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Committal for Contempt of Court in Open Court at Central London: McHale

Claim No: F03EC355

In the County Court at Central London

20 August 2020

 

Before:
HHJ Hellman
Between:
Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association Limited (“Poplar HARCA”)
-v-
Mr Michael McHale


Pursuant to paragraph 13 of Practice Direction: Committal for Contempt of Court – Open Court:

In relation to Case No: F03EC355 on 20 August 2020 at the County Court at Central London, I, HHJ Hellman, sentence Mr Michael McHale to 6 weeks imprisonment for contempt of court.  The sentence is suspended for 12 months until 20 August 2021.  The basis of that sentence is as follows.

On 16 October 2019, DJ Stone made an injunction order (“the Injunction”) against Mr McHale under section 1 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.  On 9 December 2019, DJ Stone ordered that the Injunction should continue in force until further order.

Mr McHale is the tenant of a 1-bedroom flat in a block of flats at Dewberry Street, Poplar, in East London.  The flats consist of social housing.  Poplar HARCA is the owner and landlord of the block.

The Injunction prohibited Mr McHale from engaging in conduct which was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to anyone, and in particular certain named residents of the block of flats, or nuisance or annoyance to anyone in their immediate vicinity.

On 7 April 2020, Poplar HARCA applied to commit Mr McHale to prison for contempt of court for breaching the Injunction.  The application was heard on 17 June 2020.  They alleged 97 separate incidents of anti-social behaviour over the period November 2019 to June 2020, which were organised under the heading of 10 umbrella allegations.  The conduct complained of was drunken behaviour which involved Mr McHale shouting, swearing, banging and slamming doors.  This activity continued for hours at a time at all hours of the day ands night.  The Court read witness statements from residents of the block which explained how Mr McHale’s behaviour was making their life a misery.

The Court found all 10 allegations proved and adjourned the matter for sentencing.    This took place on 20 August 2020.

The Court applied the Sentencing Council guidelines for breach of an anti-social behaviour order by analogy.  However it was mindful that as the maximum sentence under the Guidelines was double the maximum sentence for contempt, the Guidelines were guidelines not tramlines, and should not be applied mechanically.

These were deliberate breaches falling within culpability band B.  The level of harm fell within category 2: Mr McHale’s behaviour had seriously damaged the quality of life of the resoidents of the block.  The starting point under the Guidelines for sentencing a breach falling within band B in category 2 was 12 weeks custody.

There was an exacerbating factor, namely that the breaches had begun shortly after the Injunction was made.  As to mitigation, the Court took account of the fact that Mr McHale had an alcohol dependency, and that this lay at the root of the breaches.  He recognised this, and told the Court that he was now seeking to address it.

 

The Court imposed a sentence of six weeks imprisonment concurrent on each allegation.  This took account of the fact that the length of the committal must bear some reasonable relationship to the maximum of two years which is available, as opposed to the four years available under the Guidelines.

The Court suspended the sentence for 12 months.  Unlike in criminal cases, there does not have to be an exceptional case to justify suspension, which is usually the first way of attempting to secure compliance with the court’s order.

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