Saturday, August 19, 2006

Court capers with copper's sons

Sully the family's name?

A recent court case has been brought to the attention of the Corner Shop by a South Shields lady concerned at attempts to hide the facts from the public (thanks for the tip off).

After binging for three days on drugs and alcohol 17 year old David Hamlani exposed himself to a 43 year old woman after demanding her car keys with more than a little menace. (The desire to ride in someone elses car without their permission seems to be something of a family trait with the Hamlanis.) At the magistrates court David's father Stephen, a serving police officer was to be called to make a statement on why his son should not be identified. The defending solicitor Christopher Brown was hoping to make a point that it would lead people to finding out where the officer live and sully the family name!

Shame on them all, surely by dispensing justice Her Majesty's Courts should not be seen to be sullying the reputations of individuals! Luckily, following representations from the Shields Gazette the Chairman of the Bench Anne Geddes decided in favour of publishing all of the boys details apart from his address, at which point Stephen Hamlani Snr. stood up saying "disgraceful" and stormed out of the court.

David Hamlani will be sentenced on August 30th. and is likely to be added to the sex offenders' register.

The odd thing about this matter is the judgement of those who wished the identities and addresses etc. to remain hidden, why should this be? I can understand the emotions and concerns of any parent of a child who "goes off the rails", I guess it must be multiplied for a serving police officer who has two sons in a similar position (especially during periods when his wife has been suffering). However, I cannot agree that the court ruling was disgraceful in any way at all, the public have a perfectly good right to know these things, apart from which, the family's details are all available on the internet !


The Shields Gazette

With reference to your blog entry on Saturday, August 19, about the Shields Gazette's coverage of a court case involving David Hamlani, 17, and particularly the line "Luckily, following representations from the Shields Gazette the Chairman of the Bench Anne Geddes decided in favour of publishing all of the boy's details...":

Although the representations equate to one or two lines in the Gazette, they took three whole hours in court to get through, with just a 20-minute comfort break and a five-minute recess when the arguments between solicitor Christopher Brown and I became heated. Mr Brown and I get on very well outside court on a personal level but inside is just the opposite when we are at odds with one another, and this was one of those occasions.

Because we were in youth court there is an automatic Press ban when it comes to identifying an under-18 so I had to formally apply to magistrates for section 49 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to be lifted, based on it being in the interests of the public for Hamlani's name to be known to all. I argued that previous punishments had obviously done no good and it was time for the courts to take a different tack not as extra punishment, or to 'name and shame' (a term I loathe), but to arm people with knowledge.

Mr Brown first tried to have my application suspended to be re-heard when his client was sentenced, but because the Press can apply at the point of conviction and beyond, I stuck with it. Mr Brown then argued that he had not been given time to prepare a counter-argument, but because I had not known anything at all about the case until I just happened across it I wasn't prepared either, so we were at least both on the same playing field despite his many years of legal experience and my limited training which came nowhere near 'how to argue in court'.

When I told the court that the Gazette wanted to print Hamlani's name, age and photograph everything was as fine as you would expect, but when I mentioned his address, the defendant lost his temper in the dock and had to be restrained by a security guard. This was after he had been warned by both magistrates and security about his conduct under prosecution questioning, when he became aggressive and intimidating.

The majority of the representations were taken up with me trying to convince the court that my priority was to the public as opposed to furthering my own name, boosting sales or currying favour with management (as solicitors always claim), and Mr Brown's representations centred around the fact that the publishing of Hamlani's address would lead to the identification of his father, who is a serving police officer. To that end, he wanted Mr Hamlani himself to give evidence to the Bench and arranged for someone to call him to the court from duty in Sunderland. Now this is an extremely unusual move and I strongly opposed it, arguing that Mr Hamlani had no legal right of audience, and Mr Brown himself had already put the Hamlani's case about identification forward. I said evidence from the police officer himself would add nothing more to it. Nevertheless Mr Hamlani arrived and sat in court with his wife while that particular strand of the argument continued. It was eventually decided not to allow Mr Hamlani to speak.

Mr Brown, trying to keep all of his client's details from the paper, continued to push his point about identifying the rest of the family and said that other family members would be tarred with the same brush as David Hamlani. I argued that this would not be the case if people bothered to read my story properly, and I also tried to fend off claims that people would read a sexual motive in to the offence when there clearly wasn't one - it was an offence of intimidation that happened to involve exposure .

To cut a very long story short, magistrates decided to allow the publication of all details except Hamlani's address, but at my request stated in court that they would hope Northumbria Police would provide the Gazette with his mugshot. This was because without an address, there is always the risk that we might point the finger at another David Hamlani (an uncle, cousin etc) and a photograph would prevent that.

You will note that the article on page three of Thursday's Gazette was printed without a photograph. Although we asked Northumbria Police for a picture and relayed the wishes of the court, the request was refused despite an appeal to South Tyneside's Chief Superintendent. Police policy is only to release pictures of people jailed for three years or more, unless there are exceptional circumstances. It was ruled that there were no exceptional circumstances in this case.
From what Ive read in the Gazette and from links here on Curlys blogs naming the family wont have a bearing on tarring the rest of the family with thesame brush, they are pretty good at tarring their own brush where crime is involved. I defend that we have a right to know where these people live so we know exactly who we are living next to. The old saying, only the wrong ones worry, people who live life right have no concern over such matters..
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