FAIR TO FARE?

While waiting in Court 1 at Horseferry Road Magistrates’ Court on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 18, 1997 - the victim of yet another act of state harassment - I watched several cases, three of which are worth mentioning. The first was of a young Moslem girl from Germany. She was a student who had been charged with the heinous crime of travelling on the Underground between Seven Sisters and Green Park Stations without paying the fare and with intent to avoid payment.

She pleaded not guilty, called no witnesses, and did not challenge the written statement against her. After swearing on the Koran she said that she had been at college but had had her benefit cut off because she was now 19; she now no longer attending college and had travelled without paying because she’d had no money, she said. She was ill-advised and the Stipendiary obviously found her guilty. He fined her £50 with £30 costs.

Another “fare dodger”, an unemployed man of previous good character, and somewhat older, pleaded guilty and received a fine of £75 with the same £30 costs. I thought this was unduly harsh, especially in view of the fine handed out to the girl with a not guilty plea.

Magistrates are notorious for rubber stamping prosecution cases and police applications, but this one did show a modicum of both common sense and compassion with another case. This was the somewhat more serious case of an - obviously mentally disturbed - homeless youth who had broken into a car and stolen two cheques, among other things. He had been in custody for some two months.

The Stipendiary sentenced him to two 42 day sentences to run concurrently and fined or ordered him to pay an outstanding £367. As the youth was of no means and obviously unemployable, he sentenced him to one day’s imprisonment in lieu. The youth would thus be released at once or almost at once, and sent for treatment rather than punishment. I don’t expect such lenient treatment when the same Stipe finds me guilty, but one thing is for certain, if I am sorry after this latest nonsense, I sure as Hell won’t be the only one!


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