Case Number: H00HD096
In The County Court At Leeds
15 December 2022
His Honour Judge Gosnell
The Borough Of Kirklees
Committal for Contempt Order
MS A CHEATHAM appeared on behalf of the Claimant
MS R BURGIN appeared on behalf of the Defendant
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- The defendant was the subject of an injunction made on 12 February 2021 which was to last for two years and it said that he should not do certain things. He has breached that injunction in four different ways, and appeared in front of HHJ Saffman, eventually, on 22 February 2022. At that hearing, a deal was done whereby the defendant got to keep his dog; I think he is called Gatto. The defendant pleaded to the four breaches. The breaches that he pleaded to on that occasion were keeping the dog when he had been ordered not to, using abusive words and behaviour towards the claimant’s staff on 30 March 2021, threatening to use violence towards the claimant’s staff on 15 July 2021 and allowing the dog to be in communal parts without a muzzle in breach of paragraph six of the injunction.
- The only one that I am going to refer to, in detail, is the threats which were made to the claimant’s staff because they were serious, in my view. Mr Tedder and Carrie Harper were at the defendant’s property and the defendant said to the two people, “If you don’t fuck off, I am going to get a knife and stab you in the neck”, and he also then used the very offensive swear words towards both of them. Although he did not carry out his threat, that was a serious threat, in my view, involving a methodology which was not impossible, and so, I suspect, would have been distressing to both those people attempting to do their job.
- HHJ Saffman decided to defer sentence for 12 months to give the defendant the chance to prove to him that he could behave. Unfortunately, that has not happened because I now find that he is accused of breaking the injunction in four ways again, earlier this year. The schedule of breaches from this year shows that on around 18 May 2022, he damaged the smoke alarm, extract fan and electricity board. On 23 June 2022, he abused a postman just trying to do his job, and he assaulted him by spitting at him. He also allowed his dog to be in the communal area, not on a lead or a muzzle, and I have given reasons for my decision in relation to that. Therefore, those are the things that the defendant falls to be sentenced for.
- I have to decide, first of all, what the appropriate penalty is for the breaches because there are eight in total. A custodial penalty can only be imposed if the breach or a combination of the breaches was so serious that only a custodial penalty can be justified. The defendant’s counsel has, very helpfully, referred me to the Civil Justice Council guidelines and I agree with her assessment that of the eight offences, all of them fall into Category B in terms of culpability and Category 2 in terms of harm. The starting point is, therefore, one month’s imprisonment. The category range will be from an adjourned consideration to three months.
- I take into account the mitigation on the defendant’s part, which is as follows: it is said that there was no targeting of particular neighbours, and that is accurate. However, there are continued problems with people in authority. I have read the report of Dr Vendenabeele which says that the defendant suffers from a number of problems including anxiety, and also, possibly, adult ADHD. Certainly, his behaviour in court today supports that diagnosis which may be accurate. I do take that into account that whilst the defendant has capacity and he is what the Courts would call “Wookey competent” which means he understands what the injunction is about and why he has to comply with it, his mental health is not without its difficulties.
- I also accept that in damaging the fire alarm, the defendant was, perhaps, prepared to do that because he was irritated by the number of false alarms that take place in that building, and I have read his previous statement for the proceedings before HHJ Saffman where he explained how frustrating it was to have the alarms going off all the time. I also take into account that for the offence of abusing and spitting at the postman and for the offence of damaging the fire alarm, he has been punished by the Criminal Courts, and so it would be wrong for me to punish him for those offences. The punishment for this Court is for breaching a court order and holding the Court in contempt. As far as aggravating features are concerned, there is an aggravating feature in terms of the fact that the injunction was granted in February 2021 for two years. The defendant had breached it, I think, by the summer of 2021, which then took until February to be heard. Then, having been before the Court and having had sentence adjourned, there are now four more breaches which occurred in May and June of 2022. Therefore, that is an aggravating factor.
- In terms of the custodial term, the number of breaches is eight, and it would be disproportionate to impose, for example, a one-month sentence on each breach because that would be a total of eight months which, in terms of totality, is too much. Having thought about this case, and having thought about the seriousness of the allegations, which, I accept, are all, roughly, in the same category but I am very concerned about the threat that the defendant made to the housing officers which was, in my view, a serious breach of this injunction, I think the appropriate term would be 12 weeks, in total, for all of the eight breaches. That, however, needs to be discounted for a guilty plea. The defendant pleaded guilty to six of the eight breaches, and I have got to say that I could understand why he pleaded not guilty to the dog allegation, even though the evidence was overwhelming that he had breached the injunction technically. I am going to give the defendant full credit for the guilty pleas, even though I have tried two of them. Therefore, that would reduce it to eight weeks.
- I next consider whether it is appropriate to suspend the sentence and I think that is where I can take into account the fact that the defendant has been getting help from other people. He has been going on courses. He has been trying to improve his situation. I understand that he would like to move from this property and live somewhere else. I think that that would be, probably, a very good idea. However, it is obviously not something I am going to force him to do. In addition, obviously, by all means, the defendant can keep his dog but make sure he is on a muzzle in the future. I think, in the circumstances, it is appropriate to suspend the sentence because I think it would be too harsh to sentence the defendant to immediate custody.
- Therefore, the sentence I am going to impose today is a sentence of eight weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for a period of 12 months. I am going to extend the injunction so that it will expire on 14 December 2023. Provided the defendant does not commit any further breaches of the injunction, then, that suspended sentence would not be implemented. If, however, he is proved to have breached the injunction, then, he could be brought back before the Court and that suspended sentence can be imposed, either in whole or in part.
End of Judgment.