Last Thursday we were joined by Nichola and Andy at Derby Crown Court. We’ve met up a few times since the Action Group was formed. As instructed we arrived before 10am and headed to the first floor where Mick pressed a bell for the Witness Service. After a while of waiting we were fortunate that the wigged and gowned man who came through the door was the barrister for the prosecution for the Stillwater case.
After introductions he gave us a quick summary of the case. He’d received our Victim Personal Statements, however only mine would be included today.
Originally the case had spanned a period of three and a half years, but this had been reduced to 8 months, which meant that Andy and Nichola’s VPS wouldn’t be included. The case now centred around five boat builds, one of which was ours. Richard had pleaded guilty in return for no charges being made against Kevin his father who continues to suffer from ill health.
We were shown to the second floor to Court 3. A jury had been recalled at the start of the day for another hearing, we had to wait for the judge to see them and send them back out to continue with their deliberations. The CPS barrister said not to be surprised if the judge shouted when giving out his sentence.
Of course both Richard and Kevin were also waiting with their briefs. This made for awkward moments, I stood with my back to them, Mick didn’t recognise them anyway! Daryl another of the Action Group was there too, only having met him once before we weren’t too certain that it was him until the end.
Once the court was ready we filed in taking the back bench. The room was a lot smaller than I thought it would be, no balcony to protest from. All was quiet as the Judge scanned through documents on his laptop, clerks did what they do, barristers prepared themselves. The lady in front of the judge made a phone call, then from the rear of the dock, behind a glass wall, a prison guard brought out a prisoner. Who was he?! What had he done?! Maybe he was the secret mastermind behind Stillwater Narrowboats! No he was just the defendant for the next case and the prison guard had got it wrong.
Richard and Kevin came into court, there was a slight deliberation as to whether Kevin should go in the dock with Richard, but in the end he was allowed to sit in front of the glazed wall. Richard was taken into a back room, then brought back ready for sentencing in the dock.
Something obviously signalled the start, as both Richard and Kevin stood and confirmed who they were in turn. With everyone now sat the prosecuting barrister started to run through the case, a summary for the Judge.
Five boat builds had fallen within the eight months the fraud had taken place.
One customer had paid his deposit then seen things weren’t going too well financially he pulled out, loosing his deposit.
Another had ordered a boat, paid his deposit and first stage payment, when he’d wanted to visit to see his shell he was told that it had gone away to be shot blasted. It in fact didn’t exist.
One chap had handed over more than his first stage payment and ended up with just a shell, no insulation or engine. The details are now a bit hazy for me, but I think he collected his boat and finished it off him self.
Another similar case, but this time the owner couldn’t collect his shell as he was abroad, so lost his stage payments and had nothing to show for it.
Then us. You know all about our story.
Finances were mentioned, the total amount taken fraudulently over the 8 months amounted to £130k from the five complainants, ours being nearly a fifth of this, some lost more, others only their deposit.
Victim Personal Statements were read out from us. A lot of people had handed over their savings to have a narrowboat for their retirement. We were using inheritance from Mick’s Uncle and my Father to build our boat. Some victims had to continue working so as to be able to finish their boats. Understandably I now have trust issues, contracts have to be stuck to by the letter. Also the length of time that the case had taken to get to court has affected all of our lives.
A defence barrister for Richard stood next. Not much to say in his defence as he’d pleaded guilty. He hoped that his Mothers severe illness and the fact that he has young children would guide the judge in is sentencing. Richard now had a job and hoped to repay our lost monies. Another barrister, presumably Kevin’s stayed seated as Kevin was judged ‘not guilty’.
The Judge made comments directed towards us, the public. He wanted us to understand that this was a serious offence, the remorse and contrition that Richard had put in a letter to the court had followed a negotiation, so therefore the Judge did not consider it as true remorse. Despite nearly all the victim statements saying they hadn’t believed that Richard and Kevin had set out to defraud them in the first place, Richard had knowingly committed fraud in our case.
The company had been failing financially. The prices that were put in our contract were already a couple of years out of date and had not kept in line with the price of materials. They didn’t buy fancy houses, cars or go on extravagant holidays, they just used the money to try to keep the business afloat and pay their salaries.
The Judge also wanted the public to be aware of how much work had gone into the case by the barristers. It wasn’t by any means a simple case, but quite a complex one. He also understood our frustration with the delays to the case.
The sentencing guidelines for such a fraud was three years with a variant of 18 months. The Judge started with 30 months, reduced it by 10 months as the £130k was towards the bottom of the category and the fraud had only spanned 8 months. He arrived at a sentence of 20 months Due to government guide lines, the length of time the case took to get to court, our belief that they didn’t set out to defraud us from the start he suspended the sentence for 2 years.
The prosecution barrister asked for there to be a ‘confiscation order for compensation’. This would mean that the court would seize Richards assets and they would be distributed pro-rata amongst the complainants. This would include those who had given statements but not been included in the 8 month period the fraud covered.
Dates for future hearings were made where Richard will declare his assets and the prosecution will argue that he has more, or agree if he has declared them all.
The door to the dock was unlocked and Richard was allowed to leave with a 20 month sentence suspended for two years.
Meanwhile Back On The Cut. 8th April
Lemonroyd to King’s Road Lock, Aire and Calder Navigation Wakefield Branch
Time to move on. As we started to make ready a boat came past us heading towards the lock, we wanted to fill with water before descending so didn’t attract their attention. As we ourselves got close to the lock two Shire Cruise hire boats were heading towards us, they’d just come up and helpfully suggested we should try to catch the boat ahead. We thanked them and then pulled into the water point.
Tank topped up, Christmas tree watered, I remembered I’d wanted to have a go at some Sour Dough Bread today, I needed to wake up my starter, giving it a feed and warming it up. By the time all this was done Lemonroyd Lock had refilled itself saving us a long wait.
Down we went back out onto the river a grey day surrounding us. Another Shire Cruise hire boat came past, they must have all set off from Sowerby Bridge on Saturday. At Castleford Junction we turned right, in the direction of Wakefield, back on course now after our detour for my meeting and Derby Crown Court.
We’ve only been down stream on the Aire and Calder before never upstream and approaching Fairies Hill and Woodnook Lock seemed very unfamiliar. Checking on Waterway Routes we had a choice of moorings, one a short distance from Woodnook Lock. But this was right alongside a made up track that led to the lock cottage, there was plenty of footfall too. So we carried on to where we’ve moored before above Kings Road Lock.
A Dutch Barge was winding below the lock as we came near, they’d been filling with water and were then returning to their mooring on the other side. A chap up at the lock looked like he was trying to press the buttons on the panel to open the gates, no obvious sign of a key of power. I hopped off and went to help just as the gates opened. The chap was an ex-boater, he had the first boat that moored at Stanley Ferry over 30 years ago. He and his wife have cruised the whole network through their decades of boat ownership. Now no longer a boat owner he takes his pleasure by coming down to the canal on Monday afternoons, whilst his wife plays cards, to see if he can help at the lock. A lovely chap.
I prepared the sponge for a loaf of bread made from some of my sour dough starter and left it to do it’s stuff whilst the afternoon ticked by. Mick has had a towpath haircut, I still can’t get used to the new clippers, but at least he doesn’t have a stripy head.
All the rest of the ingredients have been added to the bread and it is now sitting in a tin rising. I’ll have to be very careful when I move it to the oven as any tap will knock the air out of it as there is no gluten to help hold it’s shape. As ever I’m not too optimistic about my results. It’s always strange pouring bread dough into a tin.
3 locks, 7.74 miles, 1 right, 1 full water tank, 0 rubbish left, 1 bridge to mention, 4 hours of shore leave, 1st gluten free sour dough rising or not, 9mm hair cut, 4 recurring blocks sorted, 1 classic block to help Tilly speak again, but where to put the TV thumb?