My client has been caught on camera punching someone in the face. The footage looks damning. But sometimes CCTV can be turned to the defence's advantageby Alex McBride / September 28, 2008 / Leave a comment
“There’s CCTV,” said the prosecutor cheerfully. I wasn’t worried. CCTV is generally of such bad quality that it’s hard to figure out what the indistinct blobs on the fuzzy background are doing and to whom. Is it a pub fight? Is it a German expressionistic dance? Is it mating badgers? It’s anyone’s guess. The prosecutor pressed play. The picture quality was razor-sharp. She turned to me and smiled. “New camera,” she said.
Smack bang in the middle of the screen was my client, Giles, outside a pub, stripped to the waist and readying for action. His quarry made a break for it, but was too slow. Giles punched him in the face, flexing his spindly arms at the hidden camera. He might as well have been holding a sign saying “Convict me now.” Giles’s left hook ignited the whole street corner, with a dozen pub regulars settling their differences like gentlemen.
Crimewatch UK was no match for this footage. It was even better than Cops, the American “real life” television crime show that set the gold standard in the 1990s, with clips of the underclass being righteously clubbed by mustachioed patrolmen. But in these type of programmes, it’s always the police and not the defendants who are shown in their best light. And if you thought that only shining examples of police work are caught on camera, you would be, as we barristers like to say, falling into error.
Pondering on how to defend Giles, I remembered Reg, whom I represented at trial on charges of actual bodily harm and affray. Reg first appeared on CCTV stepping out of a police van dressed in flip-flops, a T-shirt and summery shorts—not exactly fighting gear. His hands were cuffed behind his back and he was escorted by two police officers.
What made the CCTV so interesting in this case was the gap between what was in the officers’ witness statements and what I—not to mention the jury—could see with our own eyes. The police had claimed that Reg was struggling when he arrived. We could see that he wasn’t. The police then alleged that he tried to trip another officer up. It wasn’t clear from the tape whether he had or not, but what the arresting officer did next was beyond dispute. He slammed Reg against a wall and then pulled the handcuffs over the back of Reg’s head, doubling him…