Authors: Dick Francis,FELIX FRANCIS
Books by Dick Francis and Felix Francis
Books by Dick Francis
THE SPORT OF QUEENS (autobiography)
IN THE FRAME
LESTER: The Official Biography
COME TO GRIEF
TO THE HILT
FIELD OF THIRTEEN
an imprint of
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published 2008
Copyright © Dick Francis, 2008
The moral right of the authors has been asserted
All rights reserved
Without limiting the rights under copyright
reserved above, no part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical,
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Our thanks to
Miles Bennett, barrister
Guy Ladenburg, barrister
David Whitehouse QC
I watched the foreman of the jury as he gave the verdicts. He was wearing a light-coloured tweed jacket over a blue and white striped shirt. At the start of the trial he had also regularly sported a sober striped tie but perhaps, as time had dragged on, the ultra-casual dress of the other eleven had eventually made him feel uncomfortably formal and his shirt was now open at the neck. Unlike most of them, he was grey haired and upright in his stance. Maybe that was why he had been selected as their foreman. I imagined that he was a retired schoolmaster, well used to taking charge and keeping discipline in a classroom full of unruly youth.
‘Guilty,’ he said again rather nervously, but with a strong deep voice. He kept his eyes firmly on the robed and bewigged judge sitting slightly above him to his left. Not once did he look at the young man in the dock, who also sat slightly above him, but to his right. We were in number 3 court at the Old Bailey, which was one of the older, Victorian-built courtrooms of the Central Criminal Court, designed at a time when the process of the law was intended to be intimidating to the wrongdoer
and a deterrent to others. However, for all its formality, the courtroom was small, no larger than a reasonably sized drawing room. The judge, sitting up high behind his long bench, dominated the space and all the other participants, defendant, counsel and jury were so close together that they would have been able to lean forward and touch one another, provided, of course, they had wanted to.
In all, the schoolmasterly foreman repeated the same word eight times before sitting back down with, I sensed, a small sigh of relief that the ordeal was finally over.
The jury had found the young man guilty on all eight counts, four of them for assault occasioning actual bodily harm, three of inflicting grievous bodily harm, and one of attempted murder.
I wasn’t really surprised. I was also certain that the young man was guilty, and I was his defence counsel.
Why, I asked myself, had I wasted my most favourite days of the whole year sitting in the Old Bailey trying to save such an undeserving character from a lengthy stretch in the slammer?
Well, for the money, I supposed. But I would much rather have been at Cheltenham for the racing festival. Especially as, this afternoon, I had been expecting to ride my own twelve-year-old bay gelding in the Foxhunter Chase, also known as the Gold Cup for amateur riders.
British justice has, for the past five hundred years, held that a man is innocent until proven guilty. The courtesies of courtroom etiquette are maintained with the accused being referred to simply as the defendant. He is not required to prove his innocence, rather just to defend himself against allegations, allegations that have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant is addressed using the title Mister, Doctor or Sir, or My Lord, or even Reverend or, dare I say, Right Reverend or
Your Grace, as is appropriate. However, once the jury has pronounced his guilt, the defendant instantly becomes ‘the offender’ and loses the right to such niceties. The mood changes from one of polite discovery and laying bare of the pertinent facts, to one of punishment and retribution for misdeeds now proven.
Almost before the foreman settled again in his seat, the prosecution counsel rose to inform the court of the previous convictions of the offender. And previous there were. Four times before he had been convicted of violent offences including two of malicious wounding. On two occasions the young man had been detained for periods in a young-offenders’ institution.
I watched the members of the jury as they absorbed the information. They had spent nearly a week in deliberations before delivering their verdicts. Now some of them were visibly shocked to discover the true character of the smartly dressed twenty-three-year-old young man in the dock who looked as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
I again wondered what I was doing here. Why, I asked myself for the umpteenth time, had I taken on such a hopeless case? I knew the answer. Because I had been urged to do so by a friend of a friend of the young man’s parents. They had all pleaded with me to take him on, promising that he was innocent and that the charges were the result of mistaken identity. And, of course, because they were paying me handsomely.
However, I had soon discovered that the only thing mistaken in this case was the unshakeable belief of his parents that their little angel couldn’t possibly have done such a nasty thing as to attack a family with a baseball bat. The only motive for the attack was that the father of the family had complained to the police about the young man using the road outside their house
as a drag-racing strip each night until two or three in the morning.
The more I had learned about my client the more I had realized my error in accepting the brief. So clear was it to me that he was guilty as charged that I thought the trial would be over nice and quickly and I would be able to go to Cheltenham races with a light heart and a heavy wallet. That the jury had inexplicably taken so long to reach a conclusion of the bleeding obvious was just one of those things.
I had thought about bunking off to the races, claiming sickness, but the judge was a racing man and he had only the previous evening commiserated with me that I would be unable to ride in the Foxhunters. To have feigned sickness and then ridden in the race would likely have put me up before him on contempt charges, and then I could kiss goodbye any aspirations I might have of promotion to QC, a Queen’s Counsel – a silk.
‘There will always be next year,’ the judge had said with an irritating smile.
But one didn’t just enter a horse in the Foxhunters, one had to qualify by winning other races, and this was the first time I had managed to do so in ten years of trying. Next year both horse and rider would be another year older and neither of us was in the first flush of youth. There might never be another chance for us together.
I looked at my watch. The race was due off in half an hour. My horse would still run, of course, but there would be another jockey on board and I hated the thought of it. I had played out the race so often in my head and now someone else would be taking my place. I should be in the Cheltenham changing room right now, pulling on the lightweight racing breeches and the brightly coloured silks, not sat here in pinstripe suit, gown and
wig, far from the cheering crowd, in depression rather than anticipation.
‘Mr Mason,’ repeated the judge, bringing me back from my daydreaming. ‘I asked you if the defence wishes to say anything before sentence.’
‘No, Your Honour,’ I said, half standing and then returning to my seat. As far as I could see there were no mitigating circumstances that I wanted to bring to the court’s attention. I couldn’t claim the young man was the product of a deprived or broken background, nor could I try to excuse his behaviour by reference to some past abuse. In fact quite the reverse was true. His parents were loving both of him and of each other, and he had been educated at one of the country’s leading private schools, or at least he had until he was seventeen, when he had been expelled for bullying the younger boys and then threatening the headmaster with a broken bottle while being reprimanded for it.
‘The prisoner will stand,’ announced the court clerk.
The young man rose to his feet slowly, almost smugly. I stood up too.
‘Julian Trent,’ the judge addressed him, ‘you have been found guilty by this court of perpetrating a violent and unprovoked attack on an innocent family including a charge of attempted murder. You have shown little or no remorse for your actions and I consider you a danger to society. You have previous convictions for violence and you seem unable or unwilling to learn the errors of your ways. I am conscious of my duty to protect the public. Therefore, you will go to prison for eight years. Take him down.’
Julian Trent simply shrugged his shoulders and was ushered down the stairs from the dock to the cells beneath by two burly
prison officers. Mrs Trent in the public gallery burst into tears and was comforted by her ever-present husband. I wondered if a week of listening to the damning evidence in the case had made any changes to their rosy opinion of their little boy.
I had quietly hoped that the judge would lock young Julian up for life and throw away the key. I knew that in spite of the eight-year prison sentence it would be, in fact, only half of that before he was back on the streets, arrogantly using his baseball bat to threaten and beat some other poor soul who crossed his path.
Little did I realize at the time that it would be a good deal sooner than four years, and that it would be me on the receiving end.
‘Hi, Perry. How’re you doing?’
‘Fine, thanks,’ I replied, waving a hand. My name isn’t actually Perry, it’s Geoffrey, but I have long since given up expecting the other jockeys in the changing room to use it. When one is a lawyer, a barrister even, with the surname Mason, one has to expect it. It’s like being a White in the forces: invariably the nickname Chalky is added.
I was secretly quite pleased that I was addressed at all by the professionals with whom I occasionally shared a moment’s contact. They were together, day in and day out, going about their daily work at the many racecourses around the country, while I averaged only a dozen or so rides a year, almost always on my own horse. An ‘amateur rider’, as I was officially defined, was tolerated, just, as long as he knew his place, which was next to the door of the changing room where it was always coldest and where clothes and towels were regularly trampled when the jockeys were called to the paddock by an official.
A few of the older changing rooms still had wood-burning stoves in a corner to provide comfort when it was wet and freezing outside. Woe betide some eager young amateur rider
who took a seat near the heat, however early he might have arrived at the racecourse. Such comforts had to be earned and were the privilege of the senior jocks.
‘Any juicy cases, Perry?’ asked a voice from up the far end.
I looked up. Steve Mitchell was one of the elite, constantly vying over the past few seasons with two others for the steeplechase champion jockey’s crown. He was currently the reigning champion, having won more races in the previous year than any other, and he was lying third in the present campaign.
‘Just the usual,’ I said. ‘Kidnap, rape and murder.’
‘Don’t know how you do it,’ he said, pulling a white roll-neck sweater over his head.
‘It’s a job,’ I said. ‘And it’s safer than yours.’
‘Yeah, suppose so. But some guy’s life depends on you.’ He pulled on his breeches.
‘They don’t hang murderers any more, you know,’ I said. More’s the pity, I thought, for some of them.
‘No,’ said Steve. ‘But if you mess up, someone might go to jail for years.’
‘They may go to jail because they deserve to, no matter what I do,’ I said.
‘Does that make you a failure?’ he said, buttoning up his blue and white hooped jacket.
‘Ha,’ I laughed. ‘When I win I take some of the credit. When I lose I say that justice takes its course.’
‘Not me,’ he laughed back, throwing his arms open wide. ‘When I win I take all the credit, and when I lose I blame the horse.’
‘Or the trainer,’ piped in another.
Everyone laughed. Changing-room banter was the antidote to danger. Five or six times a day, every day, these guys put
their lives on the line, riding more than half a ton of horse over five-foot fences at thirty miles an hour with no seat belt, no air-bag, and precious little protection.