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After describing his early years in journalism at the start of a 34-year career, the importance of experience in the job, and reporting the ‘calls’ to emergency services even during holiday periods, here our award-winning Editor, Phil Parry explains how the court system is reported.
Sometimes crime stories culminate in a court case which you must also report.
In fact Magistrates Court and Crown Court are a regular haunt of the reporter, where they appear every day on the ‘diary’ of events which should be covered.
They are up there along with politics as sources of news for all journalists.
In my early years in the 1980s as a cub reporter on The South Wales Echo, there were dedicated reporters for the ‘mags court’ in Cardiff, as well as for the Crown Court, although they aren’t there now.
But we were also sent along to help them out on big cases.
This was long before I presented the now-axed BBC Wales TV current affairs series Week In, Week Out, although knowledge of the law and the court system came in extremely handy then, too.
I often thought the ‘mags court’ would be a great place to stage a drama or even a sit-com because all human life is there.
You had to know what you could and couldn’t say – but it was different to the libel laws we were taught.
In courts the (usually young and male) individual would be surrounded by the family and solicitor.
He would be up for nicking cars, or on an ‘affray’ charge after a fight in the street when the pubs closed.
Usually he would be in his best suit, so you could always spot the accused a mile off.
After an initial hearing the more serious crimes were kicked upstairs where they would be heard in Crown Court (they are on different sites now), although the bog-standard cases were dealt with in ‘mags’.
But I came to question the value of throwing the book at some of these people.
A serious case which went to the Crown Court and I remember well, was of a father who was on child neglect charges.
He had left his children alone in the bath while he went to his usual club and had a drink
The children had managed to pull a hairdryer into the water and, appallingly, electrocuted themselves.
The man had done a terrible thing by leaving them in the bath to go for a pint and I would never have done it.
Yet he cut a terribly forlorn figure in the dock.
He had lost his two children through his own awful mistake, and here he was on charges in court.
There is an argument, which I respect, that he needed to be punished by the state and held up as an example of something which should never be done.
But there is also an argument that justice is not served by punishing someone who has done a devastating thing, and is grieving for his two dead children after it.
Yet of course, I dutifully wrote the copy that he was a ‘monster’ who had killed his children and was in court.
Even as I filed my report to the ‘copy taker’ I wondered.
I was 22 at the time, and you come across a lot of awful things like this.
I remember covering a succession of child abuse cases, and all of these had the ‘monster’ treatment too – rightly.
Even I was starting to feel a little sick by the end of the third one.
But you had to toughen up quickly, as a young reporter, and “get your knees brown” as my old News Editor used to say!
On Monday, Phil gives more details of how he had to ‘toughen up’ and got his ‘knees brown’!