Committal for Contempt of Court in open court at Bristol: Walker
Committal for Contempt of Court
In the County Court at Bristol
Sitting at the Magistrates’ Court
14 July 2021
His Honour Judge Ralton
Bristol City Council
- In this case the claimant is Bristol City Council and the defendant is Ms Natalie Walker. On 30 April of this year the city council sought an injunction order to be made against Ms Walker under the provisions of the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Police Act 2014. The application was supported by evidence.
- On 12 May the court made a without notice order against Ms Walker forbidding her from intentionally making any noise inside her property which could be heard outside the property, including loud banging; contacting – directly or indirectly – by any means whatsoever Ms Nicola Detain and causing intentional damage to 45 Trowbridge Road, Southmeade, Bristol BS10 5PA.
- Quite properly, a return date was fixed and the matter came back before DJ Howell on 28 May and then before DDJ Chidgey, who ordered the orders of 12 May to continue. I should add that a power of arrest had been added by DDJ Howell with respect to the order forbidding Ms Walker from contacting, directly or indirectly, Ms Nicola Detain and causing damage to 45 Trowbridge Road. It would appear on the certificate for service on the court file that the application was properly served with notice of the hearing.
- Unfortunately, it seems that the power of arrest was utilised by the police and Ms Walker was brought before the court on 2 June of this year. Ms Walker was required to reside away from her home and she was released on bail accordingly. Unfortunately, again it seems that Ms Walker was considered to be in breach of the injunction order and I note that on 25 June DDJ Chidgey authorised the issue of a warrant of arrest.
- Ms Walker came before DJ Woodburn on 30 June and the court on that day again remanded Ms Walker on bail. Ms Walker has remained on bail since, excluded, by reason of bail conditions, from her home.
- The various matters have been consolidated into an application to commit Ms Walker in the new form N600 with a number of allegations made against Ms Walker. The allegations broadly fall into two classes: class one are a number of allegations of noise nuisance; and class two contacting Ms Detain. The application is supported by evidence and it comes before me today, 14 July, for the purposes of hearing evidence on the allegations and, insofar as any of the allegations are proven to the criminal standard, to consider sentence, if appropriate.
- I am very grateful for the assistance today of Mr Denford, for the city council, and Mr Stokes, for Ms Walker. There have been discussions between the parties and Ms Walker is prepared to admit some of the breaches. The breaches which she admits are as follows: 5 June 2021, reports from residents that Ms Walker was playing loud music which could be heard outside the property; 9 June 2021, more noise footage of Ms Walker’s property with music emanating from the premises between 9.06 and 16.25; 11 June 2021, CCTV footage was seen. Ms Walker heard shouting and banging in her tenancy. In the footage the defendant could be heard shouting, “I’ll stop the banging when I’m dead”; 22 June 2021, at 03.47 hours loud banging could be heard on CCTV footage coming from the defendant’s property. This banging was followed by shouting from Ms Walker.
- And then so far as contact with Ms Detain is concerned: 12 June 2021, at around 9.05 hours, Ms Walker shouted through the bedroom window at Ms Detain. She shouted that she wanted Ms Detain to stop talking about Ms Walker’s dead babies. This was repeated several times over the morning. In fact the repeated allegations are not admitted but the admission is limited to the 9.05 allegation.
- Mr Denford tells me, on behalf of the city council, that so far as the council is concerned it considers the admissions to be sufficient and it does not wish to pursue the remainder of the allegations. I see no reason to force the parties into a trial of the remaining allegations and I commend the parties for their sensible approach to this case.
- I also will bear in mind, of course, in effect, the pleas of guilty and the credit that should be given. With that in mind, I turn to the matter of sentence.
- There are some key points that I need to remind myself of. The first is that the sentencing powers of the County Court are very limited in comparison to the powers of the magistrates or the Crown Court. I can sentence to a term of imprisonment of up to two years and I can suspend any term of imprisonment. I can make financial penalties (such as in the form of fines) or I can make no order at all. But that represents the limit of my powers.
- I also bear in mind the guidelines applicable to breach of an antisocial behaviour order. Mr Denford and Mr Stokes agree that this case falls into B2 and I see no reason to differ with them. The guidelines are of some assistance, but only some assistance because, again, those guidelines are addressed more to the criminal courts than the County Court.
- Mr Stokes has spoken in mitigation with respect to Ms Walker. He has said – and it is obvious to me from Ms Walker’s demeanour in court – that she is highly stressed. I can see that Ms Walker has a number of vulnerabilities herself. I am told that these emanate from the very tragic loss of her baby some time ago, which has no doubt left a marked impact on her mental health, which continues. I further understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the amount of assistance that Ms Walker has been able to receive to help her with her mental health issues. I am very sorry to hear that she also has no support network. She has also lost her home and is going to be excluded from the road for another four months by agreed variation to the injunction order.
Pausing there for a moment, I can rise for a few moments if Ms Walker would like time to gather herself, or it may be easier if I just complete the process now.
MS TURLAND: If you could complete, please, sir?
JUDGE RALTON: Yes.
- The ethos of the County Court is to secure compliance with its orders, not necessarily to punish, but certainly to deter people from breaching orders. However, these are serious proceedings, and the other members of the community are entitled to quietly and peacefully occupy their properties without antisocial behaviour being inflicted.
- I have come to the conclusion that this is a case for a suspended sentence. Looking at the various breaches, it seems to me that the appropriate term of imprisonment but for the plea of guilty would be six weeks but, because of the plea of guilty, I am going to sentence to a period of four weeks (28 days).
- Because of the variation to the injunction order, because of the matters said in mitigation and because this is the first full committal hearing before the court, I do consider it appropriate to suspend. I will suspend the sentence for a period of one year on condition that the injunction order by DJ Howell (as confirmed by DDJ Chidgey and as varied today by me) is complied with.
- There will be an expedited transcript of the judgment at public expense.
- I very much hope that Ms Walker secures the help that she very obviously needs and I am sorry to see her in such a state of distress. I also understand that arrangements will be made between the parties to facilitate Mr Walker’s collection of her belongings.
- That is the end of my judgment.