A Comedy of Errors.
In many ways no aspect of the law should be a laughing matter, especially in court for charges of a serious nature; but the records show that time and time again that many cases have a humorous side to them.
All too often, however, that moments just a fleeting one and a swift reminder from the judge that ‘this is no laughing matter or a place for levity’ is generally sufficient to restore a suitably sombre atmosphere in which the serious business of the Courts can gain proceed.
Thank goodness, then, for the historic first at Lewes Crown Court on the 4th September 1998, when a judge decided to halt a trial and declare the prisoner innocent because the entire court, including the Police Prosecution, were helpless with laughter.
Impersonating a police Officer
Impersonating a police Officer is a potentially a very serious crime. When this offence is coupled with damaging and stealing police property, then that makes the offence even worse. Breaking in to do the deed makes it worse still. Then, when the entire act is perpetrated at a police station, then it has to be said that the prospects for the offender don’t look good.
This was precisely the scenario that faced Simon Davey after a night out with some friends that took a very surprising turn. The Jury looked on with suitably intense concentration as they listened to Davey’s story unfold. He had been to Eastbourne Darts open tournament and, as spectators are wont to do, he had got well into the spirit of things with a spot of drinking, like everybody else; he had, at his guess eight or maybe nine pints; at least that was his guess, according to his evidence.
Having sensibly decided to have a taxi home, he then realised about halfway through the journey that he hadn’t got enough money to pay his fare. After telling the taxi driver that he didn’t have enough money to pay the fare, the driver stopped the car and turfed him out of it.
Davey was now stranded about halfway to his home. It was probably the fresh air that then caused the effects of his drinking, kicked in. It seems that a well-meaning but equally half-baked logic and possibly sense of fair-play began to drive Davey’s brain cells. He got thinking and what he obviously needed to do, he told himself, was to report to the police so that they wouldn’t pursue him for the terrible crime about the taxi ride when he hadn’t enough money to pay. He was sure the taxi driver would report the matter to the police.
So, in consequence of the honourable train of thought he dutifully made his way to Horsham Police Station, East Sussex. By this time it was the ‘dead of night’ but he knew he had to make his confession. However, when he arrived at the Police Station, he found it locked and there was no one around. He stood outside for a few minutes wondering quite what to do next. Then the solution came to him, he knew he had to report the matter – of course the solution was obvious, he would break into the Police Station and leave his confession on the Police answering machine.
Now it had to be said at this stage that Simon Davey had a nice sort of ‘turn of phrase. ’He had a sort of ‘jaunty laddishness’ in his demeanour that made him rather a likable soul, and if he’d been a professional comedian, his catchphrase would certainly have been, ‘It’s the way I tell ‘em.’
It was then noticeable that members of the Jury started to smirk. They knew that they shouldn’t but they did and, rather like the ‘Taboo’ of getting the giggles when in church, this only made matters ten times worse. The more they tried not to smirk, the worse it was at trying to control themselves. Slowly each member’s shoulders began to move up and down. Each and every member was now feeling the urge to burst out with laughter but were doing everything to avoid it. Noses were being blown at regular intervals, the Judge cast a glance in their direction. That didn’t help, by now the Jury members were avoiding eye contact with each other, more and more of them were ready to burst out with laughter now; the urge was getting more and more needy. It was getting worse as Davey continued with the story. Just breaking into a police station was funny but the reason he did it was even funnier.
The story continues as after he climbed into the deserted police station through a toilet window, they heard, his noble effort to leave a message failed dismally when next he broke the machine that he was going to record his message on. It was at this point that he saw a police inspector’s hat and also a sergeant’s jacket hanging on a peg.
He was then overcome by a sense of indignation that there was no one working at the enquiry desk. So, he donned the police uniform he had found and remedied the situation by manning the enquiry desk himself. Pretending that members of the public were ‘enquiring of him at the desk’ asking questions while he answered them.
The prosecution in the case, said “and why did you do that?” Davey replied, “Just in case there was another idiot like me that night, after all someone needed to be on duty.” Then, for good measure he went on to describe how he had then started to fill out a statement form that he had found in the desk. At that point the |Jury members started shuffling their bottoms on the seats, their lips started to quiver and twitch. Several members were very close to bursting out in laughter. At least one Jury member had their handkerchief near to their mouth hiding part of their face, later one member was believed to have said, I was biting on my handkerchief in an effort not to burst out in laughter, it was so hard not to, It wasn’t necessarily what the man was saying but the way that he said it.
Other Jury members were close to wetting themselves as Davey’s story progressed.
When a passing special constable knocked on the door of the police station in the early hours of the morning, he was let in by Davey who, being anxious to appear as authentic a policeman as he could, rocked back on his heels, flexed his knees and greeted the visitor with a very cheery ‘Evening all,’
This masquerade was really very unlikely to fool even a bobby of the ‘bobby variety and soon reinforcements soon arrived. It was then that the taped interview was made, and Davey’s explanation, while he was still under the influence of eight or nine pints was always going to make for interesting listening, and it was, very.
As it happened
At this point the police prosecution insisted on playing the tape in court, it was at this point that all the laughter-stifling techniques of the Jury and all the court officials finally gave way. They could not stifle their laughter anymore. As the Court heard the hilarious story of Davey’s night out, describer ‘as it happened’ word for word in detail, the corpsing of the Jury began in earnest they could not hold it any longer, The laughter quickly spread and included the lawyers, police and everyone else who was present in the court room that day.
For the very first time in its illustrious history, ‘The Times newspaper’ was moved to report: Judge Richard Brown had to stifle a chuckle as jurors wiped away the tears from their eyes and gave their mouth a quick ‘rub over.’ The Judge, Richard Brown attained the state of mind that few judges before or certainly since have managed to emulate. There is no doubt that the Judge most certainly saw the funny side of this incredible story.
He then ordered the recorded tape with Davey’s story on it to be stopped just as Davey was about to describe another aspect of that night. The Judge then called the prosecution and the defence lawyers together and duly directed the jury to deliver a verdict of ‘Not Guilty.’
They say laughter is the best medicine and it certainly was a tonic for Simon Davey.
He left court with a huge grin, thankful for a minor sentence of being bound over to keep the peace for 2 years.
There was one man who would certainly have appreciated that uplifting end was a solicitor’s clerk, Steven Balogh, because his own attempts to lighten up court proceedings in 1974 ended in a jail sentence. When caught lurking on the roof of St. Albans Crown Court, he explained to police that he intended to release laughing gas into the ventilation system in order ‘to liven up the long-winded and rather boring court proceedings.’
However he failed in his mission was evidenced by the stern face of the judge, Mr Justice Melford Stevenson as he gave him six months prison sentence. Nor was Balogh amused – as he left the mirth-free zone of Stevenson’s court he loudly shouted out ‘You are a humourless automaton.
Written and researched by David Rowland.
Special thanks. The Law’s strangest cases by Peter Seddon.
Published in 2001 by Robson Books, London.
(1)Any person who with intent to deceive impersonates a member of a police force or special constable, or makes any statement or does any act calculated falsely to suggest that he is such a member or constable, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.
(2)Any person who, not being a constable, wears any article of police uniform in circumstances where it gives him an appearance so nearly resembling that of a member of a police force as to be calculated to deceive shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
(3)Any person who, not being a member of a police force or special constable, has in his possession any article of police uniform shall, unless he proves that he obtained possession of that article lawfully and has possession of it for a lawful purpose, be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale.
(4)In this section—
(a)“article of police uniform” means any article of uniform or any distinctive badge or mark or document of identification usually issued to members of police forces or special constables, or anything having the appearance of such an article, badge, mark or document,