Chapter One

 

Even when the judge had called the jury back into the Crown Court for the second time, he seemed to be a kindly and a patient man. The forewoman reported that they could not agree a unanimous verdict despite the three hours they had spent in further deliberation, and despite the fact there was only a single charge to consider against a single defendant. The judge invited her to sit and explained to the court that this was a part of the system of justice, a necessary part, and they, the twelve men and women representing their fellow citizens, were not to feel they had failed in any way whatsoever. ‘Far from it,’ he said; ‘No one can be in any doubt that you are doing your work thoroughly and impartially.’

The judge had paused there and looked at the table where the two lawyers for the defence were sitting. Then his gaze travelled to the space at the back of the court where the accused man sat behind a Perspex screen and between two uniformed security guards. The courtroom was absolutely silent – it seemed that no one wanted to argue with his assessment of the predicament in which they all found themselves.

‘We have reached the point at which I can give you, the jury, further instruction,’ the judge had said. ‘All my previous words about how you are to proceed still apply but I will now accept a majority verdict upon which at least ten of you are agreed. You are under no pressure to reach a verdict today. Retire to the room once more and continue your work. The clerk to the court will monitor your progress at a quarter to four. If necessary, this court will re-convene tomorrow morning at half past nine.’

 

Those words had been spoken at twenty minutes past twelve. When the jury left the courtroom, there was a sort of exhalation and quiet conversations began again. The judge retired to his chambers, lawyers wandered off and the accused was talking to one of his guards. Detective Chief Inspector Cara Freeman said she would go outside the building first and check in with Lake Central on her phone, and so Detective Sergeant Christopher Waters went only as far as the corridor. At any moment, a message could come from the jury asking for some clarification of the evidence in the prosecution’s case and he might even find himself on the stand.

The Crown Court in Cambridge is a circular, modern building, capable of holding four trials simultaneously. Other people stood along the first-floor corridor, some alone, some talking in twos and threes. Waters turned towards one of the large windows and looked down at the busy road that ran close to the building. There was a steady stream of inner-city traffic in both directions, the ordinary, everyday flow of existences giving no thought to this strange social eddy until some event in their lives draws them into it, and they find themselves circling around in its arcane processes, sometimes for months on end. People here wear wigs and funny clothes, and talk in strange languages, and time can seem to stand still, even to be going backwards. The wheels of justice turn slowly, like the mills of God. One can only hope, Waters thought, that in this particular case, like those same mills, they also grind exceeding small.

When he looked along the corridor again, he could see Freeman returning. She was wearing a dark grey, pin-striped jacket and matching skirt, a formal business suit – a contrast to her usual office attire. She often gave the impression of not being quite certain what to wear on a day-to-day basis, as if she had too many things on her mind when she dressed for work, but court days were different. Waters had already learned this and was dressed in his own best suit. He also knew that none of this was because the detective chief inspector had an exaggerated respect for the workings of the present justice system. If anything, the reverse was the case, but she knew that verdicts can turn on the tiniest of details; if one old dear thought the police were not very smartly dressed these days and was therefore inclined to vote not guilty, months of work could be wasted.

As it happened, neither of them had been called to the stand in this case, but Freeman had clarified some questions about the CCTV footage from her seat behind the prosecutor’s desk in the courtroom. Waters had no doubt that in doing so she had made an excellent impression on the jury, which consisted of seven women and five men.

When she reached Waters, Freeman said, ‘Go and stretch your legs, get a coffee,’ but he declined the suggestion, and she didn’t try to persuade him. In most things with Freeman, you got just the one opportunity.

She leaned back against the railing in front of the window that overlooked the road and said, ‘What d’you think? How’s it going?’

He said, ‘It’s what we anticipated. A lot of circumstantial evidence and not enough of the other sort.’

She nodded and said, ‘I’ve known cases with more of that get nodded through in a couple of hours. But if we’ve got a know-all in there… I’m guessing that’s why we won’t get a unanimous verdict.’

‘A know-all, ma’am?’

Freeman crossed her arms. ‘Someone who spends his or her leisure time watching “CSI” or endless re-runs of “Silent Witness”. I’d say three or four of this jury are retired, so the probability is quite high.’

Waters frowned as he thought this over.

‘Retired people are more likely to be know-alls?’

‘Yes. They have too much time on their hands. They watch these programmes and believe they’ve become experts in forensics and the law. Armchair detectives.’

Waters said, ‘What about reading crime fiction? I expect lots of retired people do that as well.’

It was almost a year since Chris Waters had first worked with Cara Freeman but he still found her face difficult to read at times. She seemed to be giving his question serious consideration.

She said, ‘Yes, I see your point. That probably doesn’t help with jury service either, but it’s not so bad. At least we know those people can read. I think there should be basic literacy tests before you can serve on a jury.’

A little group of people had gathered outside Court 3 where their case was being held, including one of the ushers. Both detectives watched and listened but there was no sign of a significant development.

Waters said, ‘Anything at Central?’

‘Not much. The CPS have said the hit-and-run is a manslaughter charge but we’ll see it through – the squad, I mean. I must say, I’m a little disappointed with West Norfolk as far as the murder rate goes. Three cases of our own in, what, nine months? In the not-too-distant future, I’m going to find myself justifying our existence.’

And this was true, he knew. The murder squad’s work would be reviewed after its first year. He said, ‘We’ve provided some good assistance to East Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. We haven’t been idle, ma’am.’

Freeman pushed herself off the railing and gazed up and down the corridor. Such places have a higher than usual frequency of villains, for obvious reasons, and the DCI was perhaps on the look-out for an opportunity. Patience was not one of her strongest qualities.

In answer to Waters, she said, ‘True. But it’s not the same as having your own – a bit like looking after other people’s kids, I suppose. Not that I know much about that…’

She looked at her watch, making Waters do the same thing.

Then Freeman said, ‘I’ll hang around until two o’clock, and then I’ll leave you to it. I don’t think they’ll need any more from us, but if they do, you’ll handle it. Someone needs to be representing us. Get a taxi to the train station when the day’s over and someone will pick you up in Lake.’

‘Yes, ma’am.’ 

The group of people had all re-entered the courtroom, and it was time for them to do the same. Freeman said, ‘The only other thing at Central was a missing girl. Or woman. She’s twenty-two. Is she a girl or a woman?’

‘Both? It depends on the context.’

‘Did you ever consider a career in the diplomatic service?’

‘No, ma’am.’

She began to walk towards the doors of Court 3 and Waters did the same.  

‘Anyway, a missing female person, reported yesterday.’

‘Nothing very unusual so far, ma’am.’

This was the reason for the two o’clock decision – he knew it, and she knew that he knew. She stopped just outside the court and said, ‘According to Serena, she’s an escort. So there’s an alarm bell already ringing somewhere. Ever since Ipswich…’

Steven Wright, the Suffolk Strangler, had murdered five call girls in as many weeks, and there had been accusations the police had been slow off the mark, not least because of the suggestion that if women wander the streets after dark selling sex, they must know the risks. It was only a matter of weeks since DCI Freeman had told her squad, in conversation one afternoon, that she had been a young detective constable taking part in that very investigation, fourteen years ago.

When they entered the courtroom, every face turned to them, and every other seat was filled. The judge smiled but watched them until they too were seated, and then he began to address the proceedings. The jury had informed him they had reached a verdict, and he has sent for them.