Thursday 5 August 2010

That's not a knife....THAT'S a knife.

Over at Ambush Predator, (in the comments) a query has been raised about the case of Mr Rodney Knowles, 61, of Buckland, Newton Abbot, who was convicted of having a lock-knife (which therefore counts as a fixed blade) in a public place in the early hours of 24 February 2010.

Although limited defences are available, there was no argument in Torquay Magistrates' Court (reported Friday April 15) because he pleaded guilty and was told to pay £40 costs, had the £30 knife confiscated, and was given a conditional discharge.

Had Knowles been carrying a folding, non-locking Swiss Army-type knife with a blade of a maximum of three inches, the item would not have come within the scope of Section 139(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, although it could still be classed as an offensive weapon depending on the circumstances.

Outside the court, however, Mr Knowles gained a full spread of national and local media coverage where he presented a good reason for having the knife, as per the general defence available under s.4, for having the article with him in a public place. He kept it with his car repair kit. He also goes caravanning and has picnics where he peels fruit for his wife, although he was not at that moment repairing a car or on a picnic.

Considering he is a 61 year old retired engineer with no criminal record, this sounds to most reasonable people like a good reason for having a tool which otherwise has to be covered by specific defences such as work, religious reasons, or part of a national costume. Mr Knowles didn't have the presence of mind to explain that going caravanning IS a religion for its adherents, as per the specific defence available for religious use under s.5. If he'd had David Appleton's handy wallet-sized extract of the law in his glove box, he might have known this.

[Update Feb 9 2011. Due to David Appleton's maintenance on his website, that link no longer works. You will have to copy out S.139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and highlight it for yourself.]

In court, Mr Knowles' defence solicitor, Jolyon Tuck, confirmed Knowles had used the knife to cut up fruit on picnics with his wife. He then went on to say

"He accepts it is in his car and the law is very clear," he said. "He admits possession of it and he had no good reason for having it."

He did have a good reason, Jolyon, you yourself told the court. He cuts up fruit with it. He goes caravanning and on picnics. He repairs cars. He's a retired engineer. Either this is poor defence work or it's a calculated bet that a criminal record matters less to a retired 61 year old than it would to a younger man, and that a guilty plea would minimize the fine and remove any risk of imprisonment.

Perhaps Tuck got the case because he normally does the motoring cases and is a duty solicitor, and this one started when the police used the pretext of drunk driving to breathalyse and then blood-test Mr Knowles. As it happens, he was sober, and there was no other immediate motoring offence offered, such as driving without insurance and while disqualified, or in a heap which lacked an MOT. The police had nothing to charge him with, except he was supposed to have said something nasty down the pub.

As a reward for Tuck rolling his client over nicely, the CPS went for an early bath and a win on points:

[Update 25 Feb 2011. Jolyon Tuck points out that as events unfolded, his service to his client was in fact unimpeachable but for reasons which could not be made apparent at the time. His comments are below and are repeated in a separate post which brings the story up to date]

Prosecutor Philip Sewell said: "He told officers that he had the knife for caravanning. He is not working and had no malicious reason for carrying the blade."

Pointing out that Knowles was not working was irrelevant in the context that Tuck had not tried either a general or specific defence. The CPS put it forward as if it was of itself malign, a telling point. Accepting though, that Knowles had no malicious reason for a carrying the knife puts the police on the spot. The police's whole case was predicated on the belief that persons unidentified told them that Knowles was going to do something dangerous with the knife and they were preventing it. Something doesn't match here.

The bench, faced with a guilty plea, passed sentence. Chairman of the bench Robert Horne ordered forfeiture of the knife (worth about £30) and £40 costs to be paid. He said: "There is no previous conviction history whatsoever and it was not in his possession and was in the car glove compartment in a pouch."

The resulting furore rattled the police. Nearly all touring caravans and campers with their field kitchens will have knives which fit within the general category of a bladed object within s.2. A standard steak knife has a 4.5 inch serrated blade.

Letters came in from people suggesting they could spend their holiday money elsewhere if Devon police were going to be awkward about fishermen gutting their catches and barbecuing them as a leisure activity, rather than as paid work. Were they seriously going to arrest everyone who has a bread knife on their picnic table in a caravan park to which the public have access?

On 21 May Superintendent Jim Meakin issued a statement in an effort to stem damage to the tourist trade, and issued a photograph of an officer holding the alleged knife, which they still had a month after the trial.

It didn't, he complained, help that the CPS prosecutor, Philip Sewell, had described the knife as "a Swiss-Army type". The police crossly said that Sewell had told the court wrong. It wasn't a Swiss Army-type. They produced the knife, which does indeed look wicked because it is tricked-up in Rambo black, but then so are all the others in my kitchen drawer.

From the picture it appears to be the Buck Whittaker X-Track Multitool. Buck Whittaker is a line of outdoor tools developed by Buck to the specification of Peter Whittaker. There are about a dozen variants, some of which have LED torches. The Ultimo Supremo Macho also plays the Theme from Shaft.

It's hard to tell from the photos, but it appears to be the cultishly named 7030BKX-B which is bristling with: a Full size (3 inch) partially serrated knife blade, Spring-loaded needle nose pliers, Wire cutter (12-gauge), Flathead screwdriver (3/16"), Phillips screwdriver (NUM2 size), Bottle/Can opener. Exactly the sort of thing a retired engineer might have.

More pertinently for English law, it is definitely a lock knife (given in the technical specifications) and has what the courts have traditionally abhorred: one-hand operation which presumably means it springs open. These are associated with the flick knives and concealed weapons used by assassins.

It cashes out to this. Mr Knowles had in his glove box an item which has mechanisms the law specifically wishes to discourage, namely a blade which springs open (probably) and which also can be locked in place making it count as a fixed blade.

[Update: Pete corrects this in the comments. There is no spring mechanism. There is a knob on the blade which can be pushed open using the thumb. It can be seen on view 4 in the catalogue window. For legal purposes, the relevant point is that it is a lock-knife and therefore equivalent to a 3 inch fixed blade. ]

Mr Knowles had a reason for owning such a tool, but 'good' reason ends up dancing on the pin-head that he could have had a a similar multi-tool without a lock, and that would have been excluded from s.139. Even if he had a permitted design of Swiss Army knife in his glove box (some of them lock and are therefore unsuitable), the police have the right to challenge him, or anyone, if they thought it was likely to be used as an offensive weapon.

Yet there are still mysteries around this case, notably why did the police dig in so? Supt Meakin explained:

"At 11.45pm on February 23, police received a report that while Mr Knowles was in the Highweek Inn he had made an alleged threat that he was going to use a knife to harm someone. The police were advised that Mr Knowles had left the address in a vehicle."
Although he might have been expected to leave at 11.45 anyway, someone was sufficiently alarmed to call the police. Whoever they were worried about, it wasn't someone being threatened in the pub, but the person(s) he was going after in the middle of the night. Supt Meakin continued, adamantly:

The intervention stopped what could have been a very serious incident."

It's easier to see why the CPS pressed the charges; because of the definition of the possession, it's an instant case and the obligation is on the charged person to show good reason for having the bladed object in a public place. A spokesperson said:

"Mr Knowles pleaded guilty so there wasn't a full trial and therefore all the facts did not come out in court. We are grateful to the police for their prompt action and stand 100 per cent behind our decision to prosecute Mr Knowles."

"We are grateful to the police" That's an odd phrase, as if the police had done them a particular favour. Also, why was the defence so anxious to keep a lid on it, to the extent of coughing to a crime that could be challenged? The defence solicitor, Jolyon Tuck said:

"I can say quite safely Mr Knowles has no comment to make."

Then this on Thursday 22 July:
"A 61-YEAR-OLD man accused of rape and sexual offences against two girls has appeared before magistrates.
Rodney Knowles, of Buckland Brake, Newton Abbot, was charged with a range of sexual offences against teenage girls.
He was accused of indecent assault against a teenager between 1977 to 1982; unlawful sexual intercourse with a teenager between 1984 and 1986, and the rape of a teenager between 1986 and 1988.
Appearing before Torbay magistrates, Knowles spoke only to give his address and date of birth, and was expressionless while the charges were read out. He submitted no plea and was remanded in custody to appear at Exeter Crown Court on Friday".
There is no further reported news at this point.

[Update 9 Feb 2011. There is news now. Guilty. 20 years, at least 10 before eligible to apply for parole. H/T anon in the comments]

Monday 2 August 2010

Divorce, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded

The court of Henry VIII continues to fascinate because this was the crucible of England, where the king changed the country more than even he realized.

The era is irresistible to historical novelists, probably to the irritation of historians, because the cast of characters widens as research uncovers minor characters and hence novel viewpoints to tell the story from.

Suzannah Dunn in "The Confession of Katherine Howard" returns to this period of which the reading public never tire. This time she writes from the point of view of a character who was listed in the papers as one of Katherine's ladies in waiting, Catherine (Kath.) Tylney.

She is writing in a genre where the giant talents of Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall), the audacious Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl) , the late "Jean Plaidy" (Eleanor Hibbert, who wrote everything else too) have set a very high bar.

Hibbert, although not a trained historian, was exact enough that her interpretations shine through many modern dramatizations. Recent adaptations have done little more than rip off the Jean Plaidy cover and lightly re-package the characters. Mantel is notoriously detailed in her research. She is on record as taking a dusty view of authors who cheat with the facts by concatenating events or putting impossible people together. In her view, the writer works with the obligation that what they imagine has to fit the historical facts.

Historical fiction - that is the sort which makes a novel out of agreed history - works like popular reconstructions. The facts are there as scaffolds, then the imagineers use what other information they can glean to work out how someone looked, how they might have thought, what their behaviour might have been. It's guess-work, but it should be informed guess-work. By convention, the novelists are allowed to import fictional characters to tell the story from their viewpoint and perhaps to thread in an alternative plot-line but even the fictional character must be plausible and researched. Also by convention, the authors warn the audience which are the fictional characters and where they are taking liberties. Dunn advises that the relationship between Cat Tylney and Francis Dereham has no supporting evidence; it's a plot device to give her a place to write from.

Suzannah Dunn finds something new in Henry's fifth wife, Katherine Howard. The standard view is of a very sweet but silly girl, ultimately a victim of other people's machinations. Dunn wonders if this can be whole story; Katherine was a Howard girl and therefore deeply political, even when cloistered in Horsham completing what passed for her education, but there was enough about her to attract a king, to make him think she was a pure country lass who somehow had arrived in his debauched court with her own maidenhead intact.

On the other hand, she wasn't so political that she understood that having married a king, she could not allow a breath of scandal any where near her. Expecting a young woman somewhere around eighteen years old to take on board the lessons of the four - count 'em, four - queens ahead of her is still expecting a lot, no matter how well-bred she is. We know this from our own age.

Merely having Katherine's old flame Francis Dereham near her was enough to set tongues wagging with gossip. Henry wanted to believe he had found what he was looking for, the rose without a thorn. Had Dereham stayed away from court the aging man would have discounted any gossip as malicious jealousy aimed at spoiling his own happiness. Katherine's close friendship with Thomas Culpepper, complete with a love letter, though, was asking for trouble. It would still cause an argument today if it turned up on the Jeremy Kyle show.

There are several telling points made in the book which illuminate the history. For example, the standard view is that the secret pre-contract of marriage to Dereham, which would have been a lawful impediment to her marriage to Henry, was what amounted to treason. Well, yes, up to a particular point. It wasn't treason at the point where Henry married Katherine, nor was the fact that she had had sex with Dereham, whether by choice or force. Henry changed the law afterwards, in 1441, to retrospectively make it treason to conceal the sexual history of a monarch's consort for more than 20 days after the wedding. (See also Imaginary Betrayals, Kate Cunningham p. 9)

Dunn points out what Archbishop Cranmer (in charge of the investigation) must have known: if had been accepted that Katherine had secretly pre-contracted marriage with Francis Dereham, then the short marriage to the King could have been swiftly annulled and the whole thing passed off as if it never happened. Henry getting an annulment was not altogether a new thing.

This would have been the kindest thing all round. It would have saved Henry's face and crucially, it would have precluded the separate question of whether the Queen had commit adultery - and therefore treason - with anyone else. This would have kept her head on her shoulders, even if she was packed off to a nunnery or forced to marry Dereham and live in a shed. Henry might never have changed the law on treason to be rid of her. Henry had a great deal of practice at changing the law to suit himself.

Katherine never understood the argument, if it was put to her. Her recorded answers to the enquiry was that Dereham forced her, that there was no pre-contract.

Instead, Henry was put in the position of possibly wearing the cuckold's horns - again - and this time he was an old and ailing man who could not regard himself as a victim of witchcraft. Under interrogation, Francis Dereham named Thomas Culpepper, one of Henry's own favoured associates, as the Queen's lover. It was only too painfully apparent that there's no fool like an old fool. If they had saved Henry's face, they might have saved her neck.

Something close to a face-saving effort may have been launched, but it hasn't been noticed by the wider public and I doubt it was at the time. Dunn carefully notes it in her briefing to readers. Francis Dereham admitted to having a sexual relationship with the Queen before her marriage, but not adultery. Thomas Culpepper never admitted adultery.

Their eventual conviction, despite an ambiguously-worded letter from Katherine and the possibly malicious testimony of other ladies, and Dereham's own accusation of Culpepper, was on a charge of presumptive treason, i.e. that they intended to have illicit relations with the Queen and thereby committed treason against the King's person. Since the inquisitors had torture available to them, they ought have been able to get the youths to admit to shooting the arrow at King Harold. What they confessed to, I would argue, was precisely what they were required to confess to and no more, thank you very much.

Katherine herself was never put on trial. Whatever she confessed to for the purposes of the investigators showing they had done a thorough job, the prosecutors were less keen to have her admitting it where a clerk would write it down and file it in the court papers. Henry could, if he chose, view it as the disgraceful behaviour of a manipulative young woman and not adultery. In essence, that's what he did, only that still left the problem of him being married.

With adultery not acceptable to Henry as grounds for divorce and Katherine refusing to admit pre-contract, there was only one other method for ending a marriage. Henry made it clear in a speech on February 6 that she was certainly guilty of failing to disclose her sexual past, and that was to be defined as treason when the deception was practiced against a King "esteeming her pure cleane maide". Everyone was now clear what Henry had decided and would not be accused later of acting precipitately.

Four days later, on Friday, 10 February 1542, Katherine was taken from Syon House to the Tower, and on Monday 13 February, at around 7am, the girl who was about 20 - her age is disputed, she could have been as young as 17 - was executed.

Dunn therefore has to grapple with the difficulty that her main characters are all young females who don't get out much. She has to describe a convoluted political age from the point of view of a handful of pampered, ill-educated, poorly-informed idiots. The author faces this challenge and delivers an insight:

"To see us there, no one would ever have guessed that we were barely free of a decade of deconstruction: the stripping of the churches and dismantling of monasteries, the chaining of monks to walls to die, the smash of a sword-blade into a queen's bared neck. None of it had actually happened to us, though; it'd passed us by as we'd sat embroidering alongside our housekeeper. Our parish church had been whitewashed, the local priory sold to a rich man, and we'd celebrated fewer saints' days, but that, for us, had been the extent of it. "

That has the ring of truth about it. There had been dissent, even the Pilgrimage of Grace, but for most people the underlying shift of power might not be apparent. After all, Henry insisted he was a Catholic, but just one who had supplanted the authority of the Pope - not of God. A young queen, little more than a child, would simply not appreciate how profound was Henry's, and the country's, need for peace and reassurance at that moment.

The state documents from the trial of Dereham and Culpepper are in the National Archives. A search on her name returns, amongst other things, these catalogue entries

"Letters and Papers ... of Henry VIII, vol. XVI: 1541 Aug 22-Nov 18.
The undated letter from Katherine Howard to Thomas Culpeper (LP, XVI, no 1134: SP 1/167 p 14) was placed in this volume at the end of August, although the editors later considered that it should have been placed in early August"

"The Kings Bench records
special oyer and terminer roll and file Principal Defendants and Charges: Lord William Howard and others, concealment of the criminal conduct of Queen Katherine Howard."

The giant 246 volume compendium of Henry's state papers are described thus:

"The collection is particularly full in the late 1520s and 1530s with the marriages of Henry VIII with Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr, and the break with Rome, the dissolution of the monasteries, and the Pilgrimage of Grace."

The entry explains, with what sounds like an ancient sniff of reproach, that Sir Thomas More destroyed his papers, so it has to make do with the archives of only Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. As an after-thought it adds:

"It also covers wars and alliances with the rest of Europe".

If you enjoy historical fiction Dunn delivers a top-quality re-working of an episode. The writing is fast and smooth and does not sentimentalize the characters merely because they were teenagers. As Katherine's marriage to Henry lasted under two years, the story is a shorter than the giant arc which Mantel is attempting, making it more suitable for a couple of days on the beach - except if you insist on a happy ending in holiday fiction.

The Confession of Katherine Howard
by Suzannah Dunn
Harper Press 2010

Quiz Time:
Which wife of Henry the Eighth are you?