Committal for Contempt of Court: Cheltenham Borough Council -v- Tovey

County CourtCrown CourtCommittal for Contempt of Court

Case Number: F00GL318

In The County Court At Gloucester
Sitting At Gloucester Crown Court

25 March 2024

District Judge Napier

Cheltenham Borough Council
Anthony Tovey


Legal Representation
Ms Victoria Fennell (Solicitor) on behalf of the Applicant
The Respondent was not represented


District Judge Napier:

  1. Mr Tovey, I will start with the background to the proceedings today as they are important context.
  2. I will say at the outset that all the anti-social behaviour injunctions made in these proceedings have been in very similar terms.
  3. You were first made subject of an anti-social behaviour injunction on 13 May 2019. The injunction order was for one year.
  4. On 24 May 2019, you also gave undertakings to the Court in the same terms as the injunction and these lasted until 24 July 2020.
  5. On 26 May 2020, you were found to have breached your injunction order on 11 separate occasions. For this, you were sentence to 8 weeks in custody suspended for one year.
  6. On 5 March 2021 a new anti social behaviour order was imposed to 26 May 2021.
  7. On 8 March 2021, you admitted 6 breaches of the order of 26 May 2020.
  8. On 9 September 2021, HHJ Cotter QC (as he then was) sentenced you to 4 weeks imprisonment concurrent for each of the 6 breaches. The sentence was suspended for 12 months.
  9. On 11 May 2022, you were found to have breached your order and were sentenced to 6 weeks imprisonment suspended until 26 November 2023.
  10. Your injunction order was then amended and extended on 19 July 2022, 24 May 2023 and 21 June 2023.
  11. On 5 July 2023 you appeared in front of me and admitted 11 breaches of your order. You were sentenced to 142 days imprisonment (100 days for the 11 breaches and 42 days for the previous SSO). This was suspended again until 31 December 2024 (and your ASBI was extended to this date as well). I made clear to you the consequences of breaching your injunction again.
  12. Your injunction order has 7 requirements:
    a. You must not engage in conduct which causes or is capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to anyone in the town of Cheltenham
    b. You must not use or threaten violence to anyone in the town of Cheltenham
    c. You must not shout or swear or use abusive language or make rude or insulting gestures to anyone in the town of Cheltenham.
    d. You must not enter the offices of Cheltenham Borough Homes unless previously agreed and with an appointment.
    e. You must not contact CBH or Suella Braverman MP by any method except through your solicitors
    f. You must not pitch or erect a tent or camp within 100 metres of the garage site at Coniston Road
    g. You must not enter the area on the map annexed to your injunction.
  13. All of these requirements have been imposed on you because the Court has on multiple previous occasions been satisfied that you have engaged in anti social behaviour as defined by the 2014 and the terms of the order are necessary and proportionate to regulate your behaviour.
  14. Due to your behaviour in the past, a power of arrest was attached to all terms of the order except clause 6 about camping.
  15. The C alleged you broke your order in three ways:
    a. On 18 November 2023, you left 6 abuse voicemail messages on the office mobile for the P3 support organisation. You referred to the P3 staff as “fucking idiots” and made a comment directed at a specific female member of staff of “I will fucking knock her out”.
    b. Between 28 December 2023 and 3 January 2024, you made numerous attempts to contact Mr Mcleod of Cheltenham Borough Homes on his work phone. You left 35 voice mails, 65 text messages and sent him 18 emails. You were aggressive and angry in these and shouted at the top of your voice. You said if you saw Mr Brimfield you would kill him.
    c. Since 4 January 2024 until the trial date you engaged in further attempts to contact Mr Mcleod. You left him 34 voicemails, 2 texts and 36 emails. All were threatening, aggressive and offensive. Again, in one you threatened to kill Mr Brimfield.
  16. You admitted all three breaches proved during the trial on the last occasion. You are in contempt of court.
  17. The question is what is the appropriate order to deal with your contempt?
  18. I have afforded you the opportunity to address the court by way of mitigation. You made clear your apologies on the last occasion and I have taken into account the remorse you have expressed during today’s hearing. However, I must temper the weight I can give to your apologies in the face of the Court with the views you express outside it are in stark contrast.
  19. My decision must be proportionate to the seriousness of your contempt, reflect the Court’s disapproval of a failure to comply with its orders, and designed to ensure compliance with the order in the future. I must consider the purpose for which you breached the order and the likelihood there is risk to the administration of justice.
  20. I remind myself that a custodial sentence is only warranted where there is no other reasonable alternative. If custody is the only reasonable alternative, it must be as short as possible in all the circumstances, reflect the gravity of your contempt, and bear a relationship to the maximum sentence of 2 years which is available to the Court.
  21. The Court of Appeal has laid down guidelines for assessing the appropriate starting point of your sentence. The appropriate starting point is A2 (high culpability / intermediate harm) for the following reasons.
  22. You have persistently, and without any hesitation, breached your order on a significant number of occasions. You are fully aware of the consequences of these actions because you have been to court numerous times and had suspended custodial sentences imposed on you. On the last two occasions before me, I made clear the consequences for breaking the order again. Having read the entirety of the evidence for today, and considered the history of the court file, I have reached the conclusion you simply do not care that there is a court order in place and decide to break it with impunity.
  23. The injunction imposed on you has principally been made to protect Cheltenham Borough Homes and its staff from your tirade of unwanted communications and abuse. You have been told, time and time again, you cannot contact them except through solicitors. Time and time again, you break that requirement and target Mr Mcleod with your messages.
  24. This time, you have contacted the P3 support organisation to abuse their staff and make a threat of violence against one of their number. I have heard no explanation as to why you decided to make unpleasant and abusive threats to an organisation which is trying to assist people with difficulties in their lives.
  25. The appropriate starting point for these breaches is 3 months (84 days).
  26. I must then consider the various factors which worsen or mitigate the sentence.
  27. Turning to the factors which worsen your sentence:
    a. It would be wrong to double-count the history of your non-compliance taken across the entire proceedings. I have already taken that into account when deciding the starting point of a sentence.
    b. However, it is a significant and distinct aggravating feature that you have committed these breaches whilst on a suspended sentence. The various Judges of this Court have left you in no doubt about the consequences of your conduct continuing and you have, despite our admonishments, ignored the legal obligations on you.
    c. I find also that the sheer scale of your emails and messages, sent to anyone who you consider can right the wrongs against you, is an aggravating factor.
    d. It is also a significant aggravating factor that the Claimant and its staff are engaged in the important public and difficult role of administering social housing. Whatever your views about your particular dispute with them, your conduct has a deeply unpleasant and pernicious effect on CBH staff who are just trying to go about their work.
    e. It is also an aggravating factor that, despite HHJ Cotter informing you during a hearing before him that your communications with the Court are breaching in the injunction, you have also continued to bombard the Court with your emails as well. I accept you have not been alleged or found to have broken your injunction through your communications with the Court, but I find I can take into account your attitude and disrespect for the Court process.
  28. There are some factors which mitigate your conduct
    a. I accept you hold a genuine and deep-hearted belief that the CBH has wronged you in the housing process. This is what in part motivates your conduct.
    b. I accept that you appear to have complied with your injunction for a period of around 4 months last year.
    c. It is clear that your circumstances are very difficult and at one stage proceedings were adjourned for the possibility of a psychiatric assessment through your representatives (which did not eventuate).
  29. Taking all this together, I have concluded it appropriate to increase the sentence for these breaches to one of 4 months (112 days) in custody. This is the minimum sentence that serves to address your breaches.
  30. You are not entitled to any discount for admitting the breaches. You admitted the breaches during the committal trial.
  31. I will also activate the suspended sentence of 142 days which should be served consecutively as it relates to a different set of breaches. You were fully aware when I sentenced you in July 2023 of the consequences of breaching it. There must now be punishment for the disobedience of the court orders that that sentence reflected.
  32. That brings me to a sentence of 226 days. Standing back and considering the entirety of the conduct which the sentencing is aimed at addressing, I consider that is not the shortest necessary sentence and one that is not in line with the totality principle of sentencing.
  33. Therefore I reduce your total sentence to 182 days (26 weeks). This is in my judgment the shortest sentence which appropriately reflect the long history of your breaches and misconduct.
  34. It is no longer appropriate, given the multiple chances you have been given before, to suspend your sentence. You will therefore go to prison today.
  35. From my reading of the court file, you have spent a total of 7 nights in custody across the life of the proceedings. Your sentence is therefore reduced by 14 days.
  36. The total time you will serve is 168 days.
  37. You will serve half that sentence before being released automatically.
  38. I have to inform you that if you wish to address the court and purge your contempt, you have the right to do so. You must inform the Governor of the prison that you wish to do so and they will contact the Court to arrange a hearing.
  39. You have the right to appeal my decision to a Circuit Judge sitting at Bristol County Court. You do not require permission to do so. You have 21 days from today to do so. A copy of the committal order and an appellant’s notice with the guidance for completion will be handed before you leave.
  40. I order you as to pay the costs of the Claimant to be assessed if not agreed.
  41. Finally, my judgment will be published online via the Court website.
  42. That concludes the hearing. As this Court has no cell staff today, a police officer will arrest you shortly and arrangements made to convey you to HMP Bristol.