(Being the 8th occasional excerpt from my novel: Part 1 of 2.)
The usher in charge of decorum at Shoreham-on-Sea Magistrates Court called the public to order as Lady Geraldine Ponsoby-Warmington JP entered Court Room No. 1 with a judicial flourish and settled in her seat behind an imposing wooden dais. It was a bank holiday Monday morning when the court is not normally in session, but out of fairness to the defendant, a visitor from Baden Baden, a special session was considered appropriate so that British justice could be seen to be swiftly executed. Her ladyship was not happy. She would rather be bird watching.
The prosecutor rose to his feet.
“Your Honor, the defendant, Dieter Schitler, is charged under sub-section 2 of the Sexual Offences Act of 1872 in that in the Lazy Daze Campground in this borough, in the county of Sussex, he did indecently expose himself contrary to the said Act.”
“How do you plead?”
Herr Schitler stood to face his accusers. “Not guilty, Your Honor.”
From a bench in the spectators’ gallery that ringed three sides of the court room, George Aloysius Brown nodded his approval. While Dieter had been fixing his brake he had briefed him on how magistrates should properly be addressed. He had seen enough of the inside of courtrooms during his days in bylaw enforcement to feel confident of an acquittal.
Lady Warmington glanced at the rest of the cases on her sheet; twenty guilty pleas to parking without lights in the fog, one breach of probation, and a probable adjournment on a drunk and disorderly, and decided that Herr Schitler and his allegedly rampant member would at least keep her mildly amused.
“Proceed,” she said.
“Madam, the facts in this case are as follows. Sgt. William Johnson of the Shoreham police detachment was cycling past the Lazy Daze Campground yesterday at about 3 p.m. when he heard a disturbance emanating from said campground including much shouting in German. Upon investigation of a possible breach of the peace, he witnessed the defendant, who was in a state of nudity, adopting an aggressive posture and berating a fellow camper. By this time quite a crowd had gathered. In Sgt. Johnson’s opinion the defendant was in violation of sub-section 2 and therefore cautioned and charged him.”
“Are there photographs you wish to submit to the court at this stage?” asked Lady Warmington, hopefully.
“No, your Honor.”
“Nothing on YouTube?”
“‘Fraid not, your Honor.”
Her ladyship could barely conceal her disappointment. She was thinking, “Every damn thing is on YouTube these days. How can a tourist from Baden Baden waive his whatsit around in my jurisdiction and somehow elude the digital scrutiny of citizen reporters?”
Of course, she made no such comment for the record, instead shuffling her court documents in silent irritation.
“Carry on,” she said.
“Call Sgt. William Johnson,” said the prosecutor.
Entering the courtroom, the sergeant groaned inwardly when he saw who it was on the bench. He had had a crush on Geraldine Warmington when they were both teenagers. She was easily the prettiest girl in their class. But he had admired her from afar, too shy to declare his awkward adolescent feelings and terrified of outright rejection. Even now, thirty years later, he felt flustered in her presence. His problem was that under the law covering indecent exposure the crown would have to prove the defendant had an erection if the case were to be successfully prosecuted. And that unenviable task fell to him.
As his evidence unfolded, the dreaded moment arrived.
The crown counsel was on his feet.
“At some stage in your investigation at the campground you decided that Mr. Schitler should be charged with the offence that is the subject of today’s proceedings, is that correct?”
“Yes sir,” said Sgt. Johnson.
“Exactly what was it that you saw that brought you to that conclusion?”
Sgt. Johnson took a deep breath. “The defendant was, was …the defendant was …well…fully armed,” he blurted. He stared at the shine on his boots, embarrassed. He couldn’t bring himself to say the word. Not in front of her.
Her ladyship, however, had no such qualms.
“What do you mean ‘fully armed?'” she intoned from on high. “May I remind you this is not a firearms charge, sergeant; it is one of indecent exposure.”
Manfully, but even more embarrassed, Sgt. Johnson tried again.
“What I mean is, he had a huge… a huge…”
Lady Warmington looked at her watch. She was running out of patience. She had never liked Billy Johnson, a common little boy who always seemed to be hanging around the schoolyard water fountain whenever she swept by with her friends.
“The witness may write it down,” she said, “if for some reason he finds himself unable to say it.”
The usher jumped forward with pen and paper and, like a messenger with a forked stick, duly conveyed the note to her ladyship.
She took it from him, moving her spectacles to the end of her nose with theatrical exaggeration.
“Erection,” she said loudly. “Let it be recorded that Sgt. Johnson’s evidence is that the defendant had a ‘huge erection.'”
At this, the reporter from the local paper could no longer contain her mirth. Her stifled laughter rang through the courtroom and spilled into the hallway.
In the public gallery George and Pem clutched at each other and laughed until their eyes watered. Her ladyship was also similarly indisposed, hiding behind a copy of Abbreviated English Case Law. She was the first to recover.
“Order! Order!” she thundered. “Or I shall clear the court! Now where were we?” she demanded of the court stenographer, who studied her stenography machine and dutifully read back what was recorded.
“…the defendant had a huge erection, your Honor.”
This started everyone off again as her ladyship had suspected it might. This was turning out to be more fun than bird watching.
(to be continued)