Forensic science always seems so glamorous on the TV. I love my job but sometimes I have to wonder why I do it because it is so far from CSI. I gave a talk to the Auckland Executive Club last week and I put up a photo of some fragments of cannabis resin, to provide an example of the sort of casework I have done. As I looked at it, the memory of that case came rushing towards me and I remembered how hideous it was.
The case itself wasn’t difficult: the defendant was claiming that the weight of cannabis resin reported by the Police was incorrect – he said it was less than reported. I had to go to the forensic science laboratory, examine the resin, weigh it and confirm that it was correctly reported. The resin had started off as a whole block and was described as such by the Crown scientist, although she had commented that it was quite dry and friable. However, after it had been driven 300 miles back to the Police station and then back to the lab for my examination, it had broken into pieces. Not a problem – all part of the job. I spent a happy few hours trying to piece the bits together to confirm that the cannabis was, indeed, the same as that described by the arresting officer and the Crown scientist. Once I established that, in fact, no-one had pinched any of it or added any to it, I went on my merry way, back to the office to write the report and post it to the solicitors.
So, what was the rushing bad memory that swept over me when I was giving my presentation last week? The court appearance, that’s what. Travelling to and from court in the UK used to be quite nice – a bit of a jolly, out from the office for extremely legitimate reasons, sometimes a nice, short day if the Hearing is within an hour’s drive of home and is heard in the morning. Always unpredictable though. I had checked with the instructing solicitor the day before that I was needed and he confirmed that yes, I would be required to attend.
I had to leave home in East Anglia at 5.00am to get to Swansea Crown Court in Wales by 9.30am. Crappy weather, raining and cold. Decisions, decisions: go up around Birmingham or down the M25 round London. Decide for the latter but get stuck in two traffic hour jam on M4 near Reading. Small glimmer of pleasure when hear on radio that there is a 10 mile tailback on the M6 approaching Birmingham so it wouldn’t have mattered which way I went. By this time, Chris Moyles’ Breakfast Show has finished, which meant two things: 1. it’s 9.00am and I’m not even in Wales yet; 2. there’s no decent radio program on for at least another hour. Car fire on M4 motorway just outside Cardiff – delay for 45 minutes (possibly a potential new client, I thought, if his insurance company uses us). By now it’s 9.15am. Telephone solicitor to advise I’m running late (won’t get a ticket from cops because car is stationary, handbrake on, and they are all at the car fire up ahead anyway). Advise solicitor that I will be there in time for court starting at 10am. However, I have woefully underestimated the distance between Cardiff and Swansea. Eventually arrive in Swansea at 11.00am but cannot find the court. When I eventually do find it, tucked behind some trees with no road signage, there’s nowhere to park (despite the solicitor advising me yesterday that there is loads of parking and no, I won’t need any change for a parking meter).
I roll into court with cramp in my legs having spent 6 and a half hours driving across the country in the pouring rain and what does the barrister say when I get there? “Who are you?” I explain. “Oh, your report was agreed by the Prosecution yesterday. You really should have rung to check that you were required, my client changed his plea to guilty last night. I’m not sure whether the court will agree to pay your fees.” Strangely enough, the instructing solicitor, who I had rung whilst I was ON MY WAY TO COURT wasn’t actually at court, even though he told me he was.
So, what did I do? What could I do? I got back in my car, turned round and took five hours to get home, swearing most of the way, still trying to find something decent to listen on the radio, got stuck in the rubber-neckers traffic going past the car fire in the opposite direction because let’s face it, it was a big fire and I’d only gone past it 40 minutes previously. Total of my day: 10 and a half hours driving in English winter weather, five minutes at court (including three using the bathroom), no court appearance, more time ‘at work’ than on a normal day. To this day, I wonder if the solicitor was ever actually at court that day and if he was, whether he hid when I arrived because he should have told me not to come. Or whether he got me mixed up with another case he was doing that day.
Anyway, that’s why I had a bad case of memory wash last week. One thing’s for sure though: I don’t have to drive from East Anglia to Swansea Crown Court any more…..