My client was this Scouse gentleman. Let’s call him Jed. He was a decentish sort of chap and by no means a hardened criminal. To a fault, he had all the trappings of his tribe: curly perm, moustache, shell-suit, Nike trainers – the works. But he was in work (he was a fork-lift driver) and was, to the best of my knowledge and belief, a conscientious husband to his wife and father to his three children. The first time I laid eyes on him, he was giving a piggy-back to the littlest one, while trying to fend off the other two. I remember that the girl, the eldest, kept trying to grab hold of his gold medallion. He was very deferential at first, during our meetings. He kept looking down and saying, ‘Yes, Mr Banfield.’ I kept telling him to call me Mike but it didn’t come naturally to him.
It was last October, and he had come into some money – back-pay, I think – nothing illegitimate, and he had decided to prepare for a big Christmas party by hiring a van and taking a booze-cruise to Boulogne. As you’d expect, he mentioned it to all his mates at work, and his friends and relations, and before very long he had quite a little order-book going. Two crates of Stella for Dave. Three crates of Newkey Brown for Hairy Jake. Six bottles of Gordon’s for Auntie Kath. A couple of litres of brandy for Great Uncle Phil. A few trays of assorted alco-pops for Daz, Shaz, Gaz, Baz and the Tuebrook Crew. Two bottles of Bushmills for Father O’Flaherty.
To Jed’s complete astonishment, on his way back, he got pulled over by the Customs officers. I never did find out precisely whether he stopped buying because he ran out of cash, or because the van was full. He was in the green channel, of course. Can we have a look inside your van, sir? He had no idea what they were getting at. He opened it up under no protest. Are all these goods for your own personal consumption, sir? And he blabbed the whole thing, right there and then: condemned out of his own mouth. Are you aware, sir, that avoiding VAT on goods not for your own personal use is a criminal offence? Was he hell aware. Are you further aware, sir, that avoidance of VAT in the sum of more than one thousand pounds carries a mandatory custodial sentence? You can’t mean prison. Yes, sir, we do.
And we did. Despite the fact that I don’t often do criminal defence, I think the Chief Clerk thought I was the only one in chambers who would understand what Jed was going through. Not that I am married. Not that I have any children. But he picked me to defend Jed, if you can call it “defence” when you are just trying to be nice to somebody and explaining what is happening.
The bit that really got me was just before the sentencing hearing. I had told him to tell his Mrs to stay outside, with the kids. He did, and she agreed. He had accepted by that point that he would be sentenced to twelve months in prison, and so when he was crouching down and hugging his children, he knew that he wouldn’t be spending Christmas with them. The hearing was about to start, and I kept saying, ‘Come on Jed. Come on, now,’ but he didn’t want to let go.
I suppose you might say, tough on Christmas: tough on the causes of Christmas.