CASS+ supports many brave people, but Mary* has faced some real challenges. Everything had come to a head by the time she walked through the door and she desperately needed help. The reasons for a crisis at court are always complex. Mary was no exception. This is her story:
I lost my Mum when I was two and was brought up by my father who struggled with alcoholism. I came to Devon to escape domestic violence, but was tracked down by the perpetrator and, basically, faced mental torture for 30 years.
One day, I found myself crying in a park and a kind gentleman offered to help. We became more than just friends – he turned out to be my rock. I settled into his flat, but he started to get pains, unable to work. As we were in the middle of COVID, he relied entirely on me. I cared for him for about two years, but I lost him to cancer in the middle of lockdown and the grief was overwhelming – I felt so alone.
Unfortunately, more worries came my way
I joined a neighbour for Bingo. I had been drinking at her house because I was in so much pain with my teeth. Dosed up with antibiotics and drink is not good – I felt very tipsy by the time we got to the Bingo. I remember suddenly leaving. On my way home, a gang asked me for a cigarette and when I refused, they called me names. Feeling intimidated, I went home, picked up something from my garden and returned threatening them with this weapon. I really didn’t know what I was doing.
I then went home, but suddenly there were six police officers in the house. They arrested me, but I couldn’t understand what for. I was in a cell all night. I was so confused. They showed me a video of what happened and I was really shocked – I couldn’t believe it.
I was put on bail and eventually received a letter charging me with threatening someone with a weapon and assault by beating. This is when I met the CASS+ team – inside the Magistrates’ Court. I don’t know where I’d be without them by my side. I was accused of assault. I admitted to having a weapon, but not the rest because in the video, it looked like they were enjoying mocking me rather than me assaulting them. It was traumatic watching this film because they were actually threatening me with a bottle and pushing me around. I felt so vulnerable, but Henri passed me hankies throughout the trial, and helped me do breathing exercises to stay calm. None of this was made any easier by the constant worry that I had been threatened with eviction and rent increases. Again, CASS+ was able to make sure that I was on a housing list and that my landlord fulfilled his legal obligations.
The four weeks after adjournment were very stressful. I really thought I would go to prison, but Henri checked in twice a week and this gave me confidence. I spent most of our calls crying. On my doctor’s advice, I had called an alcoholic helpline and this has helped a lot. Henri spoke to probation and explained that I could be re-habilitated.
I cried with relief when Henri said that she would attend the Crown Court hearing with me. I was in such a state by the time we arrived. It was packed. I was shaking and sobbing. I already knew that I was going to lose my flat and become homeless, so this, on top of the worry about my two little pets, was causing terrible anxiety.
The judge had seen the video in his chambers. The prosecution tried to ask for a category A1 sentence but the judge, having heard all the evidence, decided it was an A2. I was given a 15-month custodial sentence, reduced to 10 months due to the guilty plea, suspended for one year. I was also given 20 RAR days and a £420 fine to be paid back fortnightly at £20 a time. I heard the judge say
‘All I can see is sadness – there is no badness here.’
I was referred for counselling and I was so thankful to Henri. We had a big hug. We were so relieved. Everyone at CASS+ was on tenterhooks so we rang the team with the good news. I bought them all a box of chocolates and now they’re sharing these with other people who go for help. There’s a silver lining – I’m so thankful for my new friends. If it hadn’t been for Henri and the team, I think I could be in prison by now. I can start to put all this behind me and look forward to the future.
*Name has been changed to safeguard the client. Identifying details have been removed to ensure anonymity.