Case No. H00RG903
In the County Court at Reading
2 September 2022
District Judge Harrison
Darren Hall (and another)
- This is my sentencing decision in the case of Stonewater Limited v Darren Hall. It takes place as a sentencing hearing on 2 September 2022 listed for one hour. I am sitting in open court today, robed, and Ms Kelly attends, robed, as counsel for Stonewater Limited. On a previous occasion in August I found breaches by Mr Hall of an antisocial behaviour injunction order to be proved to the criminal standard. I have the schedule of breaches on Form N603 in front of me. They are all breaches by the defendant, Mr Hall, of an order imposed on 7 October 2021, and served on him on 17 November 2021. Those 10 breaches have already been found to be proved to the criminal standard of proof at an earlier hearing before me on 8 August when I adjourned the question of sentencing.
- I am satisfied that Mr Hall has been properly served with notice that he has been found to be in breach of the order, that the sentencing hearing is taking place today and that he should attend. Mr Hall was served by the claimant’s representative on 23 August. She spoke to him through an upstairs window. He declined to come downstairs. I have read the witness statement setting all this out. I had previously authorised that if Mr Hall did not come down to receive court papers, they could be inserted through the door of his address at 40 Waterloo Rise in Reading, and this is what happened. Accordingly, he has been properly served with notice of these proceedings. He has not come to this hearing, and that fits with a pattern of non-engagement with the proceedings throughout the process.
- Mr Hall has not been present to place any mitigation before the Court. I have heard submissions from Ms Kelly who has properly assisted the Court with the sentencing exercise and how to approach the categorisation of culpability and harm. I have asked Ms Kelly what information is available to the claimant about Mr Hall’s personal circumstances. I believe him to be a man in his sixties. He has, to my knowledge, no dependents living with him although he has a daughter who visits. As far as the claimant is aware, having made enquiries, Mr Hall is not known to community mental health services. I know very little about Mr Hall, because he has not attended nor chosen to place any mitigation before the Court.
- I have reminded myself of the sentencing guidelines. This Court has a sentencing range between a fine and up to two years in custody. I observe that these are persistent breaches and that they are began almost immediately the order of 7 October 2021 was served on Mr Hall on 17 November 2021. The first of the 10 breaches due for sentence today was on 18 November 2021. Other breaches continued during November, December and into January of 2022. The breaches appear to be deliberate, in that the order of 7 October 2021 was very clear in prohibiting the behaviour which occurred. I therefore sentence on the basis that it is a persistent series of breaches that started almost immediately, showing no regard to the terms of the court order at all.
- On the other hand, the breaches are not, of themselves, very serious. They go to the heart of what the Court was trying to achieve by imposing the order, but eight of the 10 breaches comprise allowing [a named individual] into his home. Two of the breaches are his own conduct; attempting to smash his neighbour’s CCTV camera off the house, and shouting in a way that was audible to people outside of the property. It seems to me that in terms of culpability, given the persistence but also the nature, they should be thought of as ‘Category B’ breaches.
- In terms of the harm that they cause, I have reminded myself of the information that has come from two of the neighbours, in the form of affidavits. It is clear that the breaches caused distress to the neighbours. A neighbour describes witnessing the attempt to dislodge his security camera by using a long pole to hit at it. [The named individual] was present, shouting at Mr Hall but he continued to try and damage the camera and the neighbour says, “This was very scary; I didn’t get much sleep due to this”. It is also clear from reading the affidavits of the neighbours that the wellbeing of themselves and their families has been affected by hearing disturbing, abusive shouting, the very difficulties that the order of 7 October was intended to resolve. Accordingly, in terms of the level of harm, I assess it as ‘Category 2’. It has caused harm or distress, although not at the most serious level. Nonetheless, it is ongoing prohibited activity and it is causing disturbance and distress to the neighbours.
- Therefore, in my judgement, this case has crossed the custody threshold. The starting point is 12 weeks in custody. That is only a starting point. The Court must then go on to consider aggravating and mitigating factors. There are no further aggravating factors that I wish to take into account beyond those I have already referenced in terms of placing the 10 breaches within the category range matrix. In terms of mitigating factors, Mr Hall has not chosen to attend to place mitigating factors before the Court or to contact the Court in any way during these proceedings. I am aware of no mitigating factors. There has not been a period of compliance. There has not been cooperation with the process and I am not aware of any features of his own mental functioning or health that might explain what has been happening. I must bear in mind the totality principle to achieve overall proportionality in the sentence. Mr Hall has not spent any time either on bail or in custody. Accordingly, I do not see any particular reason to move away from that starting point of 12 weeks in custody. There are neither aggravating nor mitigating factors that cause me to move away from that starting point of a 12-week period in custody.
- I have considered whether I should simply adjourn this sentencing process on the basis that it is very likely that there will be possession proceedings in the near future based on a mandatory ground resulting from the injunction. I have concluded it would not be appropriate for the Court today to ‘duck’ the issue of sentencing, which has specifically been listed today, by adjourning the sentencing exercise to be heard with the eviction proceedings. The outcome of those proceedings, unless a public law defence is raised, will be a mandatory possession order. I bear in mind that likely outcome as I conduct the sentencing exercise today. The Court has time today to consider the bundle of papers and to deal with this matter in open court. With all the safeguards that apply to committal proceedings, it would not be appropriate to adjourn this matter today to consolidate with a different type of listing, the possession proceedings.
- I am mindful that these proceedings are likely to have a serious consequence for Mr Hall whatever I do in terms of sentencing today, given that he is at significant risk of a mandatory possession order being made so that he will lose his home. It is not so much a mitigating factor for these breaches, but it is a factor that I will consider as part of the overall proportionality of this sentencing exercise.
- In all the circumstances I have decided that I will give Mr Hall one further opportunity to avoid time in prison before facing whatever happens in the possession proceedings, so I have decided that I will suspend this sentence today. It is possible that he will continue to breach the order, in which case the suspended sentence will be activated. I am suspending it for a period of 12 months. I therefore pass a sentence of 12 weeks imprisonment suspended for a period of 12 months. I hope that Mr Hall will now understand the seriousness of the situation he finds himself in and that, pending the outcome of the possession proceedings, he may seek to avoid an immediate custodial experience for himself.
- Therefore, the order of the Court today is a 12-week custodial sentence but suspended for a period of 12 months. The subsidiary orders are that there will be a transcript prepared of this judgment at public expense and the transcript will be published.