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Committal for Contempt of Court: Leah Church

H00NT190

Committal for Contempt of Court
Port Talbot Justice Centre

Date: 08/12/2021

Before:
DISTRICT JUDGE KELLER

1. In view of Ms Church’s non attendance at the sentencing hearing today, notwithstanding her release from prison (which the Court understood had occurred last week) and, further, in view of her failure at the last hearing to attend by video link from prison, when the Court was informed that she could attend but was refusing to do so, that sentencing should proceed in her absence. This matter had already been protracted and no further Court time should be wasted.
2. On 16th June 2021 Deputy District Judge Ashley Smith made an Injunction Order (the “order”) under ss 1&2 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014. I am satisfied that this was served upon Ms Church personally on 3rd July 2021. That order was made against a background of persistent, housing related anti social behaviour.
3. On the 29th July 2021 Ms Church was arrested for alleged breaches of the Order and appeared before a Deputy District Judge , when the matter was adjourned and she was released on bail initially to appear on 30th September 2021 when the case was listed before me.
4. By that stage, she had been arrested again on 10th August for a breach which involved prohibited conduct and an allegation of criminal damage to her neighbour’s vehicle, these breaches occurring on 5th August. For various reasons, adjournments of the applications in this case have occurred, the last being occasioned because of confusion about whether Ms Church was at the time in custody, which it transpired she was.
5. The reason for her being in prison, as I understand it, is that for the incident for which she was arrested on 10th August 2021, namely the criminal damage, she was given an immediate custodial sentence, partly because, again as I understand it, she was already subject to a previous suspended sentence .
6. Before she was imprisoned she appeared before me by telephone only, having failed to attend court in person. At that hearing, she was advised in the strongest terms, to seek legal assistance. She was provided with the details of how to apply for legal aid to which she would have been entitled as of right. She has failed to obtain that advice and has been unrepresented throughout.
7. There are therefore two applications before me for her to be committed to prison.
8. Having considered the totality of the evidence at the earlier hearing, I found it proved to the high criminal standard, beyond reasonable doubt, that Ms Church breached the injunction order imposed against her on the 28th and 29th July 2021 and again on 5th August 2021.
9. In the first episode, she was out on the street with others who were also named in the injunction order, causing a noise nuisance and quite clearly encouraging others in her entourage to ride a dirt bike along this residential street at speed and with no regard for those using the road or for the surrounding residents. The evidence from those witnesses who attended is that efforts were made by all those present, but especially the bike riders, to be intimidating and aggressive. The incident culminated in an incident which could, but fortunately, did not result in serious injury but which was very distressing for the person concerned. All of this was within Ms Church’s control and a very clear breach of the order. The Court had video footage of the behaviour and that of others and your attitude to your neighbours and the police who subsequently attended was nothing short of disgraceful The language being used is appalling.
10. On 5th August 2021 at half past midnight Ms Church can be clearly identified on cctv footage engaging in anti social behaviour with people who have pulled up in a vehicle outside her house. The language is appalling. Abusive comments are made about neighbours. Judging by what can be heard, she was also dealing in drugs with these people. She then proceeded to climb on her neighbour’s parked vehicle and, quite openly, in the full knowledge that she was being filmed, caused criminal damage to that vehicle.
11. The breaches of the order which I found were of paras 1,2,3 4 and 6 on the 28th and 29th July 2021 and of paras 1,3 and 6 on 5th August.
12. It now falls to me to deal with sentence for the breaches I have found proven.
13. There are three objectives to be considered;
• the first is punishment for breach of an order of the court;
• the second is to secure future compliance with the court’s orders if possible;
• the third is rehabilitation, which is a natural companion to the second
14. The sentencing options available to the court are much more limited than those for a criminal court sentencing for breach. They amount to imprisonment, either immediate custody for a maximum of 1 year, suspended committal, fine or taking no action on the breach.
15. The breaches are brazen and persistent breaches of an order of the court which must be marked with some penalty; taking no action on the breach is not a viable option.
16. I know nothing about your financial circumstances since you have not attended to plead in mitigation but I do not, in any event, consider a financial penalty to be sufficient.
17. I have in mind the Sentencing Council guideline for breach offences. I note that they are not entirely apposite because they deal with offences for which the maximum penalty is 5 years whereas the maximum available to this court is 1 year.
18. I take the view that the incident on 5th August 2021 is overall the most serious of the breaches
19. In terms of culpability, deliberate and persistent breach is at category A, but, despite the blatant nature of what you have done, especially in the August incident, I consider that these breaches overall are within category B. In terms of harm caused, Ms Church falls overall within Category 2, in my view. A strong case could be made for category 1 and I have considered that, but the first breach does not come within that category in my view.
20. For the persistent breaches over a week which caused your neighbours alarm and distress and culminated in an incident of criminal damage, which was quite deliberate, the custody threshold is passed.
21. Ordinary people’s lives can be blighted by antisocial behaviour and persistent breaches of court orders must be deterred. The sentencing guidelines puts the starting point for offences within category 2B at 12 weeks custody. It seems to me that I must be mindful of the fact that you have been convicted of an offence arising from the 5th August 2021 incident and for which you have already received a custodial sentence. The guidelines are in any event not an exact fit.
22. I take the view therefore that 2 weeks custody appropriately reflects the persistence of the breaches and the single significant incident. I am suspending that sentence until the injunction order comes to an end on 5thJuly 2022; in the hope that this marks the deterrent and rehabilitative purpose of sentence. It must also be said that I have been made aware that elsewhere in this Court building today, a possession claim has been brought which could well result in Ms Church losing her home. That is not an insignificant punishment in itself.
23. This means to all intents and purposes, that Ms Church will be subject to a single 2-week sentence if there are further breaches of the terms of the order within the currency of the suspended sentence. I trust Ms Church will heed the sentence of the Court.

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