IN THE Magistrates’ Courts AT BRISTOL
HIS HONOUR JUDGE RALTON
BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL
MR DENFORD appeared on behalf of the Claimant
MR FENSON withdrew from representing the Defendant – the Defendant did not attend.
JUDGMENT (SENTENCING REMARKS)
11th JANUARY 2022, 14.38-15.01
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- These are committal proceedings in which the claimant and applicant for a committal order is the Bristol City Council and the defendant is Mr Philip Bonville.
- Mr Bonville is the tenant of the city council of his home at 49, Tunstall Close in Stoke Bishop in Bristol. Unsurprisingly, given that area of Bristol, he has neighbours. Those neighbours had cause to complain to the city council with respect to anti-social behaviour they say Mr Bonville was committing in the neighbourhood.
- Those complaints resulted in the city council taking action by way of applying for on the 5th of August 2021 for injunction orders under Part 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour Crime, Policing Act 2014. The orders that were sought were, firstly, to prevent Mr Bonville from contacting, either directly or indirectly by any means whatsoever, Mr Simon Timms of 51 Tunstall Close, Stoke Bishop; secondly, from using threatening or abusive language towards any resident, visitor or persons lawfully in the locality of Tunstall Close, Stoke Bishop, Bristol; and then thirdly, and most importantly for today, forbidding Mr Bonville from playing music, making banging noises or other noise at a level that could be heard outside of 49 Tunstall Close, Stoke Bishop, Bristol.
- That application came before Deputy District Judge Chapell on the 26th of August of last year. The deputy district judge made the orders that were sought by the city council and directed that they should last until the 25th of August of this year, 2022. The deputy district judge also attached a power of arrest to all the provisions of the injunction order. All service formalities appear to have taken place.
- Mr Bonville was arrested further to the power of arrest, and he was put before District Judge Watkins (as he then was) on the 1st of October of last year. There was a hearing on the 25th of October 2021, which resulted in a number of breaches being found proven. They are all of the same nature. They run from the 13th of September 2021 to the 22nd of September 2021 and they all relate to loud music, sufficient to cause nuisance. Rather than sentence Mr Bonville on that occasion, the sentencing hearing was adjourned to the 29th of November. On that day, there was a hearing before District Judge Wales. Mr Bonville was represented but Mr Bonville did not attend, and the district judge took the cautious step of adjourning the sentencing hearing to the 17th of December.
- In the meantime, Mr Bonville was, again, arrested and put before the court, in fact, before myself on the 6th of December of last year. Mr Bonville was represented. He should have come back before myself on the 17th of December to consider the outstanding sentencing and to consider the further breaches. But Mr Bonville did not attend, although his solicitor did. I made an important order on that day where I said, “The hearing today is adjourned to 2 pm 11th January 2022 at Bristol Magistrates’ Courts. The defendant is warned that on the 11th of January, unless the court orders otherwise, the matter shall proceed and the claimant do file and serve a schedule of allegations and trial bundle by the 4th of January 2022.”
- Today is the 11th of January. The city council appears by its advocate, Mr Denford, and is ready to proceed. Mr Fanson, Mr Bonville’s solicitor, again attended court. Unfortunately, Mr Fanson was without any instructions. He was unable to say anything at all on behalf of Mr Bonville and so he took the appropriate course of asking to withdraw, which request I granted.
- Given that Mr Bonville has only, it seems, actually attended at court when he has been arrested and, therefore, had no choice, but has otherwise evaded the court process to the best of his ability, it is difficult to be sympathetic with his non-attendance today, the court being given no reason why he did not attend today. There would appear to be no point in adjourning either the hearing of the evidence or the matter of sentence to another hearing date because on Mr Bonville’s track record it is likely he will simply not attend on the next occasion. And I am satisfied he knows full well, by reason of previous representation that he has had and, indeed, by my order, that he is at risk of being made the subject of a committal order and that the court would proceed in his absence.
- With that in mind, there are two parts to today; the first part is considering the further breaches; and then the second part is sentencing in respect of all breaches. So far as the further breaches are concerned, there are a raft of incidents stretching from the 26th of September 2021 to the 8th of November 2021.
- Mr Denford has sensibly limited himself to five dates. The first breach, although it is separated into two parts – I am taking as, in effect, one breach – relates to the 5th of October 2021. And the allegation is that between 12 am and 1 am the defendant played loud music which could be heard outside of 49 Tunstall Close, and between 7 am and 10 am the defendant played loud music which could be heard outside of 49 Tunstall Close. The first part of that breach relates to the playing of music in the early hours of the morning, the second part first thing in the morning. The second date is the 10th of October 2021. We, again, have noise nuisance; and the allegations are that at 12.20 am – so in the early hours – the defendant played loud radio and made banging noises on his windows which could be heard outside of 49 Tunstall Close and which were loud enough to wake up a neighbour. And then between 7 am and 8.30 am the defendant played loud music which could be heard outside of 49 Tunstall Close and which was loud enough to wake up a neighbour. The third date relied on is the 17th of October 2021, which reads at 12.50 am the defendant played loud music which could be heard outside of 49 Tunstall Close and which was loud enough to wake up a neighbour. Then between 1.10 am and 1.20 am the defendant made banging noises by slamming his window, music which could be heard outside of 49 Tunstall Close. The fourth date is the 1st of November 2021, where the allegation is that between 4.30 pm and 10 past 5 pm the defendant played loud music, and at 10 past 5 the defendant made a loud banging noise both of which could be heard outside of 49 Tunstall Close. And then lastly, the 8th of November 2021, between 9 am to 10 am the defendant played loud music which could be heard outside of 49 Tunstall Close. Those are the allegations.
- Witness statements have been prepared by two witnesses in particular who have attended court today; they are Mr Simon Timms. Mr Simon Timms is a neighbour; he is at 51 Tunstall Close; and then Mr Richard Chapman who is also a neighbour, he is at number 52 Tunstall Close. They gave primary evidence of the noise nuisance. They also give evidence of the impact of the noise nuisance on their wellbeing.
- To prove its case for the purposes of committal proceedings, the city council must persuade me to the criminal standard that the allegations are made out on the evidence. That means I must be satisfied that I am sure that the allegations which have been made by the city council are proven.
- Mr Timms and Mr Chapman confirmed their evidence in the witness box having taken the oath. There was no-one to gainsay what they had to say. I have no reason to reject their evidence or to be overly cautious in the way that I treat it. I am always concerned in cases like these that there can be an element of neighbourhood feud developing, especially when there are cross-allegations of bad behaviour. There are no cross-allegations of noise nuisance.
- Mr Bonville has simply decided not to provide me with any evidence or information whatsoever. Therefore, I find those five additional breaches proven.
- The question then arises what sentence, if any, should this court impose on Mr Bonville. This is a difficult task. Why is it a difficult task? It is because the powers of the County Court do not match, in any way, the powers of the Magistrates’ Courts or the Crown Court. The County Court’s powers are very limited indeed. The County Court can require a person to serve a term of imprisonment for up to two years and imprisonment can be suspended on terms. The County Court can fine, in other words impose a financial penalty, it can sequester assets, which is a different form of financial penalty. Financial penalties do not tend to be a useful form of punishment or deterrent in these sorts of cases in this judge’s experience.
- There are sentencing guidelines. Those guidelines are addressed towards the criminal courts for breach of a criminal behaviour order. I take them into account as best I can. There are two elements; element one is determining the offence category. I need to consider culpability. Culpability A is very serious or persistent breach, and then culpability C is minor breach or breach just short of reasonable excuse, and culpability B, unsurprisingly, is culpability between A and C.
- Mr Denford suggests that this is a very serious or persistent breach case, and I agree; this is culpability A. Why? Because there have been a number of hearings now over two separate committal sets of proceedings against Mr Bonville. Notwithstanding the first set which were resolved and awaited sentence, a further five allegations of noise nuisance have been proven which suggests that Mr Bonville did not regard the earlier court proceedings as any reason to stop his anti-social behaviour.
- I must then consider harm. There can be very serious harm or distress or breach demonstrating a continuing risk of serious criminal anti-social behaviour, that is category 1. And then at the other end there is category 3, where there is little or no harm or distress, and again, unsurprisingly, category 2, cases falling between categories 1 and 3.
- I have seen all manner of forms of anti-social behaviour. Noise nuisance during the early hours is obviously worse than noise nuisance during the day. But persistent ongoing noise nuisance is harmful, I entirely accept that. And to have to live with it must get to the point when it is intolerable; I understand and appreciate that. However, I cannot put noise nuisance into category 1 and I consider that it comes into category 2. According to the sentencing guidelines, for category A2 the starting-point is one year’s custody with a category range high level community order to two years’ custody. So, having gone through that exercise, I have to say that it is not especially helpful, but I have gone through the exercise as I must do.
- It certainly seems to me that the custody threshold has been crossed. I must consider, on behalf of Mr Bonville, anything that could be said on behalf of Mr Bonville. I do not have the benefit of a plea of guilty. I do not have any mitigating information on behalf of Mr Bonville. Nothing has been said on behalf of Mr Bonville because there is no-one here to say anything for him, and that, I am afraid, is Mr Bonville’s responsibility. Therefore, there is no mitigation. The only point that can be made in favour of Mr Bonville is that this is the first full committal hearing proceeding all the way to including sentencing. I must bear in mind that the sentence must be proportionate to the behaviour involved. I also remind myself that when it comes to a custodial order, the recipient will normally serve one half of whatever I impose.
- It seems to me that this court needs to make an order that, first and fundamentally, deters Mr Bonville from causing any further noise nuisance. The County Court has a slightly different ethos to the Crown Court in that the ethos of the County Court is to secure compliance with its orders. Why does the County Court in this case want compliance with its orders? It is because it wants to ensure that the neighbours enjoy their properties with the peace and tranquillity to which they are entitled; it is as simple as that.
- Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that this is not a case for a low period of imprisonment, like 14 days or 28 days. It needs to be a meaningful period of imprisonment and, therefore, the period of imprisonment will be 16 weeks. I do not consider any lesser order will do.
- There is then the question of suspension. On this occasion, I have come to the conclusion that I should suspend the sentence. Mr Bonville should, in my judgement, be given the opportunity, which could be regarded as a final opportunity, to comply with the injunction order and not play loud music and not bang windows and not create noise that is upsetting, offending and hurting his neighbours under the coercion of a suspended sentence. I cannot promise what will become of Mr Bonville if the court is satisfied, in the future, that he has committed further breaches. But he is at very real risk, if further breaches are proven, of being sent inside without further suspension. He is not present to hear my words, but the phrase “the last chance saloon” applies to Mr Bonville; he is in it.
- There will be an expedited transcript of this judgment at public expense. Mr Denford, if you would draw up the usual paperwork.