Committal for Contempt of Court: Wandle Housing Association Limited -v- Terri Williams
County CourtCommittal for Contempt of Court
Case number: H70CR154
In the County Court at Croydon
DJ Graham Keating
Wandle Housing Association Limited
Judgment delivered in Open Court following a hearing held in Open Court
On 17 January 2023 the Defendant, Terri Williams, was arrested because Police believed that she had breached an order of this Court made on 30 May 2022 pursuant to the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 (“the Act”). That order was not the first order made under the Act against Ms Williams.
The Police brought the Defendant before the Court on 17 January 2023. She was given a notice which explained her rights and she was encouraged to seek legal advice. The notice set out the basis upon which her solicitor would be able to secure legal aid for her.
The matter came back before the Court on 15 February 2023 at a hearing held in open court into allegations that the Defendant should be committed for contempt of Court. The Court reminded the Defendant that she had the right to silence and the right not to incriminate herself. The Defendant confirmed that she had received a notice on 17 January but had been unable to secure legal representation. She told the Court that she wanted the proceedings to be disposed of that day, if possible. The Court considered that the Defendant had adequate opportunity to obtain legal advice and representation.
The Defendant admitted two allegations without admitting all of the facts of them, and the Claimant indicated that it was minded to accept the admissions on the limited basis each was made, as set out below. The other elements of the allegations were not, therefore pursued by the Claimant. The Claimant wished to proceed with the third allegation, which was denied by the Defendant.
The Court heard oral evidence from Page Perrior, who lives in Vine Cottages, the address to which the order against the Defendant relates, who gave evidence on behalf of the Claimant.
The Court found as follows:
- On 30 May 2022 the Court made an order under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 which said that the Defendant was forbidden from “…engaging in conduct causing or capable of causing harassment alarm and distress to any person who resides visits or engages in a lawful activity in Vine Cottages Church Road Mitcham…” or “…engaging in conduct causing or capable of causing annoyance to any person who resides, visits or engages in lawful activity in Vine Cottages, Church Road, Mitcham…”;
- The order had a power of arrest attached to it;
- Both the order and power of arrest last until 23 May 2023 and both were personally served on the Defendant on 20 June 2022 and the Defendant was, accordingly, aware of the terms of the order;
- On her ADMISSION the Defendant breached the order on 22 October 2022 by playing loud music for a few hours in the late afternoon, which was conduct capable of causing annoyance to a person who resided or visited or engaged in lawful activity in Vine Cottages;
- On her ADMISSION the Defendant breached the order on 4 November 2022 by shouting “I’m home” and “you can record”, which was conduct capable of causing annoyance to a person who resided or visited or engaged in lawful activity in Vine Cottages; and
- The third allegation, which related to 9 November 2022, was not established on the evidence before the Court;
- By reason of each of the two admitted matters set out above, the Defendant was in Contempt of Court.
The Court encouraged the Defendant to seek legal advice and representation before sentence was considered. The Court further explained that if she failed to attend the next hearing, the Court might decide to sentence her in her absence, and she might therefore lose the chance to purge her contempt or to present mitigation or to make submissions as to sentence.
The hearing was adjourned until 6 April 2023 and further adjourned until today, 27 April 2023.
The Claimant Housing Association was represented today by Ms Rai of counsel
The defendant was not represented. She attended the hearing in person.
The Court has considered the guidance set down by the Court of Appeal in Lovett v Wigan Borough Council  EWCA Civ 1631, in particular at paragraphs 39 to 57, which recommend a sentencing approach modelled on the Sentencing Council’s scheme for breaches of criminal behaviour orders. The purpose of sentencing is to ensure future compliance, to punish for the breach and to rehabilitate the offender. The first, prevention of future breach, is the most important. Punishment is less important than that, but still important. I cannot impose a community sentence, so the desirable aim of rehabilitation is a more limited factor in this case given more powers.
The Defendant has engaged in anti-social behaviour over a long period of time. That was why the order of 30 May 2023 was made. That sort of behaviour generally has a highly detrimental impact on the quality of the lives of the people who are affected in it. It affects them in their homes, where they should feel safe and able to live their lives without serious disturbance to the day to day activities of ordinary living. The Defendant is expressly not being sentenced because of that background, she is being sentenced only for her admitted contempts of Court.
The maximum sentence is two years’ imprisonment for each of the contempts.
The Defendant is the sole carer of 3 children aged 13, 2 and 7 months. There would obviously be a significant impact on them, especially given the ages of the younger two children.
The playing of loud music for a few hours in the afternoon of 22 October 2022 was a deliberate breach of the order. It was not a minor breach, but nor was it a serious one. I therefore assess that this attracts culpability level B. It caused distress to other residents in Vine Cottages, and that was more than just minimal harm, though it certainly was not serious harm or distress. Accordingly, I would assess that as being in Category 2 for level of harm, but towards the bottom end of category 2. The starting point for that is one month’s imprisonment.
For the second admitted contempt, that too was a deliberate breach of the order. The words used show that it was a deliberate breach and that takes it above Level C culpability and, in my judgment, into Level B. As to the distress it caused, it is obvious reading the witness statements that it caused distress and, from the words used, I assess that the Defendant meant her conduct to do so. That, too, moves her conduct into Category 2, so again the starting point for this offence is one month’s imprisonment.
Given the first contempt, the second is more serious than it would be if it were a one off breach. For that reason I would impose a sentence of six weeks’ imprisonment for that second contempt.
The sentences shall be served concurrently, because although the contempts took place on different dates they arise from the broad same set of events. The Claimant says that whilst there has been discussion of the Defendant giving up her tenancy at Vine Cottages, she has not done so. She has been living elsewhere for some months. The Defendant told me that she intends to hand back her keys within two weeks. She expressed remorse to the extent that she regretted things had got so bad, but also said that this was a tit for tat dispute with another neighbour, which means that there was not really very much remorse shown.
In my view, in all of the circumstances, the appropriate sanction is a global sentence of six weeks, or 42 days’ imprisonment.
For each of those matters, the Defendant admitted her guilt at an early stage. Whilst she did not do so at the hearing on 17 January, she had not at that stage had the opportunity to seek legal advice. I would therefore reduce the sentence by 1/3rd, that is by 14 days.
That makes a total of 28 days’ imprisonment.
I have also considered whether that sentence should be suspended, or whether it should be served immediately. The Claimant invites me, in all the circumstances, to suspend the sentence. I was told that the Defendant has now moved away from Vine Cottages, perhaps to the relief of the other residents there. There have been no further incidents since November 2022. I was not told of any other offences or contempts of Court. Taking all of that into account ,I conclude that the sentence can be suspended until 26.4.24 on condition that until then Terri Williams complies with the order made on 30.5.22, including any extension of it. The suspension may be lifted by the Court and the sentence of imprisonment activated if she breaches that order at any time before 26.4.24.
I will now consider the question of costs.