Monday, January 21, 2008

Metric Martyr opts for Trial by Jury

On Friday 18th January 2008 Janet Devers turned up to Thames Magistrates Court facing 13 charges of selling goods by the pound or by the bowl.

She was joined by Leigh Thoburn, widow of Metric Martyrs Steve Thoburn (second left) and her brother Colin Hunt, another of the original Metric Martyrs (right).

I am trying to hide my crutches behind my back while balancing on one leg.

The story was covered in the Sunday Telegraph by Christopher Booker here.

The public gallery of the courtroom was packed with standing room only and the press gallery was full including reporters from the national newspapers and the reporter from the Wall Street Journal added an international flavour as well as glamour to the proceedings. Cassell Bryan-Low's report made today's front page of the Wall Street Journal.

We made our way into court and I sat next to Janet Devers with counsel Nicholas Bowen in front. The Hackney Council Trading Standards Officers shuffled nervously in their seats as counsel and the court clerk discussed legal matters.

The case was listed for 2pm but the Magistrates did not enter until 2.34pm.

There was one very interested observer in the public gallery. She had made the trip to London the day before to present the petition calling for a posthumous Royal Pardon for her late husband to Sunderland MP Chris Mullin. She was in court to lend moral support to 63 year old Hackney Market Trader Janet Devers who was facing two identical charges to those which had convicted her late husband Steven Thoburn.

Janet Devers was facing charges of using imperial scales which had been 'destamped' ... because they weighed in imperial.

Leigh Thoburn had lost her greengrocer husband 4 years after his scales had been seized. He had gone to the grave with a criminal conviction for selling bananas on scales that only weighed in imperial. The implications of Janet's case had far reaching implications ... and could be the catalyst for initiating a case of miscarriage of justice which could be brought before the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

The defence argument was that the European Metrication Directive specifically authorised the use of pre-2000 scales therefore the 'destamping' of Janet's (and Steven's) scales because they could not weigh in metric were an abuse of process ... because they were not illegal.

As the two female and one male magistrate entered. The court stood.

After a number of exchanges between the bench and the defence the nature of the charges were established and it was accepted that they were 'triable' by either Magistrates here today, or, Janet could elect to be tried at Crown Court before a jury. We had already discussed matters and Janet was adamant that she was going to plead not guilty to all charges and wanted to be tried by a jury of twelve of her peers.

Now, therein lies the problem. How many people in the country could claim to have never bought goods, or asked for goods in imperial measures thereby inciting a shopkeeper to commit a criminal act?

The defence barrister raised the point that selling goods 'by the bowl' was commonplace across London and , indeed, if it was deemed to be a criminal offence by selling without reference to metric or by number then bowls of strawberries at Wimbledon may well be a criminal act ... and perhaps at the prices charged would make Janet Devers offences look like a burglary on a sweet shop compared the Brinks Mat bullion heist.

Janet raised the point that Kentucky Fried Chicken's Big Bucket could be under threat as well as every bag of chips in the country.

We were elated. A Metric Martyrs case before a jury.

The Magistrates asked Janet to stand. She grimaced.

"Are you in pain?" the Magistrate asked.

"Yes. I have a trapped nerve in my back" Janet replied.

"Would you like a seat?" came the response.

Janet declined. "No thank you. I stand all day for my customers so I can stand for the court. Can I please point out to the court that I have a holiday booked for the 24th February?"

The Magistrate acknowledged this and Janet was given unconditional bail and asked to return to the court at 1.30pm on 7th March for a committal hearing. She was told however, that if she did not attend or was late she could be arrested and imprisoned.

Formalities over we left the court to a barrage or photographers and journalists. Interviews were given and the crowds dispersed.

We went back to Ridley Road Market and dropped Janet's brother Colin off.

The day is set to be a landmark in the Metric Martyrs battle ... the day when finally the matter was finally going to be put before the people.

Now where will they find a jury who has not seen the headlines that imperial measures have been saved and who hasn't bought anything by the pound from a market?

Later that night as Leigh and I jumped in a cab to grab a bite to eat we chatted with the driver. He had seen Janet on the news. He was incensed.

"What is this country coming to? A market trader in the East End of London facing charges of selling goods by the pound? You couldn't make it up. I thought you had won and the Government had backed off."

"Well, this is the last thing that the Government and the European Commission want, especially with the European Constitution debate just starting."

"How much do we owe you" I said as we got out in Chinatown.

"Not on your life. You are fighting for us all. This one's on me. Enjoy your night."

So, thanks to Dave the Black Cab driver and also Steve, the owner of the Chinese restaurant who was just as incensed and had seen the news and told Leigh that when Steve's conviction is overturned she must have the party in his restaurant.

Looks like the world is onside and waiting. We hope it is only a matter of time before justice is finally done.

Meanwhile, Janet and her twin sister Pat can enjoy their break in New York ... free from any criminal conviction ... for the moment. They had been advised that if Janet had been convicted then they would have been denied entry to he US.
I am sure that the Mayor of New York would like to make a very high profile exception.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Best wishes and fingers crossed common sense will prevail.

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