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.


Justice is failing the victim

A bad day in court

Crown Court Cardiff

Crown Court Cardiff

When your ex-cleaning lady attempts to murder a neighbour – who is in her late seventies – it is difficult not to be at least a little bit interested. The fact that we were directly involved in the event itself makes it difficult to be disinterested. So, since March 2008, I’ve been following the case.
It was the middle of last year when hearings began in earnest, the accused spending some time in the Caswell Clinic secure unit being assessed for her mental state (a cost of £100,000 per person per year has been mentioned but I have no corroboration of that) but eventually pleading guilty to the charge of attempted murder. Most reported Court of Appeal decisions support sentences of at least 8 years imprisonment for this offence and often much longer. She had also admitted to charges relating to theft and use of the victim’s credit card.
Until yesterday the same judge had heard – at his insistence – every hearing and only agreed to them when the same team of CPS and defendant’s barristers and lawyers could be present. He has adopted – rightly one suspects in view of the possible impact of an appeal against sentencing – a rigorous approach to every aspect, most recently insisting that at the sentencing hearing – to be held yesterday – he would personally hear the expert testimony from both prosecuting and defence psychiatrists. This inevitably built in delays particularly when this summer’s break scuppered an earlier hearing date.
So yesterday was the day. Every one assembled. No absent psychiatrists. All pre-sentencing reports from probation service etc to hand. Because number one court at Cardiff is so old, the judge kindly agreed to relatives and friends of the victim sitting in the jurors’ seats so that we could see and hear clearly what was happening.
Then bombshell. The defence barrister – apparently one of the finest criminal defence lawyers in the country – stood and announced that he, his junior and the accused’s solicitors were all withdrawing from the case. He made it clear that they had not been dismissed but that there were serious problems about them continuing, most of which could not be explained in open court because of client confidentiality. As she had begun (so she said) to recover her memory there was now doubt about the way in which she should be represented. The barrister said he did not ‘think’ she was going to change her plea of guilty.
The judge was clearly in no position to do much more than tell the accused she must appoint a new lawyer (she wants a woman this time) pronto and fix a progress meeting for two weeks time.
It’s now entirely possible, that 18 months after the event, the accused can change her plea and force a full hearing. Had the court proceedings themselves not been delayed by her undoubted lack of co-operation (noted by the judge at earlier hearings) she would by now be in prison serving a lengthy sentence for something she has – at least until now – admitted doing. Instead, in the interests of justice (and I am not one to argue the case against that) she is able to expend yet more taxpayers’ money on a new team of solicitors and barristers who have to start from scratch. It’s most likely they’ll make the same recommendations as the ones who have withdrawn and we’ll be in the same place – not some time soon – probably in 2010.
But, as the judge addressed the court after the accused had been sent out, this was an unsatisfactory state of affairs that will impact all involved.
Yesterday was to have been a marker at least in the process of recovery for the victim. She was beaten repeatedly over the head by a person wielding a claw hammer and left for dead. It was a happy co-incidence that she was discovered before she bled to death, but another ten minutes and the outcome could have been fatal. She has since had eighteen months coming to terms with the horror of it all. Yesterday was no justice for her.
There can be no criticism of anyone involved in the legal process: the judge and legal teams as far I can tell as a simple observer, have been exemplary in their handling of the case, especially the police and CPS working with the victim.
But, just supposing, this was another ploy engineered by a manipulative, devious person who according to the evidence already disclosed in court, is unable to face her own weaknesses. Who, whilst formally admitting the offence, is unable to deal with the vision of her actual, violent, murderous behaviour against someone she knew and worked for, indeed callously visiting the victim whilst she was in hospital. Should such a person really be allowed the luxury of playing the legal system, whilst the victim seeks closure?
I don’t have an answer, and clearly the legal system doesn’t either.