Who murdered who? Just another day at the Old Bailey.

Given my undergraduate degree was in Criminology and I’m currently doing an MA in Broadcast Journalism, it was little surprise that a trip to the Old Bailey last Monday would be of great interest to me.

Myself and some of my fellow students sat in for an hour on the case of Geeta Aulakh – who was a victim of a violent machete attack that left her dead on a street in Greenford in broad daylight.

The Old Bailey in Central London, home of the most famous court in England.

Sitting in the public gallery, barely a metre away from family members of a murder victim is a sobering experience. Essentially I was there for practice for a qualification, perhaps for want of a better word, for entertainment, yet the people in front of me, stricken with grief – these were probably the most horrifying days of their lives. It all felt very real very quickly despite feeling like I was on set for a BBC drama.

That hour in court was dominated by the explanation from the prosecuting QC of the phone records from the days and weeks preceding the day of the murder which was unsurprisingly of little interest, but in the final minutes I spent in court, the QC moved on to the day of the murder and it all got far more interesting – seeing a replica of the machete used in the murder a particularly memorable and slightly chilling moment.

A meeting had been arranged for us with Guy Toyn, owner of a website Court News and someone who has been covering court news for 20 years. Toyn said he enjoyed court reporting as everything is ‘laid bare’, where as at the scene of a crime, police will tell you very little, at court they’re only too happy to speak and it’s only in court where all the details are revealed in full.

Toyn was clearly passionate about his job. He said that the atmosphere when a jury returns to deliver their verdict for a murder case creates an atmosphere that is not matched in any other area of journalism. Working in the Old Bailey he said had a certain attraction due to the history of the building and the high profile cases that come to the courts.

Toyn was forthright of his views on the people who work inside the Old Bailey, with lawyers and barristers coming in for particular criticism. Toyn suggested that “10% of lawyers are quite nice”, whilst some younger barristers “believe their shit smells of chanel no.5.” The overall image offered by Toyn was that today journalists are comfortably the least respected people in the Old Bailey and that the legal professionals viewed them with disdain and would be usually prove unhelpful when faced with a journalist. This was seemingly behind his pleasure when he manages to correct what he calls the ignorance of lawyers who attempt to get injunctions when they have no right to – an activity he proudly called, ‘sticking it to the man’.

Toyn offered many tips on court reporting but was careful to reinforce the importance of not falling in contempt of court. The most important thing to remember he said, was that you are the jury and you can write about anything the jury heard or saw.

Overall, it was an incredibly insightful day at the Old Bailey and whilst I don’t think I’ll become the 65 year old gentleman who Toyn told us turns up every day without fail just to sit in the public gallery and watch – I’m sure it won’t be too long before I return.

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