Committal for Contempt of Court: London Borough of Bexley -v- Mr Malcolm Mattin

County CourtCommittal for Contempt of Court

Case Number: E02BR740

In the County Court at Bromley

31 January 2024


District Judge Cridge


London Borough of Bexley


Mr Malcolm Mattin

Committal order

District Judge Cridge:

1. This is my brief judgment and sentencing remarks concerning the application for committal to prison by the London Borough of Bexley of Mr Malcolm Mattin. In coming to my decisions, I have heard from counsel for the local authority, Mr Barber, and from the solicitor for the defendant, Ms Vahib.

2. The very brief background is that I made an order on 13 August 2021 for an antisocial behaviour injunction. The terms of that injunction required the defendant not to act in certain ways. There were then allegations that the defendant over a course of time had committed 14 breaches of that injunction (seven of which the defendant admitted) and three applications for committal were made by the local authority for differing reasons, which do not matter now. Only three of all those allegations are today pursued by Bexley.

3. Yesterday, the defendant’s solicitors had written to the claimant and to the court explaining that Mr Mattin now admitted those breaches.

4. The alleged breaches, which Mr Mattin has admitted to, all relate to an incident which occurred on 18 July 2023. Those three breaches were as follows: the first is that in contravention of paragraph 1(a) of the order of 13 August 2021 which stated that Mr Mattin was forbidden to contact certain people named in that injunction, Mr Mattin contacted a Ms Pettit by approaching her and by appearing to be taking photos of or filming her, Ms Pettit being a person named in the injunction order.

5. The second breach was that Mr Mattin made a lewd gesture towards Ms Petit and that this was said to be a breach of paragraph 3 of the injunction order; namely that the defendant was prohibited from behaving or threatening to behave in a manner that does, or is likely to, cause harassment, alarm or distress to any person.

6. The third breach was that Mr Mattin was in breach of paragraph 3 of that order because by contacting directly, or indirectly, Ms Pettit by approaching her and appearing to be taking photos of and filming her, that was behaviour that was threatening in a manner that was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

7. This morning in court I asked Mr Mattin, with his solicitor present, to confirm whether he still admitted to those three breaches of the injunction. Mr Mattin told me that he did. I am satisfied that Mr Mattin has freely admitted to breaching the injunction on those three occasions and that he is, therefore, in contempt of this court.

8. Concerning the injunction itself, and having this morning heard submissions from counsel for the claimant and solicitor for the defendant on this point, I am now of my own motion varying the injunction that I remade on 6 November 2023. I am extending it for a further period of 12 months from today so that it will now expire at
23:59 on 31 January 2025. I am doing so because I am concerned that the defendant has now admitted to further breaches of the injunction as it relates to Ms Pettit. As a result, in my view, Ms Pettit is entitled to know that she remains protected by this court for a longer period, hence my decision to extend the injunction. I make it clear that my extension of this injunction has formed no part of my consideration of any sentence that I have been asked to impose upon Mr Mattin today.

9. Turning now to the issue of sentencing, there are three objectives to be considered when sentencing. The first is the objective to secure future compliance with court orders. The second is punishment for breach of an order of the court, and in this regard sentencing must be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence. This is determined by assessing the culpability of the defendant and the level of harm the breaches caused or were at risk of causing. The third is the rehabilitation of the defendant. I must give a sentence in respect of each breach of the order that I have found has been admitted to. I have taken into account the report by the Civil Justice Council of July 2020 entitled “Anti-social Behaviour and the Civil Courts” and the Court of Appeal’s decision in Lovett v Wigan Borough Council [2022], which endorsed the approach taken in that report.

10. The guidelines in the CJC report provide the steps the court should take when sentencing in cases of this type. The first is to determine the offence category by assessing culpability and harm.

11. Turning then to the issue of culpability, the guidelines set out three levels: A, B and C. A is for high culpability for very serious breaches or persistent breaches; B is a deliberate breach falling between A and C; and C is lower culpability, minor breach or breaches.

12. The claimant argues that this is a level B case for all three breaches, saying that the breaches were not inadvertent and that Mr Mattin’s actions and interactions with Ms Pettit were entirely voluntary.

13. The defendant argues this is a level C case for all three breaches saying that this is the first breach of the injunction concerning Ms Pettit for some years and that Mr Mattin was responding to what he says was her taking photos of him, pointing towards him whilst speaking to someone on the phone.

14. In my judgment, the correct assessment of culpability is at level B for all breaches. Whilst it is not suggested that Mr Mattin had deliberately followed Ms Pettit, he chose to approach her, appeared to photograph her and made a rude gesture at her. He did so when standing right next to her driver’s door. He should, instead, have simply walked away from Ms Pettit and ignored her. The breaches were deliberate in nature and are not minor in my view in the circumstances of the history of Mr Mattin’s failures to comply with this court’s injunctions.

15. Turning to the level of harm, I assess this by weighing all the factors of the case to determine the harm that was caused or was at risk of being caused. I also have considered the original activity for which the order was imposed and the circumstances in which these breaches have arisen.

16. The three categories of harm are 1, 2 and 3. Category 1 is breaches which cause very serious harm or distress; category 2 is cases falling between categories 1 and 3; and category 3 is breaches which cause little or no harm or distress.

17. The claimant says this is a category 2 case for all breaches, saying that Ms Pettit was the person the order was designed to protect and that there is a history of repeated breaches by Mr Mattin of the injunction order.

18. The defendant argues that this is a category 3 case for all breaches, saying that this had been a one-off incident, the first in some long time.

19. In my judgment, the correct assessment of harm is category 2 for all breaches. I say that because Ms Pettit was a person intended to be protected by this injunction order. There is a history of Mr Mattin repeatedly breaching the injunction concerning Ms Pettit. Her evidence was that she was distressed, crying and upset, particularly as this was an incident that had taken place away from the high street in an entirely new location. I accept her evidence that she found Mr Mattin’s behaviour highly intimidating, given that he approached her on the driver’s side and stood by its wing mirror whilst appearing to take photos of or film her.

20 .Having assessed culpability and harm, this gives me a starting point for a sentence of one month’s imprisonment and a sentencing range of adjourned consideration to three months’ imprisonment. I must also take into account any aggravating and mitigating factors that would suggest I should increase or decrease the sentence. I must also consider whether there are other factors that would suggest the appropriate sentence falls outside the sentencing range the guidelines suggest.

21. The claimant has argued that the following are the relevant factors: there is a history of poor compliance; that Mr Mattin has been found by me at the previous contempt to have previously caused Ms Pettit distress.

22. The defendant says this about the relevant factors: Mr Mattin sadly continues to find himself homeless, having to spend one week out of four street homeless as he is not able to afford the cost of accommodation. He also struggles with issues around alcohol but is currently working on this with the relevant agencies. He suffers from depression and is recently now medicated for this. This has, I am told, helped him to control his behaviour such that there has been no significant breach of the injunction since last July and no breach of the injunction order I made on 6 November 2023 that removed the zonal part of the order that had stopped Mr Mattin from going to the Sidcup High Street environs.

23. In my judgment, these are the aggravating factors: that there has been a further breach of the order that concerns Ms Pettit when she was previously already the subject of abusive behaviour by Mr Mattin, as I found in the 2019 committal proceedings; and that there has been a history of ongoing breaches of the injunction order. In my judgment, the mitigating factors are Mr Mattin’s difficult personal circumstances that I have just talked about.

24. Taking all these matters into account, in my judgment, the appropriate provisional sentence in this case is 30 days’ imprisonment for each of the breaches. As Mr Mattin admitted to these breaches yesterday and avoided the need for trial today, I have considered a discount in accordance with the Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea Definitive Guideline. I have applied a discount of two days, given the lateness of the admissions. But is a custodial sentence necessary in this case? Are the breaches as admitted to sufficiently serious to justify a prison sentence? In other words, is the custody threshold crossed? In my judgment, it is. I say that because of the deliberate nature of the breach and that it involved Ms Pettit, someone whom Mr Mattin had
previously harassed and who was understandably distressed and upset by what happened.

25. Having decided to impose a custodial sentence for each of the breaches, I also need to decide whether those sentences should run consecutively or concurrently. I also take into account the principle of totality, in other words whether the total sentence is just and proportionate for the overall offending behaviour. Because of the similar nature of the breaches and the fact that they happened at the same time, I order that the sentences are to run concurrently.

26. I must also consider whether the sentence should be suspended. Suspending sentence may help in meeting two of the objectives of sentencing: to secure further compliance with this court’s order; and to secure the defendant’s rehabilitation. I have remind myself of the remarks of Munby LJ, as he then was, in the case of Re Hancock, a decision of the High Court in 2015, where he said:

“The court’s imperative objective is to ensure that the unacceptable behaviour has not been repeated. That aim can be more important than its duty to uphold the law. It may be clear, for example from a psychiatric report, that putting a Defendant in prison will not change his future behaviour, whereas a suspension might maximise the incentive to behave.”

27. I have heard submissions from both parties on this point. This is not the first time the defendant’s committal has been sought concerning this order. I am also mindful that the breaches are more serious in nature; that there have been no further breaches of significance of the injunction order since last July; and it may well be that Mr Mattin’s medication for depression and his work around alcohol are helping to ensure his current ongoing compliance with the injunction.

28. Please stand up, Mr Mattin. You have heard what I have said. These breaches were serious enough for me to decide that a prison sentence would be appropriate and so I do impose a sentence of 28 days for each breach to run concurrently. I consider this marks the serious view that the court has of your behaviour and your contempt by not complying with the order of this court. However, I am anxious that you should not commit any further breaches of the order made on 6 November 2023 as I have extended it by my earlier order today. Taking into account all of the issues I have spoken about earlier, it seems to me that this is a case where the sentence should be suspended. It will be suspended for a period of 12 months on condition that there is no
further breach of the injunction. My very firm hope is that this will encourage you to continue to comply with the terms of my order and so ensure the ongoing protection of those covered by the injunction. I am suspending the sentence of imprisonment until 23:59 on 31 January 2025 to coincide with the expiry of the order that I have amended that relates to the order I made on 6 November 2023.

29. As I have already made clear the injunction remains in place, it is a condition of the suspension that you must not breach the injunction again. If you do breach it, the suspension can be lifted; the prison sentence would then be immediately activated and you would then go to prison. That would also mean that any further breaches of the injunction might have to be dealt with as well as a contempt of court for which further prison time might be imposed. Please sit down.

30. On the issue of costs, I have considered the parties’ earlier submissions and the claimant’s costs schedule. I am satisfied that the claimant is entitled to their costs and I have summarily assessed those costs at £4,000.

31. Mr Mattin, having imposed the sentence upon you, I am required to advise you that you have an automatic right to appeal my decision without the need to first seek permission. Any application must be made within 21 days to this court addressed to the circuit judge. You also have the right to apply to discharge this committal order under 81.10 of the Civil Procedure Rules. That is my judgment.