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Help Please

(29 Posts)
PurpleShoes69 Fri 24-Apr-15 01:53:02

I am hoping to be lucky enough that some Mumsnetters with knowledge of magistrates' courts and law in general are around.
Sorry, this will be long.

I'm very concerned about a relative who has MH problems and has got caught up in the criminal justice system - feel for her and want to help her but am completely at a loss.
She has a court date next week.
I am furious at the way she's been treated tbh, at the way many people with mental health issues are treated by the law, and have spoken to her solicitor who feels the same.
There's little I can do to help practically as I know nothing about this area. I've tried everything I can think of. This situation is affecting her MH badly.
All the services and systems that are supposed to help her seem to have let her down. She feels they hate and are against her, and is suicidal.
She is really distressed, drinking to excess then texting me and others saying she is suicidal, sees no future for herself with a criminal record (she wanted to work with other people with mental health problems, having been through it, but obviously feels this cannot now happen) and we would all be better off if she wasn't here. She is then very apologetic and says she is a burden, ignore her, she is actually fine. She is not fine (she has acted as if she is OK then attempted suicide before). She has been in psychiatric hospital several times, including having been sectioned.
I think this issue is stopping her from recovering and until it is dealt with, she won't move on.
Relative had no offending history until she became unwell (but feels no-one believes this). The offences are relatively minor. Not to make excuses, she is aware her actions weren't acceptable and in fact I think the shame and guilt and self-loathing is crippling her.
For context, the last offence was now over a year ago.
Unfortunately things ended up so she has had numerous court appearances since then. She says she built herself up for each one and can't do it again, won't appear in court and will commit suicide before the next court date. Some of this is down to her not appearing for some dates. She was terrified, not deliberately being disrespectful. There have then been several times when court adjourned because they wanted further information such as psychiatric reports from her mental health team.

The original offence in 2012 was harassing an ex. He sounds possibly abusive and definitely callous - messing her around about how the relationship stood, eventually dumping her by text message after a 4 year (on/off) relationship when she was already shaky mentally. (His friends have also been sending her nasty messages telling her to just kill herself, taunting her about getting arrested, calling her a psycho b*tch etc - she told police this but they refused to believe her). I understand he couldn't deal with her mental health issues but could shake him for dealing with this in such a nasty way.
Initially police just gave her a warning as she was in a psychiatric hospital having attempted suicide (due to his behaviour). She continued to contact him (I know, she was an idiot to do that and I have told her this). I don't remember the details but long story short, she ended up arrested and held in a police cell for 2 nights, having not long been discharged yet again from hospital. The second night was 'for her own safety' - but being held for so long further traumatised her. Surely if police were that concerned they should have got her psychiatric help instead? She behaved so disturbingly after her release that her flatmate at the time ended up taking her to A&E - but once flatmate had to leave her, she walked out and took an overdose requiring medical treatment.
A restraining order was issued. She still continued to contact him for a few months. Ended up arrested again (came to the attention of police as she was again self-harming and suicidal) and was remanded in custody until sentencing, for a few days, again because the magistrate was supposedly concerned for her safety, and because apparently the mental health team who are responsible for assessing whether people are fit to attend court and plead were not available until then! I really don't understand this. How can it be humane to hold someone in prison for being suicidal?! She hasn't got over it, says she is bad and dirty, 'stained' by it. Apparently she self-harmed in a disturbing way while in there (which staff didn't bother to notice, far from being attention-seeking she didn't tell them. I met her to offer support and she was clearly also physically unwell, I dragged her to GP, turned out the wound was infected which is how I found out). She again attempted suicide a few days after release).
She was given probation, seems to have found this difficult. Instead of understanding probation seem to have disliked her, given her hoops to jump through that she couldn't (eg attending morning appointments when she had explained that due to her sedating medication and depression she sleep s very late). Of course she failed, and was returned to court for the breach of probation.
Just over a year ago she was also accused of malicious communications, somehow she seems to blame this person for her being arrested while suicidal and was generally in a lot of mental pain and lashed out. She now knows this was wrong. She just wasn't able to think rationally at the time. She sounds as if she was quite delusional, thinking this person was out to get her.
As I said, this was now a year or so ago. The original court date for both these further offences - malicious communications and breach of probation - was in August. It has been adjourned several times.
The issue seems to be that the court asked for a psychiatric report. Despite them having repeated this several times, her mental health team have refused to produced this.
I think we have established that the court requested but did not order the report. Therefore her psychiatrist didn't have to do it.
Unfortunately my relative had already complained about this psychiatrist (who had an unpleasant manner and basically wasn't interested in helping her and saw her as just attention-seeking), so she said she was not happy for him to do this report as she felt he was against her and wouldn't be objective, and so report would go against her, not help her. She was uncomfortable discussing the deeply personal and sensitive issues around the offences with him. So she asked the CMHT if another psychiatrist could complete it. The CMHT basically said tough, no other psychiatrist will do it, so she reluctantly 'agreed' - she had no choice. An appointment was made for said report, according to my relative the psychiatrist spent this talking about just about anything else and at the end said that he wouldn't do the report after all, as she had initially not agreed to it. He will not budge from this.
The CMHT finally allocated her another psychiatrist, but are refusing to consider that the new psychiatrist complete the report, and she has not yet seen her - there is an appointment, but after her court date.
From e-mails between her solicitor and the court, the court view her as being un-co-operative - when she would willingly go to an appointment with any other psychiatrist. There have been numerous e-mails between my relative's solicitors, court staff (I'm not sure what exactly their role is) and the CMHT. I have seen some of these e-mails. Psychiatrist seems to be doing his best to cover his backside and paint my relative as the un-co-operative, troubled girl. My relative is desperately worried that the magistrates will fall for all this.

Where do we go from here?

Apparently her solicitors could appoint an independent psychiatrist. They have refused to do this, on the grounds that 1. there wasn't time before the court date, they don't think court will adjourn yet again and if they did don't believe that is in her best interests; 2. they don't feel a psychiatric report is necessary. I have spoken to them. They are as appalled as I am by the way she has been treated - I don't have any doubts about them.
I do have doubts about the magistrates - especially after

Magistrates don't seem to have any understanding of mental health issues, and apparently have spoken to her very harshly. She is terrified, convinced she will go to prison.

Apparently probation were initially unhelpful, but appear to have realised what has happened to a vulnerable girl and will be recommending to the magistrates that she gets a 'conditional discharge'. From my reading (ie Google) my understanding is that this means that if she doesn't reoffend for a set period of time, no further action happens. (She hasn't reoffended since, it has been a year). Do magistrates usually listen to such recommendations? They clearly haven't been convinced about a conditional discharge before.

What if she gets a particularly harsh magistrate/ one who is having a bad day/ one who doesn't like her face? Who is prejudiced against people with mental health issues?
Would the lack of a psychiatric report make them conclude she doesn't really have mental health problems or they aren't that serious?

Malicious communications has a maximum sentence of 6 months' imprisonment. She wouldn't come out alive.

She was shaking in court, took pills with her to overdose if she got sent to prison.

She attempted suicide before the last court date, so it has yet again been adjourned. (CMHT don't seem at all concerned. I have spoken to them several times and been dismissed).

She is convinced that without a report the magistrates won't believe she really has mental health problems and will 'think she is a terrible person'. I am genuinely concerned she won't attend, and will harm herself again - and even succeed in taking her life.
I have tried CAB, Mind, no-one seems to know where we go from here. Please help.

LotusLight Fri 24-Apr-15 11:00:49

I am not a criminal lawyer. In general total obedience to courts and attending everything is vital to getting a better result. Is there a way a group of family members can pick her up and take her to every court date to make sure she definitely attends?

I suspect it is unlikely she will end up in prison but it would be good idea for someone from the family to give some kind of statement in support of her in writing or at the hearing if that is allowed who can explain without any emotion the very bare facts as she might find it hard to explain it herself.

If she is contacting someone in breach of an order would one route be for the family to remove her phone and internet access from her to stop it happening again?

PurpleShoes69 Fri 24-Apr-15 20:57:50

Thanks LotusLight.
That is the problem - she couldn't do 'total obedience'. Not couldn't be arsed/ deliberately being disrespectful. Couldn't due to her mental health issues. To clarify, she missed 2 court dates because she was terrified (she is diagnosed with anxiety among other things) but this was some time ago. She then missed a recent one because she had overdosed. She has otherwise attended, and has complied otherwise, complied with bail conditions, no other offences.
Other family members are, in various ways, of little use and/ or are not in contact with her. Most are dysfunctional (which is why she is the way she is, but that's another thread).
I will be attending court, am meeting her there.
I'm just worried that before then I will wake up to a call from the police or hospital sad

Apparently no-one is allowed to actually go into the court, let alone speak on her behalf. Nor will magistrates be interested in any written statements. (DH is a somewhat relevant professional and did offer, but we were basically told don't bother, it will just be seen as biased). Yes exactly, she won't be able to explain herself well.
I've made sure her solicitors know the circumstances (as has DRelative, in her own way hmm)
Nothing more anyone can do. As I said, it's down to the magistrates.

DRel hasn't contacted her exbf for over a year, before that she did breach the restraining order, resulting in probation. The other person was just one (allegedly 'threatening') nasty letter to a seemingly random person who she was delusionally convinced was out to get her - I'm not happy with the way the police dealt with that matter tbh. She can be challenging but really wouldn't hurt anyone. She is now so convinced she's evil sad I'm not saying there should be no consequences for her actions but this all seems so harsh. She is actually very vulnerable. I feel so powerless to help.

Right, it's Friday night and I need wine

PurpleShoes69 Sat 25-Apr-15 19:00:43


PolterGoose Sat 25-Apr-15 19:13:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

PurpleShoes69 Sat 25-Apr-15 22:16:43

Thank you for the support PolterGoose.
Yes, probation have communicated with the CMHT. I think the magistrates wanted information specifically related to the offences - how her mental health was involved iyswim.
Yes, it is very encouraging that probation are recommending a CD, so hopefully the magistrates will go with that.
You're right, she will feel better once this is over. I have tried to tell her this.
I am trying to help her get through this weekend, invited her over but she's declined. Maybe as well as H, while meaning well and attempting to empathise, only fuels her feeling that everyone is out to get her hmm
She needs help sad I know she is hoarding pills, told CMHT, who told me they know and told her to take them to a pharmacy for disposal angry I tried to explain she may be a risk to herself right now, crisis team weren't interested. I sort of wish she could be held securely until this is over with, to ensure she's safe.
I just wish it hadn't come to this.

PurpleShoes69 Sun 26-Apr-15 19:19:23

I am so at a loss.
I am getting really concerned as I texted her this morning to ask how she's doing, again this afternoon, tried to call, still no reply.
I'd go round but I don't live all that nearby, and don't drive. (DH does but is away). Public transport is useless, probably engineering works.
Otoh she might just want to hide, I may be coming across as intrusive and hassling.
But I couldn't forgive myself if she has done something.
I can't call the police for obvious reasons.
I am so at a loss.
I am getting really concerned as I texted her this morning to ask how she's doing, again this afternoon, tried to call, still no reply.
I'd go round but I don't live all that nearby, and don't drive. (DH does but is away). Public transport is useless, probably engineering works.
Otoh she might just want to hide, I may be coming across as intrusive and hassling.
But I couldn't forgive myself if she has done something.
I can't call the police for obvious reasons.
confused sad

PolterGoose Sun 26-Apr-15 19:28:43

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

PurpleShoes69 Sun 26-Apr-15 20:06:39

Oh thank you, I hadn't thought of that flowers
Just Googled - there is a number for mental health and they will 'consider' urgent Mental Health Act assessment. I doubt any such thing will happen, or anything at all to help, but am off to try it now.

PurpleShoes69 Sun 26-Apr-15 23:20:14

Spoke to them - useless.
Won't do anything as she's under CMHT so 'if they had concerns they'd have acted'.
Told me to call police to do welfare check despite my explaining she's terrified of them. Couldn't suggest anything else.
sad angry

PolterGoose Mon 27-Apr-15 06:21:25

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

jalapenos Mon 27-Apr-15 21:57:16

If I've followed the ins and outs of the history, she's back before the court for a new malicious communications offence and for a breach of a community sentence that arose originally from a breach of a restraining order. Both of these were first listed in August 2014 and there have been several adjournments since then. She has missed some of those dates.

For the new offence, it's impossible to say what the sentencing range is without knowing exactly what she did. Normally a community order breach will be marked by making the order more onerous - e.g. more hours of unpaid work or a longer period of supervision - or by revoking the original sentence and starting again.

If probation are recommending a conditional discharge, then it sounds very much as if they've concluded that there are no community sentences with which she can comply and they're asking for a re-sentencing exercise. This puts the court in a very difficult position; the breach of a restraining order was obviously serious enough that a community sentence was felt appropriate and dropping it to a CD might seem disproportionate - again, without knowing the details of the original offence and the extent to which she has complied with probation, it's impossible to say. There's a new offence of a fairly similar nature, presumably committed during the period of the community order. If she was on bail for the new offences, there may also be Bail Act offences that haven't yet been put to her; that will depend upon whether she has acceptable reasons for her absences. In the ordinary course of events, I think most benches would be giving custody serious consideration.

However, there's clearly some doubt over her mental health and the court has tried to get evidence as to this. She did not immediately consent to the report being written and now has a date for a new psychiatric assessment but after the date of the next hearing. In my view, much will depend on whether the bench thinks she has cooperated sufficiently with the report.

Probably her best option is to get a GP's certificate for the next hearing that specifically states that she "is not fit to attend court", assuming that's the case. Magistrates will rarely argue with a medical opinion and that will probably buy some time. Without a sicknote, I'd have no hesitation in ordering an arrest warrant - and would probably have done so well before now - unless there was clear evidence as to her mental state and previous suicide attempts.

PurpleShoes69 Mon 27-Apr-15 23:37:43

Thanks Polter. Sorry I took so long to reply - have been frantic. Finally spoke to her today. She's alive and in possession of all limbs, but struggling badly. Was very apologetic for the worry and says she had no idea, she was just too depressed to reply but was going to do so eventually. I persuaded her out of her pit to meet up somewhere between our locations today which she did, she's genuinely so down and anxious...did my best to reassure her. I'm drained. Turned off phone, bath time now.

PurpleShoes69 Mon 27-Apr-15 23:59:09

Hi jalapenos.
Yy you understand correctly (more or less), I know it was a long and complex post.
Are you a magistrate? You'd really be considering custody? sad I am very concerned about that but needed to know, so thanks for being honest.
Her solicitors have told us custody is vanishingly unlikely...?
Yes, I don't think she's fit to attend court. I doubt we'd get a GP appointment in time. I've asked her CMHT if she would be considered fit to attend court but they're not interested.
The newer malicious comms offence was actually just before she began seeing probation.
She hasn't reoffended and it's now a year or so since the last offence, does that help her case?
She didn't refuse for the psychiatric report to be done, just asked if it could be done by someone else, CMHT said no, she then complied. CMHT then turned round and said they wouldn't complete a report. I'm dubious as to whether this is ethical, given she had already complained about him, as is H. I don't think it's a case of her being unco-operative.
The court are perfectly aware she has mental health issues but I don't know what exactly has been said. It's difficult without an official report.
I AM going to have that bath, and try not to worry hmm

PolterGoose Tue 28-Apr-15 06:21:26

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

jalapenos Tue 28-Apr-15 10:18:50

I'm glad to hear you've made contact with her.

Yes, I am a JP. I'll try to explain why custody would be a consideration.

The court will not know, or be particularly interested in, the details of the original harassment offence. Regardless of his behaviour, her ex is the victim and the sentencing court felt strongly enough to make a restraining order to protect him. She then breached this order several times and received a community sentence. She hasn't complied with this sentence and has a further offence to be considered.

It appears that the court is now being asked to revoke the original sentence and re-sentence her for the breach of the restraining order and for the communications offence. It seems that probation can do nothing with her, but the original offence was evidently considered serious enough for a community order. You don't give full details of the new offence, but anything more than a single phone call that had no effect on the recipient is likely to be in community sentencing territory.

We end up with two offences that might merit community orders, but a defendant with whom probation appear unable to work. The magistrates can either go down the scale to a fine or a discharge, or they can look at the offending in total and go up the scale to custody. A lot will depend upon how much of her sentence she did comply with and how her attempts to get a psychiatric report are presented to the court.

I agree that it is unlikely that she would go directly to custody, but from what you've told me I would probably be looking at either a curfew or a suspended sentence. Other community sentences are unworkable - a curfew may well be ruled out too - and a discharge is too far removed from the guidelines.

PurpleShoes69 Wed 29-Apr-15 09:20:38

Thanks both. Exactly Polter, this needs to be over with so she can recover.
That is a bit less scary jalapenos. I can see why a suspended sentence might be an option. A curfew would not be an issue, she doesn't really go out much. But equally wouldn't achieve anything for that reason.
We'll see.

PurpleShoes69 Wed 29-Apr-15 13:07:12

Today's the day.
I'm at court. She's not here. She'd better be soon - confused was told 1pm for meeting with solicitors before afternoon court session.

PurpleShoes69 Wed 29-Apr-15 13:33:23

Still not angry

PurpleShoes69 Wed 29-Apr-15 13:43:46

Nothing. Tried calling, no answer.
Very worried.

Unexpected Wed 29-Apr-15 14:10:12

Doesn't sound good. Can you not leave and go to pick her up?

PurpleShoes69 Wed 29-Apr-15 15:44:07

Brief update - silly girl has overdosed sad confused [. In hospital - will need tests but should be OK.

PolterGoose Wed 29-Apr-15 16:01:30

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

threegoingonthirty Wed 29-Apr-15 17:02:51

To pick up on a previous comment, please don't waste your time asking the GP ti write a letter stating that she is unfit to attend court, any GP with an ounce of common sense will refuse. GPs have ended up on contempt if court charges for doing this. They can of course provide a factual letter regarding her MH diagnoses, it needs to be formally requested by the solicitoe and there will be a fee.

jalapenos Wed 29-Apr-15 18:57:02

At a risk of going off on a tangent, I strongly disagree with the comment above. Whatever the GP writes, they're providing evidence and opening up the possibility of being called as a witness. There is nothing wrong with them expressing an opinion as to her ability to appear, as long as that opinion is honestly held.

Without the magic words "unfit to attend court", a GP's letter is generally unacceptable, unless the diagnosis obviously makes attendance impossible.

If a GP refuses to provide such a certificate for someone who needs one, then the most likely outcome is that their patient will be arrested and held in custody until the next available hearing. Nobody wants that for someone who is genuinely unfit to attend.

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