A Yearful of London Week 1: Free, live courtroom drama at the Old Bailey
A Yearful of London
Following an impressive completion (if I do say so myself) of a 2015 new year's resolution - to read 52 books in a year - I thought hard about setting my 2016 challenge.
Though I love reading, I wanted a 2016 resolution that got me out doing things with people rather than sitting on my own. Having launched Secret London Runs last year, I wanted to set a goal that helped me explore London even more and gave me ideas for more running tours and events.
It was decided: A Yearful of London.
Every week I'm going to do an activity that can only be done in London. It's easy to live and work in London and get caught up in day-to-day life and forget that there are fascinating places on every street. Now I'll have the urgency every week to do something different. No more excuses...
Week 1: A Trip to the Old Bailey
Date of visit: Thursday 7th January
I've worked a 2 minute walk from the Old Bailey for the last (gulp) 6 years. Despite knowing that the public are permitted to watch the trials for free, I'd never been to check it out.
Courtroom dramas like Silk make up some of my favourite TV. But I'd never planned a trip to the court nearby - the court that trials the major criminal cases in London.
Not anymore... with my Yearful of London challenge in mind my colleague Jess and I made our way to the Old Bailey to watch...well....anything that we could...
During the strict security checks we watched a man with a big aubern beard rush past. One of the security guards asked him if he needed his lawyer, but he told them he was defending himself.
It turned out to be Islam convert, Ibrahim Anderson, whose story has been covered in all major newspapers, including the Guardian and the Evening Standard. He was being charged under the Terrorism Act for drumming up support for a banned organisation outside Topshop on Oxford Street.
But we didn't go to his trial. We were asked repeatedly which courtroom we wanted to go to, but had no idea what was on, which seemed to confuse the guards. Eventually we got up to courtrooms 5 to 8: the guard had told us that our choice was sexual assault, terrorism or drugs.
As it happened, we didn't get much choice. On a lunch-breaked time limit we just went to the first case that resumed in the afternoon which was sexual assault.
For half an hour (you have to stay for that long) we watched the prosecution interview one of their witnesses. The witness was protected so we never saw her face. It turned out that the CEO of an organisation in Heron Towers was being tried for sexual assault of his employee.
The witness was very quiet and had poor enunciation which meant that her lawyer had to ask her to speak up a number of times and repeated everything she said. We only really heard about the build-up to the alleged attack and had to leave shortly after we'd heard about a kiss in the ladies toilets.
I don't think it's fair to give my opinion on the case because I was there for so little of it. And it must have been very difficult for everyone involved. What I can say is that never before have I found the contents of a what'sapp conversation so interesting, or the events of somebody else's workwork drinks so intriguing.
On coming out of the trial I found the case that we'd been to was Anthony Constantinou, son of fashion tycoon Aristos Constantinou. According to the Evening Standard, he was accused of sexual assault on 3 of his employees and was pleading not guilty.
The next time I go to the Old Bailey I'll be doing a bit of research about what trials are on so I can choose one and will go for a full morning or afternoon. But I'll definitely be going back!
Visiting the Old Bailey
Opening times: Monday to Friday, 9.55am to 12.40pm and 1.55pm to 3.40pm
Cost: Free Bags and Stuff: Don't bring them. Don't even bring a phone or they won't let you in. No food Length of visit: You have to stay for at least 30 minutes once you're in a trial. But I could have spent all afternoon there.
Nearest tubes: St Paul's, Blackfriars, Farringdon, City Thameslink