A most extraordinary moment occurred in a case in the High Court yesterday, where a defendant up on a minor charge has admitted being guilty of a much graver crime, with complete impunity.What happened is that when Mr Gordon Ballater took the stand on a charge of persistent refusal to pay parking fines ... but perhaps an extract from the case will explain it better.
We join the trial just as Mr Ballater is taking the stand for cross-examination by the prosecution counsel.
Counsel: Your name is Ballater?
Defendant: It is.
Counsel: Gordon Ballater?
Counsel: Mr Gordon Ballater?
Defendant: That's right.
Counsel: Mr Gordon I-Think-I'm-Being-So-Bloody-Clever-Not-Paying-Parking-Fines Ballater?
Defendant: Well ...
Counsel: Yes or no!
Counsel: We'll see about that. Now, Mr Ballater, have you ever committed a murder?
Defendant: Have I what?
Counsel: Have you ever committed a murder? It's quite a simple question.
Defendant: I don't see what that has got to do ...
Judge: If I may intervene here, I don't quite see either what this has got to do with non-payment of parking fines. Is there a reason for this line of questioning, Mr Scrope?
Counsel: Yes, m'lud. I am trying to browbeat the defendant by firing unexpected and irrelevant questions at him, thus confusing him and softening him up for the moment when we get to the nitty gritty.
Judge: That seems fair enough. Carry on.
Counsel: Well, Mr Ballater, have you ever committed a murder?
Defendant: Do I have to answer that, m'lud?
Judge: I'm afraid so. Just humour him. He'll get tired of it in a moment.
Counsel: I repeat the question. Have you ever committed a murder?
Counsel: And have you ever ... I beg your pardon?
Defendant: Yes. I did once commit a murder.
Counsel: Good heavens. Were you arrested for it?
Defendant: No, I have never mentioned it to anyone before. But then you're the first person who's ever asked me about it.
Counsel: Would you like to tell us about it?
Defendant: What would you like to know about it? It was quite a boring murder. As murders go.
Counsel: Are you an expert in the field?
Defendant: Not at all. It is the only murder I have ever committed. In fact, it was quite an unpleasant experience and I remember thinking to myself as I did the deed, "Well, this is something I won't be doing again in a hurry!" And I haven't.
Counsel: Can you tell us briefly the details of this murder?
Defendant: Certainly. I was in Australia about 10 years ago, and when I was in a bar in Sydney one day I was standing next to a man who, with a moustache, would have been the spitting image of Lord Lucan. I told him this, jokingly, and he went very pale and dashed outside. I left the bar about five minutes later, and the man had obviously been waiting for me, because he jumped me in the dark and tried to kill me. Luckily I caught him off-balance and pushed him away from me, but unluckily for him he fell back into the road and was hit by a passing lorry. I didn't wait to find out if he was dead or not, but I read in the paper later that he was killed instantly.
Counsel: So ... so you killed Lord Lucan?
Defendant: I believe so, yes.
Counsel: Was the dead man so identified at the inquest?
Judge: Mr Scrope! This has absolutely nothing to do with the trial! If the authorities of New South Wales wish to pursue the matter, that is up to them. Back to the case, please.
Counsel: Yes, m'lud. Now, Mr Ballater, it is alleged that on 4 March last year you left your car for over seven hours on a double yellow line ...
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