aka ‘Run out of Rochester’
“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass — a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience — by experience.”
Well, old Bumble had good reason to fear the law with all his shady shenanigans but what if the law really has run roughshod over you? Surely there’s no smoke without fire and if the cops throw you in the cells then you must have done something wrong, eh? Well not always, as I found out last year. Only now, that the whole debacle is finally over, can I tell the tale.
For those of you unfamiliar with my creative catalogue, I have made a body of work, either as documentary film or photography, much of which is based around social issues eg addiction, poverty and mental-health problems. In this role I often interact with homeless folk on the streets and ask if I can take a photo or do a quick interview for my video diaries. More often than not, I pay them for their time. It’s a respectful arrangement and has worked well for many years without much hassle. Well that was until October the 9th, 2016.
I was assaulted on Rochester High St (Kent) on that fateful Sunday evening by a female street beggar, Liza Marie Burns – a lady well known to the local constabulary. She’d been caught with an offensive weapon on the street a few months prior to this, was then jailed in April 2017 for assaulting two police officers and has a long history of shoplifting and drug/alcohol related offences. None of these facts would normally be of interest to me or prejudice me against the woman. Problem was though, none of these facts could be brought up in court as I was to soon find out.
This is what happened. I came out a shop and offered Liza some spare cash. I’d given her money before and had asked nothing in return. No photos and no interviews. On the evening in question she seemed perturbed and I asked if she was alright then offered her the loose change I had. She said: ‘Fuck off with your 69p”. I couldn’t believe her bizarre behaviour and said she was out of order.
She came across the street and started slapping, kicking and punching me in a darkened area and then ran off shouting she’d been attacked by me! A student girl walking past instantly agreed with her despite the fact I was defending myself and Liza had no visible marks on her….I had numerous bruises, cuts and abrasions (see photos). It was an obvious case of prejudice against a male who is often assumed to be the aggressor in such situations.
The police arrested me and held me for 20 hours in the cells at Gillingham. I was denied my medication (anti-depressants) and my vegan dietary requirements. They showed no interest in my cuts and bruises and approached me as if I was the violent offender. It was diabolical being locked in this hellish place, knowing that the guilty person had got away scot-free. As soon as I was released, I phoned the Kent Police to make the counter allegation that Liza Burns had attacked me (ie the truth). I was promised a visit by the police to take photos of the various wounds and they never turned up despite waiting in for three days. Eventually I had to take the photos myself with a witness present.
I had bail restrictions set on me that I had to avoid this homeless woman who was virtually a permanent resident of Rochester High St as she sat in various doorways begging. It’s almost an impossible task to avoid the High St if you live there since it’s the main drag. The fear of Liza making a false allegation against me, if I accidentally bumped into her, forced me out of the area and back to Scotland.
I turned up for the case in Jan 2017 and it was postponed till April 19th when it was put off again. I travelled hundreds of miles from the Scottish Highlands and it cost a lot of money – all for nothing and I began to seriously think it would be cheaper just to plead guilty despite the fact I was innocent. I was told that the police conveniently ‘lost’ their copy of the CCTV footage which doesn’t show the actual attack but does show her get up from the pavement and march across towards me in an aggressive manner. I luckily had my own copy of that. It also shows her having an argument with her boyfriend a minute before I appear (she admitted that to police too). That explained why she was in such a volatile mood when I encountered her.
The police were only interested in convicting me and were not being impartial. They were only interested in the elements that would supposedly prove my guilt and other areas were dismissed. Liza lied and said she was pregnant. Obviously said to ramp up the gravity of the offence and the coppers just lapped it all up. What happened to the baby then, PC Simms (the investigating officer)? It’s absurd that I had to waste my time and money on this ridiculous case which I was confident would lead to an acquittal or be thrown out of court. I had collected a stack of support letters from various professionals and colleagues who knew me well and knew that I wasn’t violent (and what exactly was my motive supposed to be in all this anyway? Randomly attack street beggars for no apparent reason?)
I was all ready to head to court again this month (July 2017) and make the 1500 mile round trip on the train from Wick to Rochester when my solicitor (Vymans, who I highly recommend) called to say the Crown Prosecution Service had ‘discontinued’ the case. They realised there wasn’t enough evidence to convict me. Wonder why? Could it be that I’m totally innocent and that Liza Marie Burns is the real violent offender? Might sound strange but a part of me was disappointed that I didn’t get my day in court. I was looking forward to crushing this absurd allegation.
Assaulting a homeless person is against everything I’ve stood for and believe in. There are many other details I could add but these are the basic points. Apart from the slur to my character and reputation, this fiasco could have potentially ruined my future. An assault charge is one thing but a violent assault on a vulnerable homeless woman could have cost me my job and livelihood.
You may think this strange but I actually hold no anger towards Liza who I see as a victim of her own issues. I do however point the finger at the disastrously inept Kent police force and the investigating officer, PC Simms, who was well up for seeing an innocent man go down. The local MP for Rochester, Kelly Tolhurst, has also been utterly hopeless, saying I should speak to my Highland MP since I don’t live in her constituency now. Of course I don’t live in your constituency, lovie! Your draconian police forced me out!