Heatley -v- Beggs-Reid

County CourtJudgment

Case Number: G00Y0219

In the County Court at Leeds

6 October 2023

His Honour Judge Gosnell



MR MCKAY appeared on behalf of the Claimant
NO APPEARANCE by or on behalf of the Defendant

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HHJ Gosnell:

  1. This is my judgment in relation to the penalty which arises as a consequence of my findings at a hearing on 12 September 2023 in the case between Graham Heatley and Cavan Beggs-Reid. I will pause briefly to give some background of what has happened today. Today was listed for the penalty phase of the contempt process and Mr Beggs-Reid was given notice of this, which was served on him by process server.
  2. The order that was made on the last occasion included particulars of the breaches which were found so that he would be aware of the what the Court’s findings were because he failed to attend that hearing, having been found to have served with notice of the hearing. He was arrested at about five past five this morning by the police on a warrant which I had issued on the last occasion. He went with the police compliantly, but then complained of chest pains and was taken to the hospital.
  3. He was fully investigated and eventually, at about 4.15, he was discharged from hospital and pronounced by medical staff as being fit to come to court. He was brought to court by police officers and handed to the custody staff a few minutes ago. I was advised, when I was about to start the hearing, that he was refusing to leave his cell. I asked that the custody staff communicate with him that if he continued to refuse to leave his cell, the Court would have no option but to proceed in his absence. That was communicated to him, and he clearly communicated to the court staff that he was still not prepared to leave his cell.

4. Although I have the discretion whether to proceed now or whether to adjourn, I have decided that I must proceed. My reason is mainly the fact that if I adjourn now, it will probably be necessary to bail Mr Beggs-Reid and then he, in all probability, will not come to court again. I say that because he has not come to court voluntarily at any stage. On the two occasions when he has been brought to court under warrant, he has complained of chest pains and insisted that he be taken to hospital for investigation.

5. This has involved medical staff and police being involved for a full day on each occasion. It is not realistic or fair that I allow that happen again, nor is it fair on the claimant who is incurring legal costs each time the case comes to court. Therefore, even if I were to adjourn the case, I would end up dealing with the sentencing aspect of the breaches in the absence of the defendant, so I intend to proceed today.

6. The history of this dispute is unfortunate and arises in 2014 when the claimant bought a plot of land from the defendant’s mother-in-law, Catherine Swan. He then built a property on that land called Forge House, which was adjacent to the property owned by Mrs Swan, called The Forge. At that point in time, Mrs Swan’s daughter, who is the defendant’s wife, lived with him at Hen Yard Cottage, which was on the other side of The Forge. For some reason the defendant, Mr Beggs-Reid, took issue with Mr Heatley and started to harass him. This resulted in proceedings being brought by Mr Heatley in October 2017 for an injunction, and damages pursuant to the Protection From Harassment Act 1997.

7. The defendant, at one point gave, an undertaking, but then wanted to withdraw it. In the event, the case was tried and damages were assessed in almost £50,000. The judgment was not paid, and so the claimant applied for, and obtained, an order for sale in respect of Hen Yard Cottage. The first defendant attempted to continue to harass the claimant and accordingly, given the fact that he had sought to withdraw his undertaking, an injunction order was sought from and granted by Deputy District Judge Morrill at York County Court on 20 April 2022.

8. The claimant claimed that the defendant had continued to breach the injunction. The terms were that he was forbidden from harassing the claimant, his partner Fiona Cooper, or any of their children, by words, or conduct, or otherwise interfering with the lawful use at Forge House, Main Street, Great Ouseburn, York, or Hen Yard Cottage by them, their visitors, or their invitees. He was also forbidden from approaching, speaking to, or otherwise seeking to communicate, whether by words or conduct, with any person visiting the properties. This order was extended by myself on 12 April 2023 for a further 12 months.

9. The claimant contended that there had been a significant number of breaches of the order. However, when it came before me for trial, which was listed for three days on 12 September, it became clear that the defendant had not been served with the order personally until, I think, 5 October 2022. For that reason, the alleged breaches which preceded that date were not pursued before the Court. However, certain breaches were pursued and found proved.

10. The breaches, of which there are six in number, I am going to briefly summarise. Firstly, on 11 October, the first defendant interfered with the lawful use of Hen Yard Cottage in that he entered onto the property and engaged in behaviour designed to frustrate the lawful activities of the claimant in re-erecting a for sale sign, handling and throwing the claimant’s tools over the boundary fence, throwing stones at the claimant and preventing the claimant’s visitor from gaining access to the property’s drive.

11. He then harassed the claimant and his visitor by following the claimant around the drive in close proximity, including coming into physical contact with the claimant and shouting at him repeatedly to get out. He assaulted the claimant by placing him in imminent fear of physical assault by raising his clenched fists in front of the claimant. He assaulted the claimant by pushing him to the side of his body and came into deliberate physical contact with the claimant and pulled him to the ground; my recollection was that while they were wrestling over a bag containing the tools owned by the claimant. He then approached the claimant’s visitor, which again was against the contents of the injunction, attempting to persuade him to leave the property.

12. On 14 January, Mr Beggs-Reid followed the claimant and his children around the Morrisons supermarket in Boroughbridge, including coming into close physical proximity with all of them. He shouted at the claimant and made physical contact with the claimant’s son. The son in question is a young man, I think about 26 years of age, but he has a disability. He has Down’s Syndrome and as a consequence, the evidence of Mr Heatley was that the conduct of the defendant distressed and upset Oliver, I think he was called; because of the nature of his disability, he was unable to understand why the defendant was being aggressive.

13. On 26 February, the first defendant approached the claimant and his children in a local park in Great Ousebourn in an intimidating manner. He followed them, and he stared in the direction of the claimant and his children for five minutes. I certainly found that the youngest child, who is six, was present at the time and the child was distressed by the experience.

14. On about 3 April, the first defendant interfered with the lawful use of Hen Yard Cottage by entering the premises unlawfully, by drilling a hole in a boarded window and removing CCTV cameras and mobile Wi-Fi causing damage to the locks and damage to the plasterwork. Those cameras were subsequently found by the police in the defendant’s home. I understand that he may be being investigated for criminal offences in relation to that breach.

15. On 4 April, the first defendant approached the claimant as the claimant attempted to drill out the locks of the property which had been damaged. The defendant attended the property whilst the claimant was showing the damage caused to police officers of North Yorkshire Police, and that in itself was also an interference with the lawful use of Hen Yard Cottage by the claimant.

16. There is then a generic count, which is the sixth count, which is that on, I think, 17 different occasions the claimant alleged, and I found proved, that the first defendant entered onto the property of Hen Yard Cottage after the time when a possession order had been made against him. As a result he was a trespasser, and I find that he did so to cause harassment to the claimant. Therefore, that is a summary of the allegations which proved against Mr Beggs-Reid.

17. In deciding what is the appropriate penalty, I am guided by the guidance set out in the Civil Justice Council report, Anti-social Behaviour and the Civil Courts, in particular Annex 1, which contains relevant guidance. This has recently been approved as the appropriate guidance in the Court of Appeal decision of Lovett v Wigan MBC. The objectives of dealing with a contempt are firstly to secure future compliance with the Court’s orders if possible; secondly, punishment for breach of the order, and the third is rehabilitation, which is a natural companion to ensuring further compliance.

18. I remind myself that custody must be reserved as a punishment for the more serious types of breaches. A custodial penalty must not be imposed unless the breach, or the combination of breaches together, were so serious that only a custodial penalty can be justified. The first step in this assessment is to assess the seriousness of the breaches and this depends upon separate assessments of culpability and harm.

19. The first issue is that of culpability, and there are three levels: a high culpability, which is reserved for very serious breach or persistent serious breaches; the lowest level is low culpability, which is for minor breaches only, and B is a deliberate breach falling between A and C. Examples of Category A include violence, or threat of serious violence, significant degree of premeditation, and intention to engage in more serious behaviour than actually achieved. Category C is for cases which cause no intent to cause harm or distress, and a lack of premeditation, or an inadvertent breach.

20. In this assessment, looking at the facts as I outlined them already, my view is that it falls into Category A of high culpability. That is for these reasons: firstly, violence is involved here, albeit at a relatively low level. The CCTV footage that I saw involved the defendant basically man-marking the claimant and then raising his fists in a very threatening manner. He certainly pushed the claimant in the side and wrestled him to the ground, and so there is an element of violence here.

21. I find that there is a significant degree of premeditation in that the incident which occurred in the yard of Hen Yard Cottage on 11 October happened happened when the claimant was attempting to put up the for sale sign, which I found that the defendant had pulled down. This was not a situation where the defendant needed to be there. He had gone into Hen Yard Cottage with the specific intention of confronting and harassing the claimant.

22. Similarly, in relation to the incident which occurred on 26 February, the evidence was that the defendant was walking into his home when he noticed the claimant and his young child in the local park. Therefore, he then needed to turn to a 90-degree angle and walk probably, in my judgment, 50 or 100 yards in the claimant’s direction in order to confront him. Therefore, there is clear evidence of premeditation here, as indeed there is with a clear intention to continue the campaign of harassment that had occurred before the order was granted. The defendant also seems to have a desire to ignore the clear intention of the court orders and shows no respect for either the orders or the Court itself.

23. I also find that there was an attempt to create a more serious situation in that my view of the defendant’s conduct from the CCTV on 11 October was the reason why he stood in front of the claimant with his fists raised was that he wanted to enter into a more violent confrontation, but wanted perhaps to provoke the claimant to strike the first blow, and then he could complain against the claimant to the police, or something similar.

24. The next assessment is the level of harm, and this is categorised in three categories: Category 1 is very serious harm or distress; Category 3 is little or no harm or distress, and Category 2 is cases falling between Categories 1 and 2. Examples of Category 1 are injury, or threat of serious injury. I accept we do not have an injury, but we do have significant harm in the psychological injury to the claimant and his partner.

25. I was told by the claimant that the harassment that he was the victim of is making his life a misery. As far as his partner, Fiona, is concerned, the claimant gave evidence that she rarely leaves the property to go to the village, and only really leaves the property in a motor vehicle, because she is so concerned about confrontations with the claimant. There is significant damage to property because the CCTV cameras were worth £960. I do not have a figure for what the damage costs to repair when the defendant broke in Hen Yard Cottage, but I am aware that there are significant other expenses which the claimant has had to incur which no doubt will form part of another damages claim in due course.

26. There is also the fact that vulnerable people are affected by the breaches in terms of Oliver, the disabled adult, and the daughter who is six years old. Another example is that it causes a resident to move home. Mr and Mrs Heatley would like to move home but they cannot do so whilst this dispute is going on with the defendant, and Mr Heatley refers in his evidence to his inability to sell his property because of this existing harassment. This, in my view, places the harm category into Category 1.

27. Having performed that assessment, and I look at the matrix which shows that for a Category 1 harm and Category A culpability, the starting point is six months, and the category range is between eight weeks to 18 months.

28. The next appropriate step is to consider both aggravating factors and mitigating factors. There are a certain number of aggravating factors, which I have already referred to in this judgment when assessing both culpability and harm, and I do not intend to repeat them. Other aggravating factors are that there is a history of disobedience of this order in that I found there to be six county proved, but the last count contains 17 different occasions.

29. All of the breaches, other than the first breach on 11 October, were committed after the defendant has been served with the application for committal, which as I understand it was, I think, issued on 21 October 2012. Therefore, that is a significant aggravating factor. There are also the factors of vulnerability and aggravating factors that I have referred to previously in my assessment of culpability and harm.

30. In terms of mitigating factors, I am in some difficulty because Mr Beggs-Reid has such contempt for the Court that he will not face his accusers, or me, and explain his behaviour. What I can say is that there is not credit for a guilty plea because he has never admitted any of these breaches. There is no credit for genuine remorse. There is no credit for any disability or age or lack of maturity, and there is nothing I know about his background or home circumstances that weigh heavily with the Court.

31. I am aware that he is a married man. He has children who are either adults or almost adults. He lives in a house owned by his mother-in-law. I am not aware that he works, but if he does, I am not aware of whether that is of any relevance in relation to the penalties I want to impose today.

32. The next step is to reduce the penalty for any admissions made. That is the equivalent of a reduction for a guilty plea, and there is none in this case because he has never made any admissions.

33. The next stage would be totality, and that can only be done once I have made an assessment of what the appropriate length of sentence is. Mr McKay reminds me that if I agree with him, which was his submission that this is a Category 1 harm Category A culpability case, the range is from eight weeks to 18 months, with a starting point of six months. Just taking the starting point of six months, it seems to me that will be inadequate punishment for these six breaches because there is more than one breach, and they are of a different variety.

34. It may be argued that certainly the sixth breach would not fall into Category 1, but certainly, in my view, the incident in Hen Yard Cottage, the incident at Morrisons supermarket, which frightened his children, and the incident on the park where his children were frightened are all clearly Category 1A, as indeed is the fourth allegation, which is effective burglary at Hen Yard Cottage. It is necessary, however, that it be proportionate. The maximum sentence is two years. This, I assume, is the first sentence that this defendant has served.

35. In the circumstances, I have reached the conclusion that an appropriate sentence would be nine months, which is 39 weeks expressed in weeks. Standing back from the situation, I ask myself, in accordance with the principle of totality, and to ask myself whether this is a proportionate sentence in terms of these breaches. I take the view that the sentence is proportionate and is fair in all the circumstances.

36. The next step is to give consideration whether the sentence should be suspended. Factors which might mitigate against that were, if appropriate, punishment can only be achieved by immediate custody and if there is a history of poor compliance with the court orders. Both those two considerations apply in this case. On the other side of the coin, had Mr Beggs-Reid come to court today and said that he made a terrible mistake, and he would change his behaviour in the future, and he was prepared to make adequate offer of compensation to the claimant and apologise profusely for his conduct, it might have been appropriate to give him a chance to do so.

37. However, his behaviour today, particularly with his refusal to come to court and his complaint of chest pains this morning, all tend to suggest that he has not learned the error of his ways, and that if I do not impose an immediate custodial penalty, I will be seeing him very soon again when I will be asked to activate the suspended sentence and deal with any further breaches. In a sense, I will be setting him up to fail.

38. The last step is to give credit for any time spent on remand. There has not been any time spent on remand. It is not appropriate to give him credit for the fact that he has been in custody today because he would have been seen at 10.30 this morning had he not complained of chest pains to the police.

39. In addition, then the final point would be to explain the meaning of the sentence to the defendant. He is not here, but these sentencing remarks will be transcribed and will be sent to him in prison. I can explain to him that this sentence is one of 39 weeks’ custody. He will serve that immediately. One half of that time will be spent in custody, and he will then be available for automatic release.

40. He has the right to appeal the sentence. He does not need to apply for permission to appeal. As I am sitting today as a circuit judge, the appeal from my sentence would be to the Court of Appeal.