Sunday, 5 May 2013

Brian Coleman: the end of the line - a trial in Metroland


*Updated 7th May, with an open letter to Tory leader Richard Cornelius - see below

Uxbridge might have seemed an odd choice of location for the trial of Brian Coleman. 

Miles from Barnet, difficult to get to ... no, that in fact seems to be why it was chosen: his reputation is such that a local trial, without prejudice, might be impossible, and it may have been thought that holding it in such a place would deter people from attending. 

In fact, at the original hearing,  it was reported that he appeared to be shocked to find so many local residents had made the effort to come, and the trial itself was of course attended by dozens of people keen to watch or report the proceedings - from Broken Barnet, of course, but also from much further afield. 

Mrs Angry and the Barnet Bugle arrived at Uxbridge via the underground, or rather the overground section of the Metropolitan Line. Ah, mused Mrs Angry, as we passed though the suburban sprawl of Middlesex, gleaming in the spring sunshine, some late blossom only just breaking on the cherry trees: Metroland ... 

Suddenly the venue for Coleman's trial seemed rather fitting - in so many ways a character out of time, old before his time, living in another age of faded, mothballed municipal glory, a world of  petty bourgeois respectability, an  age of deference and tea shops, vicars' daughters and bicycles, golf clubs and whist drives, a world that never really existed, except in the aspirations of the lower middle classes  ...

Gaily into Ruislip Gardens
Runs the red electric train,
With a thousand Ta’s and Pardon’s
Daintily alights Elaine

But what dark deeds lie under the carapace of respectability covering such apparent suburban idyll, readers?

Uxbridge is on the outer edges of Metroland, the end of the line. Famous for nothing much, except as the birthplace of Christine Keeler, whose dalliance with Profumo at nearby Cliveden caused the downfall of Harold MacMillan's government, and oh yes, as Mrs Angry discovered, the old Magistrate's Court had been the place where a certain Mr Christie, of 10 Rillington Place, had twice appeared on trial for various motoring offences, before the commencement of his killing spree in Notting Hill. 

At the new magistrate's court yesterday, another trial was listed: Councillor Brian Coleman faced two charges, one of common assault by beating of Finchley cafe owner Helen Michael, and another allegation of a motoring offence relating to the same incident . He had previously appeared in the same court to deny both charges.
Mrs Angry and the Barnet Bugle turned up just as the court opened, first to arrive other than a group of cameramen and photographers waiting to catch Councillor Coleman's appearance.

We gave our details, and were given details of the case, Judge Deborah Wright, counsel for the prosecution Manjit Mahal, for the defence, Neville Rudston. 

Coleman arrives at Uxbridge Magistrates' Court with his solicitor

Brian Coleman turned the corner to the court room, saw Mrs Angry sitting waiting there, right next to the door, and appeared rather annoyed to see her, which was most amusing. 

He swept by, muttering something unintelligible, into an interview room with his legal representatives.

In court, a retinue of Barnet bloggers, and reporters from the local and national press sat in the designated seats, which were very few. In the High Court, in both cases recently attended by Mrs Angry, after sending in a card and asking permission there was no problem about sitting in court, or tweeting, or indeed in the facilities for the public. In this small town court, it was very different: Mrs Angry left the well of the court twice, once voluntarily when a young local reporter, turning up late, had a tantrum and wanted her seat, second time after Brian Coleman, via his counsel,  made the usher publicly eject her: on asking why, he said there had been 'a complaint'. 

From whom, demanded Mrs Angry, across the court ... ? The usher pointed at Coleman's solicitor. Mrs Angry laughed. Typical Coleman, more worried about the proximity of his old adversary, than the fact he was about to stand in the dock accused of beating a woman in the street.

The public gallery was sealed off from the court by a glass screen, giving the impression of a large number of badly organised and rather eccentric mafiosi sent to trial for money laundering, or perhaps, bearing in mind we were in Uxbridge, circa 1932,  failing to return some slightly overdue library books. 

There was no amplified sound, and little care given to the need to make the proceedings accessible, or audible. Justice, in Uxbridge, may be seen to be done, but not heard.

For Mrs Angry, who has imperfect hearing, it was something of an ordeal, but did not entirely detract from the degree of satisfaction felt at sitting behind Brian Coleman in the dock, and noting the whole of the wooden edifice which contained him, in his moment of shame, was almost completely covered in a display of scratched and semi-literate graffiti, mostly initials, but rather stupidly, in some cases, full names and dates, left by previous defendants: NEV ... DALE ... T.B. ... 

Mrs Angry checked as we left the room later that day: there appeared to be no BC 3/05/2013. But above the judge, the court's emblem loomed large, and reminded us of the principles of British justice: Honi Soit, Qui Mal Y Pense, and Dieu et Mon Droit. The hearing began.

Coleman stood in the dock and gave his name and date of birth. He declined, however, to give his address. The reasons for this were not given in any detail. Mrs Angry imagined that he was worried about queues of admiring residents wishing to call round and visit him with bouquets of flowers, boxes of chocolates, and fulsome expressions of grateful thanks for all his stirling efforts on their behalf, over the years. 

The judge was not impressed by the defendant's wish to guard his privacy however, and ordered him to give the details - in Essex Park, Finchley, where, despite his formerly handsomely paid posts paid for by the public purse - his income was around £130,000 per year - he has lived for many years in a charity owned flat, at a fixed rate rent.

There were some long and mysterious adjournments before the case began properly, during the course of which it became apparent that some discussions were taking place between both the defendant's and the complainant's team. The result was that at the last moment, Coleman decided to change his plea to guilty on the the charge of common assault by beating, and the motoring charge was dropped. 

It was a highly significant admission, of course.

The website for Coleman's barrister, Neville Rudston, informs us:

"He is an experienced criminal barrister who has represented clients in matters including murder, rape and other serious sexual offences, kidnap, assault occasioning grievous bodily harm with intent, armed robbery, serious fraud and the commercial supply of class A drugs".

It also says: 

"He has appeared in matters in the Court of Appeal and the High Court and has successfully availed clients of a wide variety of defences including duress, necessity and abuse of process, often in the face of apparently overwhelming evidence ..."

Interesting, in this context, perhaps, that our Councillor Coleman was encouraged by the same counsel to plead guilty to the charge of assault. But guilty is what he stated himself to be, in the dock of Uxbridge Magistrates' Court.

After the plea, we were told the facts of the case: that he had parked illegally in a loading bay in the high street in North Finchley - an area where even today, a disproportionate number of traffic wardens prowl looking for hapless residents who have tried to visit their local shops and may have made some error in paying for the privilege of parking. 

There is the largest contingency of traffic wardens in the borough here, concentrated for some reason particularly outside Cafe Buzz, run by anti parking policy campaigner Helen Michael.
And for some reason, on the 20th September, Brian Coleman decided to ignore the parking restrictions in North Finchley, which apply to everyone but him, and to park where he wanted, in a loading bay outside the HSBC bank while he visited the cash machine, just along the road. Why this bank, next door to Cafe Buzz, rather than any other bank in Broken Barnet, we do not know.

He was visiting the bank, he claimed, because a young man named Tom had been doing some 'odd jobs' for him, and Tom needed paying in cash.

Helen Michael, the owner of Cafe Buzz,  had appeared with her phone, and proceeded to film or photograph him. He had grabbed her arm and her breast, in order to prevent her from doing so, and returned to his car. He had eventually reported voluntarily to Barnet Police Station, an hour after the incident, and the next day, under questioning, had been shown stills of the CCTV which had recorded the incident, which clearly showed Coleman lunging towards Ms Michael. 

Coleman had kept changing his version of events, and when asked about how the injuries to her wrist and the scratches she had had been sustained, could not explain it. An officer had pointed out that Councillor Coleman had long nails. He denied any allegations but today had changed his plea. The prosecution wanted costs, compensation, and a discussion over a potential restraining order.

Coleman referred to 'a campaign of harrassment' and his counsel pointed out that he was of 'previous good character' - the incident had happened in a moment of 'anguish', following 'a lengthy campaign'.  He had now studied the CCTV footage and could add very little. It had been 'a very fast moving event'. Your analysis, it was suggested, was as good as his.


The court now watched footage from the CCTV recording. 

Although seen from a distance, the film was compelling viewing. We all sat in silence, watching the figure of Brian Coleman approach the cash machine, Helen Michael come out of her cafe and film him from a distance, and then, the lunge he made at her, at some speed, and the prolonged tussle, or rather attack, which ensued. People in the public gallery gasped. Monster! yelled one woman. It was truly a shocking sight. 

Mrs Angry reflected on yet another curious example of the peculiar energy which runs through this part of Broken Barnet, along the suburban High Road that once led people to Finchley Common, a notorious area where ruthless highwaymen laid in wait and innocent travellers went in fear of their lives. Centuries later, this territory is still a place of danger, an interface of conflict, a gaping faultline where it all falls apart, sooner or later.

In mitigation, it was stated that Coleman was of previously good character. This was met with some derision from the public gallery. He had devoted his life, we were told, to public service. You can imagine the reaction to that.

'Do I gather', asked the judge drily, 'that the people in the public gallery are not supporters?'

There was, as you might expect, a certain amount of enthusiastic response to that suggestion.

Coleman's counsel continued his attempt at mitigation. The incident had taken place on 'a street where he knows he is hated'. There had been a campaign directed at him: some of done 'very very improperly'. Mrs Angry dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, deeply moved.

Mention was made of all Coleman's former positions on the GLA, fire authority, etc etc. He looked on from the dock, bristling with self importance, not realising that it appeared all the more awful that someone who had been entrusted with such responsibilities had behaved in such a manner. In fact the most telling act of the day was this: he abruptly interrupted his own counsel to interject an ill timed reminder that he had forgotten to say he had been Mayor of Barnet. 

In Coleman's pathetic distortion of suburban values, rooted in a past that never was, with authority bestowed by a chain of office, and all the pantomime of municipal ceremony, this achievement above all else is the one whose memory he treasures, representing something to him we can only guess at: a vindication, a mark of status in his home territory: an acceptance by an establishment only he feels the need from which to demand endorsement. This world he lives in no longer exists, if it ever did, and travelling back into the heart of Metroland to find justice proved to be a fool's errand.

Apart from trying to blame his violent assault on a campaign directed on him, Coleman tried once more to claim that his octogenarian mother had as a result been the victim of an unspecified assault as a result: this claim is one he has trotted out before, in different circumstances, in a defamatory post on his ludiocrous blog, in which he blamed local bloggers for 'bizarre activities' including an attack in the street on his then 88 year old mother. 

We were invited then to feel sorry for his misfortunes: losing his seat on the Assembly, being now on ' a very limited income', personal difficulties for which the complainant, ie Ms Michael, claimed the credit. 

Mrs Angry was again moved to tears, especially when we were asked to imagine the anguish felt by the defendant, after months of stress, which had driven him to act 'instinctively' in his attack, and now, we were told, many people were going to go away and celebrate his moment of shame - not something most people have to bear. Oh dear, thought Mrs Angry, suddenly overcome with remorse. 

Alright, no: not so much remorse, in fact, as the knowledge of justice done, immense satisfaction,  a feeling of righteousness, and a sense of triumph, the triumph of virtue, at last, here in Broken Barnet.

Judge Wright gave her summing up. It was fair, balanced, and well measured. She stated that in her view, the motive for Coleman's assault was 'to avoid the embarrassment of the publicity of his visit and the parking arrangements he made that day'. As a result of the attack, 'Ms Michael sustained a number of injuries, including scratches to her hands and wrist, soreness to the wrist, her shoulder and in the region of her chest'.

Coleman was fined a total of around £1400, including costs, and compensation to Helen Michael. His counsel asked for 28 days in which the sum should be paid. Coleman was said to earn only around £200 a week, the basis for his fine.

As we left the court, Coleman rushed out, and a member of the public yelled something about his now being a convicted criminal. Helen stood and took questions from the media. She said she was delighted that justice had been served, that Coleman's career was effectively finished, and that 'he had picked on the wrong woman this time'. 

Smiles all round: Helen Michael speaks to BBC London

The experience leading up to the trial had been, she commented ruefully, 'an interesting journey'. She thought that his lying and bullying behaviour meant he was not fit for public office, and that he had 'a problem with women', that people had come to the court that day because they felt he had abused them too.

Outside the court, reporters and cameras crews were waiting for Helen to emerge. She gave interviews to the BBC and ITN, and was her usual articulate, intelligent, courageous self, as you can see from the footage above - which includes a contribution outside court from a woman also known as Mrs Angry. 

Mrs Angry's alter ego, Theresa Musgrove, interviewed by ITN

Immediately after the incident had happened last September, Mrs Angry went to see Helen. She was sitting in her cafe, clearly suffering the after effects of shock: pale, shaking, and simply stunned by what had happened, as indeed were we all. On her arm the marks of her attack were clearly visible.  

Helen Michael is a small woman, of very slight build, and no match for the brute force of a man intent on assaulting her: physically, that is. But she was determined to see Coleman brought to justice, and the police response was instant, and highly supportive. While we were at the cafe news came that he had been arrested, and then detained in a police station: he spent that night in the cells, the thought of which brought no little satisfaction to many of us here, in Broken Barnet.

The months leading up to this trial have put Helen under an almost intolerable burden of stress and anxiety. Apart from struggling to keep her business afloat in the aftermath of Brian Coleman's disastrous parking policy in action, she has been the victim of an horrendous assault, been subjected to a lengthy process leading up to the prosecution, and then an appearance in court. Her powers of endurance, and determination to see justice done, have been outstanding: she is truly a remarkable woman: bright, positive, hard working, full of energy - and very funny. She is also extremely brave.

Throughout this period she has also had to come to terms with the serious illness of her mother, who is now gravely ill, and indeed in the last week Helen has been spending much of her time at the local hospice where her mother is being cared for. She is donating the compensation awarded by the judge from Coleman to the Marie Curie Nurses Fund.

After the assault of Helen Michael took place, Coleman's fellow Tories in Barnet closed ranks, and refused to condemn his actions. Leader Richard Cornelius stood by him, saying he liked Brian, and anyway he was innocent until proven guilty, and that to comment further might prejudice his trial. Quite incredibly, the local Conservative Association did not suspend Coleman, and it was left to the intervention and insistence of the central party to force such a move.

Before the trial, it was clear that misinformation was being spread about the incident. Barnet Tory councillors believed that Ms Michael had in some way set up the assault, that Coleman was the victim of a conspiracy: a story in the Evening Standard here included a suggestion from 'friends of Coleman' that Helen had left him 'scratched and bleeding'. 

Even as late as the morning of the trial, a local reporter told Mrs Angry, shrugging, that Coleman would get off, that he had been told the incident was 'six of one, half a dozen of the other'. That all this was a complete lie was clearly demonstrated in court when the footage of the attack was shown.

What happened was that a woman was attacked and beaten in the street, in full view of witnesses, and a CCTV camera, by a man raging with fury that anyone would dare to hold him to account for his hypocrisy in flouting the injust rules which he had imposed on others.  

Since the conviction, no Tory councillor has commented on the matter. 

Barnet Council has stated there is no need for comment as  Coleman was not on council business when the assault took place.

The silence from both local Conservatives and the local authority is simply indefensible.

A proven act of violence against a woman is being ignored, and dismissed as of no consequence. 

Such an act by any man against a woman is always unacceptable, but when it is made by an elected representative of the community, one who boasts of his long record in public office, and indeed is still here, in this community, a councillor and actively involved in various local bodies, this is even more abhorrant. 

A councillor's behaviour when not on council business most certainly is a matter for the local authority and for the local Tory party to which he belonged, particularly in these shameful circumstances. 

To say otherwise sends a clear message that an assault of this nature is trivial, and that the violent abuse of women is of no consequence - this is clearly utterly unacceptable.

There is a deep rooted misogyny within the heart of Barnet Tories: the party here is dominated, as we have often commented, by a culture that is exclusive of women, marked by an absence of female councillors other than those who are dutiful wives of other councillors, or unthreatening in their submission to the culture of bullying which permeates their group. 

Remember the night in 2010, when Councillor Kate Salinger, the only Tory who dared abstain from supporting the vote for an enormous rise in their allowances, was forced to watch as her colleagues, instructed by the whip Brian Coleman, immediately and publicly remove her, one by one, from every council post she held? Afterwards, Coleman commented smugly to the press as she left the town hall in tears: that's discipline for you.

Remember the other night in the Town Hall, where Brian Coleman, in a speech ranting in support of the One Barnet programme, which weeks later he admitted was a total disaster, abused women in the public gallery, including Mrs Angry, calling them 'sad, mad, and a couple of old hags'? His Tory colleagues laughed, and the Mayor refused to force him to apologise. 

The fear and loathing of women felt by Coleman and his colleagues is a demonstration of their own personal inadequacies, and aggravated by one unpalatable truth: the most effective opposition to their reign of tyranny and incompetence has been instigated and galvanised by women. We have been their undoing: not by any other means other than outwitting them, and holding up a mirror to their ugly, threatening faces. The mirror has cracked, from side to side, and Broken Barnet lies in pieces.

Brian Coleman is the true face, the animus of the Tory party in Barnet, and his repellant behaviour is the nothing less than the active representation of their collective psyche. 

Coleman has disgraced himself, his office, and his party. 

He has been exposed as a liar, and a bully, and he has no place in politics, or public life. But he is the past, and now we look to the future, and to the battle to cleanse this borough of the Tory administration which made him, supported him, and continues to support his policies and his attitudes: continues to demonstrate nothing but contempt for the people who elected them, and an absolute refusal to listen to their views, or to engage in the democratic process.

The assault of Helen Michael: the grotesque struggle and assault which took place is an apt analogy of the struggle between the will of the people of this borough and the Tory administration which seeks to keep us in check.

We will not be kept in check, and we will fight back, and we are fighting back, through the processes of justice, until we regain our freedom, and control over our own future.

Updated: Monday 7th May

An open letter to Richard Cornelius, Conservative leader of Barnet Council.

On Friday 3 May Councillor Brian Coleman pleaded guilty to the charge of common assault by beating of Helen Michael, in the High Road in North Finchley. Evidence from CCTV was shown in court and proved incontrovertibly that this incident was nothing less than an utterly indefensible act of aggression. It resulted from Councillor Coleman being caught parking in a loading bay, trying to evade the hugely controversial parking payment scheme he had imposed on residents in this borough.

Despite the fact that he has now been convicted of a criminal act of assault, Barnet Council has refused to comment, absurdly claiming that this is unnecessary as the attack did not take place while the Councillor was on council business.

Indeed local Tory members, including leader Richard Cornelius, openly continued to support their fellow member after he was charged, and were privately informing others that the story of the assault was false.Councillor Coleman was suspended from the party only after intervention from Conservative Central Office. Since the conviction, local Conservatives have issued no statement.

By his own actions Councillor Coleman has shown himself to be unfit for public office: such bullying behaviour, dishonesty and hypocrisy are not acceptable in an elected representative of the community. We demand therefore that he stand down from his seat in Totteridge, and that the Conservative Party expel him from membership.

We call on Richard Cornelius, as leader of Barnet Council, and on behalf of the Conservative Party in this borough, to apologise to Ms Michael, and to dissociate himself and his colleagues from this appalling incident. 
To remain silent is not an option: to remain silent is to condone an act of violence against a woman, and this was and must always be absolutely unacceptable.

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne


Anonymous said...

Two moments of the case which I think merit noting.

First, having kept the (female) district judge waiting in her own Court more than once, Coleman instructed the usher to continue with another case first. The firm response from Judge Deborah Wright was "No. I want Mr Coleman i my Court now."

Whether his intention was to show contempt for the Court and the woman who was presiding over his fate (which he certainly was) or whether he was trying to keep the news of his despicable behaviour off the lunchtime edition of the news, is a matter of speculation.

Secondly, it is unusual for a criminal who pleads guilty to offer no expression of remorse or apology. But apologies have never been Coleman's strong suit.

Mrs Angry said...

You are right: no apology has been made, or any indication of remorse. It was apt that the judge was female: once might suspect that this will not help Coleman to accept that justice was done, in his case. But it was, nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

What a nasty little cowardly bully. Bet he daren't attack a man like that ~ otherwise he would have got a pasting

Mrs Angry said...

Absolutely. And there are many arguments for and against CCTV, but in this case, justice would not have done so emphatically without the incontrovertible evidence it produced.

Tessa said...

What a bastard! Glad he's been exposed.

Well done Helen, and good on you Mrs A!

@pannusf10 said...

I could not quite believe Barnet Council's response. A current councillor, a former Mayor attacks a woman resident on a Barnet high road and they don't think this merits a comment, let alone condemnation! Astonishing.

Mrs Angry said...

Neither the council nor the local Tories have commented. They do not have the right to ignore this issue: to remain silent is to condone the act, in my view. It is another demonstration of the contempt that our Tory councillors have for women, and indeed for all residents.

MickeyN said...

Cornelius and cronies cannot have it both ways - if their silence is predicated on the maxim "innocent until proved guilty", then once a guilty verdict is returned they must speak up.

Also if BC is claiming he is on his uppers after many years of £100K+ salary and rent-controlled outgoings, then the conclusion is that he must be one of those wasteful, indolent, imprudent, spendaholics whom he so fond of criticising.

Morris Hickey said...

"....Tom....doing some odd jobs....needed paying in cash".

The mind boggles!

Mrs Angry said...

Indeed, Mr Hickey: Councillor Coleman lives in a flat, rented from a Methodist church charity. Surely the obligation of the church, as landlords, is to perform those jobs for their tenant? I for one would like to see this happen as part of a regular service, in this particular case.