where the table of young lads on my right all got up and left right at the start of the reception in the early evening. I asked my sister what that was about and she said that was the tagged table!

Thanks for such a long and detailed comment, EM. Very interesting - and much appreciated. It's enormously encouraging to know that I have such accomplished lurkers out there...!

InsomniacMedic said...


I still lurk here, reading several posts at a time, but haven't commented for ages.

I think I like the sound of the system of Community Resolution has its pros and cons. I'd probably opt for it if I was on the receiving end of some of the abuse we see.

However, as far as I'm concerned, spitting is a red-line that shouldn't be crossed. I find it worse, at least a hundred-fold, than the punch to the eye.

I have no idea why, possibly because of the truly animalistic nature of the person who's spitting.

Spit at me, and expect me to take it to the furthest point of justice that I can manage.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Insomniac - how's it going?

I know what you mean about spitting. There's something particularly evil about it. But I suppose in the end the Community Resolution thing would entirely depend on the circumstances and the individual response of the victim. I remember seeing footage about the fall of Baghdad where the crowds were hitting pictures of Saddam with their shoes, because for them that was the worst insult imaginable. But even so, I'd bet that spitting crosses pretty much every cultural boundary.

Good to hear from you, Insomniac. Hope everything's good with you.