Chapter Three Part Four:
AT THE BAILEY
‘Quite so, my lord,’ Berger stammered, shuffling through his papers. ‘The Defendant stands charged with the grave offence of persistently importuning in a public place for immoral purposes, and on arraignment, pleaded not guilty.’
“The gravity of the offence is for me to decide, Mr. Berger, not you or the jury as well you know. But now that you mention it, I have in all my years on the Bench tried many grave offences, and have handed down some very severe sentences.’ Ham smiled weakly. ‘However, I can state without fear of contradiction that I have never been called upon to try a case as grave as this. So I ask, in a spirit of enquiry, why me, and why is this case here?’
Was it my imagination, or had the judge taken against Ham Berger?
‘My lord,’ said Berger, at his most unctuous, ‘as your lordship will recall, the murder trial listed before your lordship this morning has been vacated to enable the defence to instruct their own forensic expert, so by hap’ chance this trial was allocated to your lordship at very short notice. The case is here because, as your lordship may know, this offence was committed within the bailiwick of the Bailey, which is the only court having jurisdiction to try it.’
‘Very droll, I’m sure.’ There was the faintest of smiles playing around the judge’s mouth.
‘I’m sorry, my lord?’
‘Within the bailiwick of the Bailey, very droll, Mr Berger.’
Berger stood open-mouthed, the fleeting moment of his own unintended wit going right over his head.
‘Never mind, never mind,’ said his lordship, with some irritation. He sat back and closed his eyes. ‘Get on with it.’
The jury duly empanelled, Ham rose to his feet to open the case for the prosecution.
‘Mem’ jury,’ he began, ‘I appear on behalf of the prosecution in this case, and my learned friend Sir Archibald Scott-Malden QC appears for the Defendant.’
I drew in my breath sharply. My saviour, and the distinguished man with the friendly face, was none other than the former Attorney-General who, after the last General Election, had stood down to return to private practice. This was history in the making, and I was there to witness it. Whatever else, Berger was hopelessly outgunned. A distinguished Defendant, an even more distinguished defence counsel, and a hostile judge. An irresistible combination. Good luck, Ham, I muttered to myself, you’re going to need it.
‘At approximately nineteen thirty six hours…’
His lordship threw down his pen and pushed back in his chair. ‘What is this gibberish, Mr Berger?’ he snapped irritably. ‘Nineteen thirty six hours? The purpose of an opening address by prosecution counsel is to illuminate, not obfuscate. The jury and I are totally bemused, and, I dare say, so is your neglected pupil.’
‘My lord.’ Ham was going down for the second time, and he was still a long way from the shore. With grim determination, he plunged on. ‘At approximately seven thirty six in the evening, the defendant was seen in a notorious red light district of London, driving his motor car slowly along the street. You will hear evidence that he stopped and was approached by a lady of easy virtue.’
‘A lady of easy virtue, Mr Berger?!’ snapped Sourpuss, barely disguising his impatience. ‘What on earth does that mean? Do you mean a prostitute?’
‘Er… yes, my lord, I suppose I do, but…’
‘Then say so. This is not some eighteenth century soap opera dreamt up by Dame Barbara Cartland over a box of soft-centred chocolates. We are in the twentieth century, for goodness sake, and we are all familiar with prostitutes, are we not, members of the jury?’
I wasn’t quite sure if that was what Sourpuss meant to say, but it produced a few titters.
‘Very well, my lord.’ Berger returned to the jury. ‘As I was saying, mem’ jury, the Defendant was approached by a… prostitute, there was a brief conversation, and the defendant drove on. The Crown say that he was importuning for an immoral purpose.’
I noticed that Ham had now broken into a gallop. In fact, he was babbling like a baboon, such was his anxiety to conclude his opening speech without further interruption.
‘At approximately nineteen….I mean seven forty four, he stopped for a second time, was again approached, and before he could agree terms he was arrested. With your lordship’s leave,’ he panted, triumphantly, ‘I will call my first witness. Miss Dolores Del Fabro.’