Judge jails the cleaner

It took 464 days after she was first remanded, but our cleaning lady finally (yesterday 20 November 2009) got her just deserts for the attempted murder of our neighbour: an indeterminate sentence because she is a danger to the public and a tariff of 15 years.

Cardiff Recorder judge Nicholas Cooke QC had said this was a complex sentence and asked the CPS counsel to explain to us exactly what it meant.

If Linda Griffiths had been judged as just evil and not dangerous she could expect with this tariff to be out of prison in about six years (half the 15 years less the time on remand). As he judged her to be a public danger, the best she can hope for is to try to prove to the Parole Board at the time that she is no longer dangerous and ask for a time to be set for release: no automatic exit then!

As I have previously written, this is a case which has stretched credibility in the legal system in ways that no one – other than, presumably, the guilty defendant – could have been happy with. As hearing after hearing was thwarted, sentencing and closure of the case, seemed always out of grasp. But something happened late on Thursday and suddenly the judge said he would hold the sentencing hearing on Friday. Of course, the court itself was unprepared for this, but the two barristers – both CPS and defence – seemed united in trying to get the case completed.

It was only when Patrick Harrington QC for the prosecution started to describe the crime in dispassionate, articulated detail that the real horror of it all came back to us. Then the mass of detailed police leg-work, rightly commended by the judge: first the collections of photographs showing the accused’s progress across Cardiff, first to commit the crime, then to get rid of her clothes and set up her alibi. I am wholly against the intrusion of CCTV cameras, but here they gave the essential evidence to prove planning and execution.

Then a file of forensic evidence – accepted by the defence team so the detail didn’t have to be revealed – directly linking Griffith’s dna with blood splattered clothing and the crime scene. Now we knew why the police had been so confident that even if she had pleaded not guilty they would have got a conviction.

You can read the details if you want here and here. But two things the judge picked up that really need emphasising: firstly this evil woman betrayed trust, not just of this victim, but of all of us who gave her our house keys, left valuables, pets and children in her path. She was able to claim in court ‘hitherto unblemished character’; those of us who had employed – and mostly sacked her – thought this was odd. We all have stories of suspected theft unresolved: the police view was that following each of these up would not have been a good use of resources. In the event, she was sentenced to six months for theft and six counts of fraud connected with the assault.

The judge highlighted the trust issue when determining the tariff and also added: “I must have regard to the fact that the elderly are terrified by offending of this kind”. Indeed. At the time we started escorting friends home, helped fit safety chains. A real terror inhabited the streets where before there had been nothing but security.

So we have all been victims of this one crime. Of course the left-for dead 77 year old will have lasting mental scars in spite of a remarkable physical recovery. We have all lost a sense of trust: are we really going to CRB check cleaning ladies? And it wouldn’t have prevented this crime anyway.

For many our comfortable community will no longer be so much taken for granted.

Any good outcomes? Recognition of the bravery of the local councillor who discovered the battered pensioner – only now did we learn that she had been terrified the assailant was still in the house. Recognition of the relentless work of the police – much of it tedious, boring and forensic that built a cast iron case to be deployed if she changed her guilty plea.

And some vicarious pride in the judicial system that – even after 464 days – finally locked away an evil person that we had known.