The case against the defendant was overwhelming. There was stolen merchandise in his yard and in his mobile home. His dad was his only alibi. But still he wouldn't confessby Alex McBride / November 23, 2008 / Leave a comment
“Bugger won’t plead guilty,” said the beleaguered-looking defence counsel with a weary sigh. “I’ve got absolutely nothing to say. Might as well have brought my bongos.” Thank God I was prosecuting. I was giddy with relief that I wasn’t the one stuck with the “no questions” trial. This is what the trade calls a case where the evidence against your client is so overwhelming that you can’t think of any questions to ask on his behalf.
How had it come to this? Malcolm and his crew weren’t slapstick junkie burglars snagging themselves on windows and dripping blood (not to mention DNA) all over the place. They were professionals. They chose their targets carefully—like the warehouse in a secluded industrial estate, a few months before. They came in over the roof, cutting the cables that connected the alarm to the police station. They dropped down into the warehouse, lifted the internal security doors off their runners and broke into the storeroom. From there they loaded their Luton van with £90,000 worth of upmarket pens.
Everything went beautifully—so much so that the gang used the same strategy a few weeks later when they broke into a mobile phone company. This time they took the company’s delivery van too, disabling its tracking device. They loaded it up with £250,000-worth of mobile phones and were gone. What chutzpah! The plods would never catch them.
The gates to Malcolm’s yard were pure Gerrards Cross stockbroker, but once you were inside, the style was “traveller baronial” all the way. A squad of policemen headed for the deluxe mobile home in its far corner. Deep in his dream, Malcolm heard knocking. It’s probably something out on the road, he thought, tucking the duvet up around his chin.
“Open up,” shouted a voice. Malcolm opened his eyes. “Police! Open up.”
Malcolm leapt out of bed. He started dashing around, hiding anything incriminating. There was a lot to hide.
“I’m just getting my jeans on,” said Malcolm, buying some time.
PC Mostyn watched through the window as Malcolm stashed two mobile phones in a cupboard. Next he tore the IMEI number, a unique code which identifies a mobile, off a Sony Ericsson box. A few calming breaths later, Malcolm opened the door to an officer waving a search warrant. PC Mostyn made straight for the cupboard.
“Whose are these?” he asked, pulling out the phones.
“So why were you hiding them?”
Now that was a hard one. Realising that the questions weren’t going to get any easier, Malcolm stopped answering. Another cop came to the door to say that he’d found the stolen pens in a Luton van parked out in the yard. A police photographer arrived to take pictures of the pen brochures piled up in Malcolm’s kitchen.
Could it get any worse? Yes, it could. PC Mostyn noticed that the hidden mobiles and the IMEI number torn off the Ericsson box tallied with his list of phones stolen from the company. Malcolm wasn’t just tied to the mobile phone company burglary; he was nailed to it.
Malcolm’s mistake was the phone company’s delivery van. The tracker that he thought had been dismantled was in fact working perfectly. It had recorded the route the van had taken from the warehouse to Malcolm’s yard (from where the phones had been moved to another vehicle for transport to Europe where they were to be sold) and finally to Chertsey, where it had been dumped.
The Metropolitan Police’s clear-up rate for non-residential burglaries is 11 per cent. The odds are in the criminals’ favour—they usually get caught through incompetence or bad luck. By overreaching, Malcolm added hubris to that list.
During the trial, Malcolm did not give evidence himself. He got his dad, a veteran lag, to testify that on the night of the phone burglary, Malcolm was at the family home tending to racing pigeons. “Loves pigeons, your honour,” said dad. “Can’t keep him away from them.”
But in his prepared statement to police, Malcolm had neglected to mention any pigeons. His statement covered only the pen burglary. He claimed that three Irish travellers had threatened him until he let them park the Luton van in his yard. He didn’t know anything about the burglaries and therefore couldn’t name anyone else who might be involved.
During a break in the trial, the defence counsel buttonholed me. “You’re not going to put his form [lawyer lingo for previous convictions] in, are you?”
Absolutely I was. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows a prosecutor to put a defendant’s convictions before a jury if they show that the defendant has a propensity to commit offences similar to the one charged. Malcolm’s record was littered with offences of dishonesty. The jury took 20 minutes to convict him. He got three years in prison.
Why was I so mean when the guilty verdict was all but guaranteed? In law, as in crime, when you think you’re away and clear you get cocky—and that’s when disaster strikes. I told the jury about Malcolm’s convictions to make doubly sure I would win. As Malcolm knows, there’s nothing worse than blowing a sure thing.