George Cheyne: Glasgow, March 2021
She was going to have her day in court, there was no question about that.
Dressed up to the nines, her hair piled high and her heels even higher, Linda McCaffrey click-clacked her way across the wooden floor to the witness box at Clydebank District Court.
She looked a nailed-on cert to win any Bet Lynch-lookalike contest – right down to the leopard-print jacket that the Coronation Street star used to wear.
Mrs McCaffrey, looking slightly miffed her big moment was taking place in front of an audience of less than ten, promised to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
She was in court – which sat in Clydebank Town Hall – to give her account of the night her husband was arrested for some street rammy or other.
And what an account…she delivered her lines to perfection during a gentle interrogation by her husband’s solicitor. But guess what? Her version didn’t tally with what the police officers had said previously.
Step forward the procurator fiscal – no stranger to a bit of showboating himself – and he went after her like a man possessed.
But Mrs McCaffrey refused to buckle under the pressure and stuck resolutely to her story.
Time for a bit of gamesmanship.
“So, Mrs McCaffrey, it’s your evidence that your husband was merely making his way home and had absolutely nothing to do with the disturbance?”
“Aye, that’s how I remember it, love.”
“And you don’t recall seeing your husband having an altercation with the police officers?”
“Aye, that’s right, love.”
“Mrs McCaffrey…I’m not in love with you, I never have been in love with you and I have no intention of ever being in love with you, so don’t call me love. Is that clear?”
“Your honour, I must ask you to warn this witness about her conduct here today.”
At this point the Justice of the Peace looked up sternly from the bench to say: “Mrs McCaffrey, you have to be mindful that this is a court of law and behave accordingly.”
“Right you are, doll…”
This was the kind of exchange that brightened up the dull tedium of covering district court cases in the late 1970s for The Clydebank Press.
I had a ringside seat to see justice dispensed at the fag end of Scotland’s legal system – a window into the small-potato court cases which are the lifeblood of any local newspaper.
And if you had characters like Mrs McCaffrey in court, then it made sifting through the minutiae that little bit more enjoyable.
If not, you played courtroom bingo. This involved certain words or phrases to be mentally ticked off during a police officer’s evidence.
You were looking for all the usual contenders – “locus”, “proceeded”, “disorderly manner”, “fear and alarm”, “refused to desist” and “arrested”.
Sometimes you could get a full house without the officer pausing for breath.
That was the thing about police evidence, the officers always seemed so well prepped and gave their version of events using exactly the same phrases.
Funny that, eh?
However, I was there once when two policemen went completely off script.
Or, more accurately, one of them did.
PC 1 regaled us with a tale of how he and PC 2 were on patrol when they saw the accused acting in a disorderly manner (tick) and then hurl a bottle towards two youths and challenge them to fight. He identified the accused in the dock by pointing at him.
Bang to rights, I’d say. The defending solicitor poked around a bit, trying to spot any weakness, before asking PC 1 if he remembers what arm the accused used to chuck the bottle.
The officer doesn’t miss a beat before saying: “His right.”
The solicitor was obviously hoping to plant a seed of doubt in the prosecution case if somehow PC 2 answered differently.
In the end, he got far more than he could have hoped for.
Up stepped PC 2, who also identified the accused, to tell us how he was on patrol with PC 1 when he saw the accused at the locus (tick) arguing with a woman, pushing her onto the road before punching her on the face.
The fiscal tried to pass it off as a mix-up and asked PC 2 if he’d like to refer to his notebook – code for you’ve made a boo-boo – but the defence lawyer was all over it and immediately asked the Justice of the Peace to acquit his client on the grounds that PC 2’s evidence clearly couldn’t be trusted.
The sitting JP agreed. He threw the case out, told the accused he was free to go and gave PC 2 a withering look before saying, rather caustically: “Maybe you’ll learn your lines a bit better next time.”
I suppose that’s what the court was – a stage for performers like police officers, fiscals, JPs, witnesses and the accused to strut their stuff as they delivered their lines.
And, believe me, there was a lot of over-acting going on.
I remember one fiscal used to ham it up big time when he was questioning police officers, making sure the JPs knew their evidence was sacrosanct.
To labour the point, he would invariably ask the officer if they were on duty that day, knowing full well they weren’t. And he’d follow up the inevitable reply with: “Ah, the court thanks you for coming here on your day off.”
The implication being that the officer was clearly the most credible of witnesses, if he was willing to give up his own precious free time just to be there.
This little act was repeated time after time and, as an unwritten rule, remained unchallenged by the defence lawyers – until one of them finally cracked.
Standing before an officer who had just been thanked for coming there that day, he told him: “So it’s your day off..well, in that case, you’ll be getting paid overtime. Maybe you should be thanking us.”
Lawyer exits stage left with a satisfied grin on his face.