With the campaign fund getting to a point where my candidature will be a reality, there’s something I feel I should confess, lest any of my opponents get wind of it and try to make political capital out of it. I have a criminal record. One evening in January this year, waiting on the platform at Liverpool Street station for the 9pm train back to the east coast after an all-day consultation with various friends and associates in various central London licensed premises, I was apprehended as drunk and disorderly.
Drunk I most certainly was. The first pint had been despatched by 11.45am, and I had left the last pub at 7.30pm to ensure I caught my last train home. For fear of being thought to boast about my capacity and to avoid any trouble from the anti-binge-drinking lobby, I won’t reveal my conservative estimate of how much of my body mass was composed of the products of Messrs Greene King, Timothy Taylor and Fuller, Smith and Turner. However, “lapping against the back teeth” would not be far off the mark.
Disorderly? I was fully aware of how plastered I was, and so, on arrival at Liverpool Street around 8pm (my Oyster card usage shows me to have passed through Holborn tube at 7.51pm), I decided to head straight for the platform that I, as a railway bore, knew my train would leave from, and wait there, keeping well out of everybody’s way. I sat on some ducting at the far end of the platform and rummaged in my bag for something to attempt to read.
At 8.05pm, I found myself surrounded by three British Transport Police officers in stab-proof vests, telling me to leave the station, as I was not fit to travel. In a sober frame of mind, I would have found this utterly illogical and baffling, but I would have had the wherewithal to challenge the assertion. Think about it. I’m not fit to travel, but I’m fit to wander around the streets of the city of London. Were they just trying to get rid of me so I’d be some other bugger’s problem? In any case, leaving the station was my fervent wish, but only on the 9pm train, upon which I was planning to fall asleep and wake at my terminus station with a thumping headache and a vague worry that I’d made a tit of myself. Unfortunately, I was not in a sober frame of mind, so I told them to leave me alone. They didn’t. So then, as I recall it, they tried to manhandle me out of position, a manoeuvre that involved twisting my right arm up my back. In the words of Gerard Hoffnung’s bricklayer, it was at this point that I lost my presence of mind. Due to unfortunate occurrences last year, my right arm does not respond well to being forced anywhere. I turned the air blue, and found myself face first on the floor, handcuffed and being told I was being arrested. At this point, I burst out laughing. “What’s so funny, sir?” asked the chief plod. “This,” I replied, “It’s hilarious. It’s special“. From then on, I became unbearable, taunting them from my prone position, asking if they’d joined the BTP because they couldn’t get into the proper police. I was carried over the road to Bishopsgate police station. As we passed the front door, I asked if they were planning to take me up the tradesmen’s entrance. Once inside, I asked if they could add numerous other heinous offences to the charge sheet just for fun.
From there, it was off with the tie, shoes, etc and into an overheated cell. All this was achieved by 9pm. Shamefully, it took them until after 1am and a shedload of me being tiresome through the grille before they rang my wife and assured her that I wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere. As I said on the last time I reminded them that they had to do this one thing, making me suffer was fair game, but making a blameless woman have a sleepless night was not. In the morning, I was released and told to report to Horseferry Road Magistrates Court the following week at 10am. I paid through the nose for a walk-up ticket to Lowestoft, my ticket for the previous night having been a pre-booked cheapo.
I spent the next week fretting about fine tariffs and the like, and, at the advice of a friend who has recently qualified as a lawyer (who, amusingly enough, had been drinking with me for much of the day in question), working up a statement of mitigation and completing my means form. I’m eternally indebted to Queen Margot & Let’s Look Sideways for putting me up the night before I was due in front of the beak. The BTP and the CPS cocked up and nearly failed to have my case papers at the court in time. Had I not asked to see the charge sheet before going in to plead (I was going to plead guilty all along, but I wanted to know exactly what I was being asked to own up to) there’s every chance the papers wouldn’t have arrived and I’d have walked. The relevant documents were faxed over hurriedly (“Fax it up?” “Well, it doesn’t help, your worship”) and I was called in after a few hours of waiting around. The magistrate thought I should have been offered a caution, and said that he’d refer it up if I was willing to wait. As I had research work to do that afternoon and I didn’t have any desire to dally in the court any longer than I had to, I said that I’d rather just get on with it. He looked at my means form. It’s been a lean year, and I’d brought the bank statements to prove it. Sentence was passed. £100 fine plus £15 ‘victim surcharge’ (why don’t they just call it a £115 fine?) plus £50 costs. The night in the cells wiped out the £115, leaving me to pay just the £50. I paid up and went to the pub next door for a pint of Shepherd Neame Masterbrew and some lunch. Never has a session bitter tasted sweeter. When I rang my mum to tell her the result, she asked “Where are you now?”. When I replied “In the pub next door”, it was as though I’d confessed to every unsolved murder in the book. “Go straight home now,” she ordered in a quivering voice. As I was booked on another 9pm cheap ticket, and I had interviews to do between now and then, I said that I couldn’t, and that I was merely having something to eat and a very weak beer to wash it down. I didn’t think this was the moment to remind her that until an hour before I had been the only member of our family who hadn’t so much as a parking ticket to their name.
This is the bit that interests me most. The magistrate thought that it was potentially an offence warranting nothing more than a caution. Failing that, an £80 on-the-spot penalty might have been appropriate. So why did the BTP take it to court? Could it be that I was well-dressed and that, with fines being pegged to earnings, they thought I’d be good for more than £80? They don’t benefit directly, but a larger fine would surely count for something in the mass of meaningless performance statistics that measure the effectiveness of our law enforcers? How were they to know that I’m a cash-strapped freelance who nonetheless has at least one nice suit?
You’ve had my side. Here, for reference, is the official version. I’ve obscured the name of the arresting officer to save him the embarrassment of being exposed as someone who can’t spell the word ‘twat’, so let’s call him PC Charles Penrose.
“JUST GET THE FUCK” should obviously read “JUST GET TO FUCK”. Other minor details omitted by PC Penrose include what I shouted as they carried me up the stairs from the station onto Bishopsgate, which was “PUT ME DOWN, I CAN WALK, YOU FUCKERS”. There’s also the small matter of me being identified as “a male…who has been on the platform for some considerable time drinking alcohol”. Firstly, I’d been on the platform no more than 5 minutes when PC Penrose and chums rolled up (My Oyster card proves this beyond doubt). Secondly, I had not been drinking alcohol at any point since arriving at the station. Thirdly, nobody from National Express approached me at any point. And if we’re really quibbling, the suit was black pinstripe not grey, and I am really, truly not of slim build. PC Penrose – You carried me. You know how heavy I am.
So, people of Waveney, your protest candidate on 6 May is a drunken criminal. Judge me on my record.