The contrast of the two women sitting in front of me could not be any more marked. It’s like the princess and the toad. I’m wondering what their motivations were that brought them to the very same job and thus to this very same room. I could say destiny but that would be melodramatic and I don’t really believe in it.
‘So I just want you to know that you’re here on a fully voluntary basis, but I don’t want you to feel nervous or anything so just relax and everything should be okay.’
‘Furthermore it is my duty to record that you have opted not to have any legal representation?’
‘Well yea, like I said on the phone, I don’t feel as if I have anything to worry about, so I thought coming here and telling the truth will simply work to my favour.’
A week ago I spoke to Constable McGee on the phone where we had a friendly chat about me coming in, voluntarily, to give my personal account of what happened. I expressed my worry about how the situation might affect my future given my chosen career was in the law, and she told me not to worry. She told me that she could relate to my situation as she did the exact same course, at the exact same university as me. We were also, roughly, from the same area. She was likeable and normal, not like some police officers who had that distant way of going about things.
‘So for the record, the time is exactly is 5.46, and this is Constable McGee speaking, along with Constable McCord, and before us is one, Ryan McElhatton, aged 20, date of birth 2/11/1990. This is now an official police caution, you do not have to say anything, however, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’
Rely on in court? I’m in proper trouble here? Now I’m thinking I should have brought a lawyer.
‘You are being charged under section 47 of the Offences Against The Person Act 1867 i.e. Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm to one, Anton Tracey, on the night of 29th October 2010 outside the Odyssey arena, in Belfast. So do you want to tell us your side of the story?’
I definitely should have brought a lawyer. I know I’d gotten into a fight that night but I didn’t start it. I’m being screwed here. I’m really nervous and my voice is shaky as I go to speak.
“Well..em…I was out in the smoking area at the Odyssey with my friend Tom… when we saw this guy, about 50 yards away, being thrown out by security staff. He was shouting, and resisting, and kicking at the door as they shut it. He seemed really mad, and he kept kicking and then I saw the door opening where the guy was pushed, and he fell to the ground, embarrassing himself. A lot of people around started laughing, but he picked himself up and came storming towards me and Tom in particular. He obviously needed someone to vent out his anger on.”
“Uhuh…and then what happened?” Constable McGee is nodding her head at me.
“So he came over to me and Tom, and he said to us, ‘What the fuck are you laughing at?’ and he was being all aggressive at this stage, pointing his finger at Tom in particular”.
“And did he hit you?”
I could say he hit me, but I honestly couldn’t remember.
“We pushed him away and I can just remember him walking towards me in a threatening way, and I thought he was going to hit me, but I can’t remember if he actually did. At this point the fight started.”
“And then what happened? Did you strike him with your fist?” Constable McGee is glaring at me and her earlier friendliness has evaporated.
“Well…yes…and the fight went on for about 30 seconds and I remember him falling to the ground”.
“And then what happened? Something happened when he fell to the ground, isn’t that right?” She’s raising her eyebrows at me like she wants me to say it, rather than herself. I shouldn’t have said anything.
“Uhuh, and whereabouts did you kick him?”
“I can’t really remember. I had lost my temper at this point.”
“You know where you kicked him” she says to me.
“I think I kicked him around the chest area” I gesture towards my chest.
“He stopped moving and then I just turned and walked away.
“You kicked him in the head.”
I just look at her. There’s guilt on my face.
“So we’ll take a look at the CCTV here, and we can go through it step by step and then you can say what happened.”
She puts the CD in the player behind her and as it spins inside, it makes the customary whizzing sound. The grainy scene jumps into view, with a swarm of people standing in the smoking area of the club, beside a taxi rank where taxis amble past hoping to pick up drunken people leaving early. The man controlling the camera is slowly looking left and right. Nothing of note happens until a clear argument ensues in the bottom right corner of the screen, at which point the controller focuses in on it.
“So here’s where he’s being aggressive, okay’ The guy is pointing his finger in Tom’s face.
“Now is this your friend Tom? Describe to me what he’s dressed in.”
I feel really ridiculous at what I’m about to say. It was Halloween and Tom and I were both in fancy dress.
“Em, he’s dressed as a Nazi”
“Yes...an SS officer”. Tom was completely dressed in a black uniform, with a red banner around his arm . I felt so stupid about telling her that.
“And is this you? Describe for the record what you’re dressed as.”
“I’m dressed as a red crayon.”
“A red crayon?”
“Yes.” In any other circumstances I would have laughed but it wouldn’t have been appropriate right there and then. I was draped head to toe in a red costume that said ‘Crayola’ on the front of it, and my face was completely red with paint. I think I might even have been wearing a ridiculous pointy hat which may have fell off during the fight.
The fight begins but the CCTV failed to capture who threw the first blow. I’m cursing myself for not saying that he hit me first, as it may have been a distinct possibility. Tom is grabbing him and it looks like he may have thrown a punch or two. I couldn’t remember Tom getting involved at all. I thought it was just me and the guy.
“So at this point there are two of you on him. He’s by himself. He’s now backing off.”
I’ve fought him out on to the street where it’s blocking the Taxis from coming through. He falls to the ground and the crucial moment, probably the moment which has landed me in this room, happens. It looks terrible. Savage and brutal.
“You kick him in the face.”
The video shows his head swing back and he becomes a lifeless figure, completely limp lying in the middle of the taxi rank. The video shows me immediately turn around and walk away. I remember that night I’d scared myself, thinking he was dead, so walking away my adrenaline was pumping and I still hadn’t calmed down. But it gets worse. People standing in the area walk over to the guy, surrounding him, and they proceed to drag him out of the way of the taxis, him knocked out as his legs trailed behind him.
“So why didn’t you help him?”
“I never thought to help him. I just walked away without even thinking.”
McGee is nodding her head again.
“I think your reaction was just ‘Oh shit’ and you realised straight away you shouldn’t have done it.”
There’s not really much I can say. I can only agree with her I shouldn’t have done it.
“He could have died. You could have seriously injured him.”
At this point the toady woman speaks up, her froggy eyes staring at me through thick spectacles. She over-stresses each word as she says it, and I can just picture by the kind of words she’s using she took a lot of it from a Law textbook. I know the kind.
“Would you say that what you did, was reasonable and justified in the circumstances?”
Hmm, reasonable and justified? Those are lovely law words. Kicking a person in the face, when is it reasonable and justified? So you get in a fight with someone who’s in your face, who instigates the fight, who’s walked over 50 yards to where you’re standing just to take his anger out on you, and I should be thinking about whether my behaviour in the following 20 seconds is reasonable and justified. I feel like telling her it’s not a tickling competition. I’d lost my temper, that was pretty clear.
“Well, he started it. I was provoked. I felt at the time what I was doing was justified, but looking now I shouldn’t have done what I did”
Her law lingo has made me incriminate myself. I’ve practically just admitted it. I should have brought a lawyer, how could I have been so naïve?
“I didn’t mean to seriously hurt him.”
“It doesn’t look that way to us”
“Look, if I had wanted to seriously hurt him, do you not think I would have kicked him repeatedly?” This was the wrong thing to say. It makes me sound dangerous when all I wanted to do was make a point. They both stare at me. The toad woman speaks up again.
“But do you think that kicking someone in the face is reasonable and justified?”
There’s that fucking phrase again.
“Probably not, no. Look, I regret what I did, it shouldn’t have happened, but I don’t feel it was of my own making.”
The interview has reached its conclusion. They’ve got all they needed from me, which probably wasn’t even needed anyway, considering the CCTV evidence that they already had. It was a video that showed me as a thug with my temper completely lost. It was hard to defend when it didn’t show what I saw. It didn’t show him walking all the way over to us. It barely showed any of his aggressiveness aside from a pointy finger in Tom’s face. With no sound, it didn’t show the things that he said. All it showed was a one-sided fight that ended up with him being kicked in the head. That made me guilty of a criminal offence, and thus a criminal once substantiated by the judgement of the court. I felt cheated for being so honest.
She stops the tape, gives me a copy of it, along with a declaration form that said I’d went there voluntarily, and I’m on my way. I’d walked in there thinking honesty was the best policy, a single-mindedness about telling the truth. I thought telling them that it was the other guy who started it, that I was, apart from the kick, defending myself. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was the kick. I knew that now.
I couldn’t help but think I’d been played. Constable McGee has returned to her smiley self. I thought it was a bit ironic that her job is to prevent deviousness but there was a bit of deviousness in her approach. On the phone she down-played the importance of our encounter. I got the impression I didn’t need legal help when she kept saying to me ‘Now you don’t have to bring legal help, but you can if you want to. I was under the impression that I was going in for a simple chat, to tell her what happened, and that nothing further would come of it.
With the interview over, she tells me all the evidence will be passed to the Public prosecution service and they will make a decision on my prosecution. I go home, a pending criminal.
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