Committal for Contempt of Court: Bristol City Council -v- Gayle

Magistrates' courtCommittal for Contempt of Court

Case Number: J00BS749

In The Bristol Magistrates’ Court

6 July 2023

District Judge Webb

Bristol City Council
Ms Tanya Gayle


MR R DENFORD appeared on behalf of the Applicant
MS V POPEL appeared on behalf of the Respondent

This Transcript is Crown Copyright. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part, other than in accordance with relevant licence or with the express consent of the Authority. All rights are reserved.

WARNING: reporting restrictions may apply to the contents transcribed in this document, particularly if the case concerned a sexual offence or involved a child. Reporting restrictions prohibit the publication of the applicable information to the public or any section of the public, in writing, in a broadcast or by means of the internet, including social media. Anyone who receives a copy of this transcript is responsible in law for making sure that applicable restrictions are not breached. A person who breaches a reporting restriction is liable to a fine and/or imprisonment. For guidance on whether reporting restrictions apply, and to what information, ask at the court office or take legal advice.


  1. Before me today I have a committal application in the case of Bristol City Council and Tanya Gayle. Mr Denford appears for the City Council and Ms Gayle is represented by Ms Popel.
  2. The background to this matter is in March 2022 an injunction was made, which prevented Ms Gayle from doing certain things, those included going to certain areas and causing distress to people within those areas.
  3. The history to this matter is Ms Gayle has had an addiction to crack cocaine, which has lasted for a number of years and in the period running up to the making of the injunction she and her partner, Mr Smallwood, were causing significant difficulties in the tower block they lived in here in Bristol.
  4. The first allegations of breach of the March 2022 order came before District Judge Ellery on 27 April 2023, she was in a position to deal with five breaches of that injunction; those were dated 15 October 2022, 14 January 2023, 15 January 2023, 20 February 2023 and 21 April 2023.
  5. At that point Ms Gayle had spent a week on remand and the decision made by District Judge Ellery was that the appropriate sentence for those offences was 14 days in custody which had been served and therefore technically no penalty was imposed on the day of sentence. It is clear that the assessment of the Judge was a 14-day period of custody would have been appropriate but was not required given the time already served. Other allegations of breach were left on file because the hope, and all the indication at that point in time, was that Ms Gayle was on an upturn and with support she could move away from the anti social behaviour which had caused these problems.
  6. Sadly, there was a further breach on 29 May and Ms Gayle appeared in custody on 7 June when she was remanded in custody until 16 June.
  7. I first met Ms Gayle on 16 June and again there appeared to be a positive support package in place. I indicated that I felt the appropriate way forward was to adjourn sentence on the new breach and to further adjourn consideration of those breaches which had been left on file with a review of the situation in three months’ time. Very sadly, there was a further breach on 22 June, which led to Ms Gayle appearing in custody on 23 June of this year and she has been in custody since then.
  8. Very sensibly what everyone has decided to do today is to bring all matters to a conclusion, to go through everything, sort it all out and put this process behind Ms Gayle. I thus must go through a sequence of agreed breaches and determine the appropriate penalty for those breaches. All these breaches are admitted to the criminal standard of proof by Ms Gayle who is legally represented.
  9. The breaches previously held on file. On 12 September 2022, Ms Gayle was in an area within an exclusion zone, and she admits that as a breach. On 25 September, as she was again present in an exclusion zone, and she admits that as a breach. On 6 December, she was present in the exclusion zone, and she admits that as a breach; on 22 February she had failed to comply with the positive obligations contained within an injunction and she admits that as a breach.
  10. I am not going to impose any separate penalties for those matters, this is because when Ms Gayle appeared before District Judge Ellery on 27 April, she could have asked for those matters to be dealt with and I do not think it would have significantly affected the result. It would now be unfair to her for these matters to lead to an enhanced penalty.
  11. However, I do have to consider that I now have five accepted matters dealt with by District Judge Ellery and I have four further matters, which could have been dealt with by District Judge Ellery and I recognise we are now getting into the territory of repeated breaches of the order because I have nine before I get to my particular problem breaches, if I call them that.
  12. The Breach admitted on 7 June and previously adjourned for later consideration: 29 May 2023; this involves a Nicola Clark, Ms Clark lives in the same block of flats, she describes herself as a person who is vulnerable and fearful, suffering from depression and feeling harassed as she has been trying to move out of the flats because she is feeling intimidated.
  13. She states that she heard Ms Gayle shouting through the door to her partner Mr Smallwood’s house, abusive words were used, “Pussy hole” and “Bumbaclot” and she suggests that that lasted for around 15 minutes. Eventually she decided to collect some evidence, she went to record Ms Gayle on her phone, eye contact was made and she was told that she should ‘suck her mum up’ and it was said to her, “Do not make me come back there and punch you in the face”; she describes herself as feeling terrified.
  14. The New Breaches: The incident of 22 June is again attending at the excluded area and this time a Mr Smith notes that Ms Gayle is at the area, they come into contact with each other, and she states to him, “I do not care if I go to prison, I do not care”. Mr Smith describes himself as being nervous, but also says that he was anxious for his children who were present; he says, “My younger son immediately grabbed hold of my legs and the older one grabbed me also”.
  15. The final breach I need to deal with is the positive obligations as set out in an amended injunction, this is a new allegation of breach of a new condition; a Ms Ore has been very much involved in assisting Ms Gayle and the evidence is overwhelming; she has done almost everything she possibly can to assist; arranging accommodation at short notice, signposting to various drug agencies and so on and on the face of it all that work has been completely ignored by Ms Gayle.I am satisfied that the positive obligation was a proper and reasonable one, that it provided an outlet which might have resolved matters and I am equally satisfied that those positive obligations have not been complied with.
  16. In terms of mitigation the first thing I should note is Ms Gayle has not required anyone to give evidence today, she has accepted that she is responsible for her conduct and therefore has accepted the allegations as placed before her and that must be a mitigating factor.
  17. She has a distinctive vulnerability in relation to an addiction to Class A drugs, this addiction has been in existence since 2018, so must be seen as long-standing and to a certain extent that is outside her control. She is in a desperate position in that the only accommodation she seeks and wishes to stay in is that of her former partner, she tries to go there and when she goes there she finds herself in breach; there seems to be a co-dependency in terms of the use of drugs for when she attends in May she says, “Just give me something to smoke”, I think that almost inevitably is going to be a request to be provided with crack cocaine.
  18. In court today Ms Gayle presents as a charming and engaging individual; she has spoken to me very openly about her difficulties. She has lost children into the care process, her children are eight, four and three and live with family members; she very much wishes to re-establish proper contact with them, but she understands that the drug addiction is a real problem in relation to that.
  19. She has spoken very sensibly about making progress in HMP Eastwood Park; she has been to the Job Centre, which makes a lot of sense, she has engaged with DHI and she believes she is again moving forward. She is also working with the Nelson Trust, which in due course may assist her with housing; I am told that a support worker may become available there.
  20. Therefore, I have to impose penalties for all of the breaches and in particular look at the breaches, which I have identified as being those, which are the most serious.
  21. The Court of Appeal in Lovett v Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council [2022] EWCA Civ 1631, confirmed that objective of sentencing is based on the three principles of ensuring future compliance with the order, punishment and rehabilitation.
  22. In Her Majesty’s Attorney General v Crosland [2021] UKSC 15 at paragraph 44 the Supreme Court provided further guidance as to the approach to be taken to contempt. This is a case involving criminal contempt, not civil contempt however the position is similar. The guidance given is that the Court should assess the seriousness of the conduct by reference to the culpability and the harm caused, in light of the determination of seriousness the Court must first consider whether a fine would be a sufficient penalty. If the contempt is so serious that only a custodial penalty will suffice, the Court must impose the shortest period of imprisonment which properly reflects the seriousness of the contempt. Due weight should be given to matters in mitigation such as genuine remorse, previous positive character in such matters. Due weight should also be given to the impact of committal on persons other than the contemnor such as children or vulnerable adults. There should be a reduction for an early guilty plea and once the appropriate term has been arrived consideration should be given to suspending the term of imprisonment.
  23. There are no finalised guidelines in relation to civil contempt but in the case of Lovett the draft guidelines prepared by the Civil Justice Council were supported. These dividee these cases into categories. Category A cases reflecting high culpability and being a very serious breach or persistent serious breaches; Category B being deliberate breaches falling between (A) and (C), and Category C breaches representing low culpability, minor breaches or a breach. I then have to look at the level of harm, Category 1 representing serious harm or distress, Category 2 cases below that; Category 3 representing breaches causing little or no harm or distress.
  24. When the matter came before me on 16 June I looked at the incident of 29 May and I determined that that was a deliberate breach of an order, but in itself it was not a very serious or persistent breach or a minor breach, so I determined it to fall within category B. In terms of its effect or the harm caused, I did not find it caused very serious harm or distress or I did not find it caused little harm or distress, but I did find that it was between the two and so I identified the appropriate sentence to be in the bracket B2, with a starting point of one month and a range between adjourned consideration to three months.
  25. That remains my assessment of that incident, I now have to decide where it falls within that bracket. The aggravating factor is that this, by this point is probably the tenth breach of an order and it appears to me that that is a very significant and serious aggravating factor.
  26. Aggravating the matter further is the vulnerability of a victim who must now be sick to the back teeth of hearing Ms Gayle outside her flat shouting and talking to her partner when she knows full well that she should not be there. The mitigating factors appear to me that this matter has not been contested and further, that this matter has not been a deliberate conscious act; it is an act of desperation, someone stuck outside with nowhere really to go, suffering from a drug addiction.
  27. However, I cannot ignore the fact this must be the tenth breach by this point in time and I have discerned that given the threats made and the fear created in the victim’s mind, this must be at the higher range of the sentencing options and I deem the appropriate sentence for that matter to be a period of two months imprisonment.
  28. If I then move on to the breach of 22 June, the aggravating factors are the presence of children, the fact that this was committed so soon after the previous release from custody and the fact that, “I do not care, I am prepared to go to prison” could be considered to be akin to a threat. Mitigation here is again the acceptance of responsibility, it appears to me that this is very similar to the incident of 29 May, the threats made are less serious, yet this is committed after the previous difficulties and I discern that the appropriate period of custody in relation to that matter is also two months.
  29. In relation to the breach of the positive obligation, I discern that Bristol City Council have tried their absolute best to assist, I also find that Ms Gayle’s inability to comply is based predominantly on her addiction rather than on any wilful misdemeanour and in relation to that matter in isolation I deem that no separate penalty is appropriate.
  30. That leaves me with two sentences of two months and the decision I have make is should they be considered concurrent or consecutive, added to each other? Sadly, the only conclusion I can reach is that I gave an opportunity in June with all of the support available and the problem happened again, I cannot see this as simply another example of the same problem and in those circumstances I determine that those sentences in effect should run consecutively.
  31. This provides me with a totality of sentence of 120 days, I take a step back, the last thing in the world Judges want to do is send vulnerable young women to prison. The difficulty is now on at least 12 occasion problems occur and there appears to be nothing the Court or the City Council can do to solve those problems.
  32. It is only by achieving some element of sobriety and some element of self-worth that Ms Gayle is going to move forward. She has explained to me that something positive is happening in prison at the moment and I take her word for it, I am delighted to hear her children are going to visit her there; that seems to me the beginning of some element of hope in her life.
  33. I am going to regard four months as 120 days; I need to give appropriate credit for the time served. The time served is 10 days between 7 June and 16 June and 14 days between 26 June and 6 July, that is a total of 24 days, which when I double it to reflect, it should be equivalent of 48 days in custody, I thus calculate that a further period of 72 days in custody is the sentence I impose today.

End of Judgment