A couple of months ago, I saw something rather strange. It was broad daylight, but someone appeared to be trying to break into my neighbour’s garage. It all happened very quickly, but I decided to take a photo. I called my neighbour and sent her the photo. Within minutes, she had called the police.
A few days later, a police officer came to see me. She knew who the people in the photo were and was going to arrest them. She took a statement from me, which took a surprisingly long time for something which had only lasted seconds. She asked if I would be willing to stand up in court. I said I would, even though I didn’t really want to. I didn’t feel pressured, but I felt I should do the right thing, even though it was way out of my comfort zone.
I panicked when the letter arrived a week later with a court date. I was actually cross with myself for taking the photo, because I really, really didn’t want to stand up in court. And they hadn’t actually even stolen anything, had they? But I told myself if they’d tried to break into my neighbour’s garage, they would probably have succeeded in breaking in somewhere else. My photo and standing up in court could prevent misery for other people.
But I was still worried. Worried about being seen. Worried about them knowing my name. Worried about them knowing where I live (because it was pretty obvious where the photo had been taken from).
But a witness protection police officer called me and set my mind at rest. She said there won’t be recriminations, because they know they would get into far more trouble if they did anything to me or my house than they would get into for the original crime.
The weeks ticked on and, before I knew it, it was the day of the court case. I was very pleased that my dad had volunteered to go along with me for moral support. He spent a lot of time in courtrooms in his career, so he was able to tell me what to expect. After a full security check, we were taken through to the witness room – several locked doors away from any criminals and their families.
I’d imagined the witness room as dark and cramped. It was actually light, spacious and comfortable, although far from luxurious. There was a separate toilet for us to use, so we didn’t come into contact with any defendants. There were two other witnesses in the room, both for other cases. Each courtroom had a CAB trained volunteer assigned to look after the witnesses for that courtroom. The volunteers were brilliant at telling at us exactly what to expect. They showed us into the courtroom, so we could see where we would stand, where the defendants would stand and where the magistrates would sit. They told us the prosecution lawyer would ask us questions, then the defence lawyer. The defence lawyer would be less sympathetic, as they would be trying to prove that we were wrong.
I’d been told to arrive at 9.15 and told I would be given my witness statement to read. Court would start at 10. The volunteer thought my case would be heard first. It wasn’t. It was 11am before the first case went into my courtroom.
My dad and I started to read our books and tried to block out the other witnesses talking to their families, the volunteers and the prosecution lawyers about their cases. But you still hear everything.
Time was dragging on. My dad popped out to put another ticket on the car. He was free to come and go, whereas I had to stay in the room until my case was called. I would have got a brief lunch break, where I could leave the building, but other than that, I had to stay put. We ate our lunch in the room and kept waiting.
The volunteer came back and told us the other case was progressing more slowly than expected. It would be the afternoon at best for my case. At worst, it would be adjourned for another day. I still hadn’t even read my witness statement that I’d been told I would be given at 9.15.
Just before 1, the prosecution lawyer came to see me. They’d decided to drop the case. He thanked me for my time and for the photo, which he said was very useful. He said I’d done exactly the right thing. I was given an an expenses claim form, for the car parking and loss of earnings and I was free to leave.
Of course, I was slightly annoyed about the time wasted in the room, but I was just happy that I hadn’t had to stand up in court. And I was happy that I’d been brave enough to do the right thing – to take a photo, to give a statement and to agree to stand up in court.