Third in the Best Defence Series
‘In there.’ The custody sergeant jerked his head in the direction of an interview room. ‘And don’t be long, there’s a queue.’
Now that Scotland no longer lagged behind other bastions of human rights such as Russia, Spain and Turkey, an accused person had the right to see a lawyer before interview. It made police stations far busier places of an evening; especially a Friday evening.
‘When’s it happening?’ I asked.
‘About half an hour ago, that’s when,’ the sergeant replied. ‘Your client never wanted a lawyer, and is now officially huckled.’ He opened the door for me. ‘You’ve got ten minutes.’
Ten minutes was fine by me; I had other plans for the evening. I walked into the room and saw my new client had already been brought from his cell and was there waiting to see me.
Dr. Glen Beattie was young, gifted and hailed from the Black Isle. The latest addition to the local G.P surgery had arrived in our midst following the recent departure, feet first and in a box, of his predecessor: man of the people, hard-drinking, hard-smoking Dr Bill MacGregor, whose cold hands and warm heart had served the sick and ailing of Linlithgow for almost forty years.
The only time I’d ever had cause to consult the late Dr MacGregor in my adult life, was several years before when worried about a suspected irregular heart-beat. Doc Mac had given me the benefit of a thirty second examination, asked me what beat I expected my heart to drum if I continued in a stressful job, drank gallons of black coffee and ate junk food. Following which sage advice, he lit up a smoke, showed me out and nipped next door to the Red Corner Bar for a swift half.
With old Doc Mac buried along with his mistakes, I suspected that there were women of a certain age all over Linlithgow dreaming up ailments that required the immediate and intimate attention of his young, handsome replacement; however, that particular night, Dr Beattie’s sculpted features were pale and strained as he sat on a bolted-to-the-floor metal stool, shoulders hunched, elbows resting on an equally bolted-to-the-floor metal table. He brightened somewhat as I took a seat opposite and managed a strained smile. ‘Mr Munro?’
‘Dr Beattie, I don’t think we’ve ever actually met,’ I said as we shook hands.
‘Your father is a patient of mine. I’ve heard him speak of you.’
‘Dads; they love to boast about their children, don’t they?’
What there was of a smile wilted. ‘Yes... well... anyway...’ Beattie cleared his throat. ‘He happened to mention that you were a criminal lawyer. I’m new to all this and yours was the only name I could remember. I’m afraid I don’t even know your first name.’
He pointed to himself, ‘Glen.’
‘Well, Glen,’ I said, aware that time was marching on, ‘bring me up to date on what’s happened so far.’
He winced. ‘The whole thing’s mad. I’d just finished afternoon surgery today,’ he glanced down at the bare wrist where his watch would have been, ‘when Megan called to say that the police were at the house and wanted to speak to me.’
He clasped his hands at the back of his head and spoke to the ceiling. ‘Pornography.’
‘Child pornography?’ Stupid question. So far as the law was concerned there was only one kind. ‘And?’
‘I was still on the phone and next thing I knew there were two plain-clothed police officers in the waiting room. They’d come to seize my laptop. I asked them what was happening and they said that I should go home immediately - so I did.’
‘And I take it there were more cops waiting for you?’
‘Lots. They’ve taken away my PC, printer, digital camera, just about anything with a silicon chip in it. They brought me here and said they wanted to ask a few questions.’
‘And have they?’
‘Did they ask if you wanted a lawyer?’
‘Yes, but I didn’t think I needed a lawyer, I haven’t done anything wrong.’
I’d started to laugh before I realised he was being serious.
‘They only wanted to ask some routine questions,’ he said, defensively.
Newsflash: the police never ask routine questions; they’re busy people; sausage rolls and fudge doughnuts don’t eat themselves. Any questions asked would have been for one purpose and one purpose only; to extract incriminatory evidence from the suspect, whether he realised he was incriminating himself or not.
‘So you waited until after you’d been interviewed, arrested and told you were being kept in custody before deciding you wanted a lawyer?’ I tried to keep the note of annoyance out of my voice. The law is no different to medicine, the sooner you seek advice from an expert the better; however, it didn’t pay to be too critical of the paying clients, especially doctors; they were liable to take their Medical Defence Union hourly rate and go elsewhere. At the moment I was very much auditioning for the role of Dr Beattie’s lawyer. After all, I was only there because of a conversation he’d had with my dad.
‘I’ve never been in trouble before, not even a parking ticket. Can you get me out? Tonight?’
‘I’ll do my best,’ I said. ‘It’ll be up to the duty inspector, though. If he says no, that’ll be you until Monday. A lot depends on how much evidence they have. What did you tell them?’
When clients say nothing what they usually mean is not actually nothing as in an absence of words but, rather, things which in their non-legal opinion aren’t important.
‘There was nothing much I could tell them.’ Here we go, I thought. ‘I told them I didn’t know what they were talking about and that’s all.’
‘Did they show you computer equipment?’
‘And did you confirm to them that it was yours and that you had owned it from new?’
He nodded slowly and with a faintly quizzical expression as though I was embarking on some kind of parlour-trick, guessing game.
‘And they asked you and you told them that no-one else in the house used it?’
He nodded again even, slower this time, no doubt wondering how I knew this and where I was going.
‘And then they asked if it was password protected?’
‘And is it?’
‘Yes, but, who cares? I haven’t done anything wrong.’
So in one short interview, my new client had confirmed to the police that if there were indeed any indecent images of children on his PC, there was no-one to blame but himself. That’s called narrowing the field of investigation, eliminating other possible suspects. It’s also called aborting an impeachment defence; one of the few defences open in computer-porn cases. The correct answers to the questions would have been, no, I bought the PC second hand from a man wearing beer-bottle spectacles and a stained brown Mackintosh, people are always in and out my house using the internet and my password is ‘password’. An even better answer would have been, I’m saying nothing until my lawyer gets here.
‘What is the password?’ I asked, hoping it might indeed be password, something someone else could have guessed and used to gain access to download porn without my client’s knowledge.
‘La Boehme, my favourite opera.’
My favourite opera was Aida but only because I heard somewhere that it was the shortest.
‘Did I do something wrong?’
‘The police like to use a process of elimination to show that no-one else but you had the opportunity to download any images. Leaving you—’
‘Holding the baby?’
Well pictures of it anyway, I nearly said, but in times of falling prosecutions and the death by a thousand cuts of Legal Aid it didn’t pay to be flippant with the private clients. ‘You didn’t help your case, let’s put it that way.’
‘I told the truth.’
‘See what I mean?’ I took a notepad from my briefcase and jotted down some details. ‘Anyway, what’s done is done. When they examine all the equipment they’ve taken away, what do you think they’ll find?’
‘Do you mean will there be any child-porn?’
I let him work that out for himself. I could see he was becoming just a teeny-bit ratty now.
It seemed less impossible to me; otherwise why was the young doctor banged up in a police cell on a Friday night waiting to join the ranks of Monday afternoon’s custody cases?
A rattle of keys, the door opened and the custody sergeant poked his head into the room. ‘You going to be much longer?’
I stood up, walked to the door. ‘Is the Inspector around?’
‘I’m sure Detective Inspector Fleming will make himself available - seeing how it’s you Mr Munro.’
Dougie Fleming was the duty Inspector? Fleming and I had a long and acrimonious history. Our conversations were frequent, fraught and usually involved the disputed contents of his notebook, which, if ever published, would be found in the library under ‘F’ for fiction. I had a feeling that a long weekend on a hard mattress lay ahead for Dr Beattie.