"The change in temperature this week has brought my thoughts to the winter ahead and particularly one cold one over 44 years ago. I do hope that we hear of fewer deaths this year because of being unable to keep warm. We all need to keep warm, however big or small our place, even Queen Elizabeth! I have always liked that subtle distinction of nothing more than 'a' between the Queen's residence and that of her humble subjects, between palace and place, the homes that house the ruler and the ruled.
I will never forget my very first case as a young Probation Officer in 1971. It was a bitterly cold winter and the temperature was below zero. The police helicopter flying over the run-down estate in Sheepridge, Huddersfield would not have been able to distinguish it from the well off area of nearby Birkby because of the depth of snow, had it not been for the smokeless chimneys. Back in 1971, few Sheepridge residents had money to buy coal for the fire or food for the fridge and they lived in one of West Yorkshire's estates of highest crime, unemployment and poverty.
In one of the Sheepridge houses lived my client, his wife and three children under five years old; the youngest being three months old. Being unemployed, heavily in debt and with his infant running a fever, the father, whose electricity had been cut off for non-payment one month earlier, illegally reconnected his supply. When he was caught, arrested and produced before the Magistrate's Court, I was asked to prepare a Social Inquiry Report on him. An SER is a document which outlines the defendant's full circumstances, his attitudes, strengths, failings, the reason behind the offence and his propensity to offend likewise in the future should he find himself in similar circumstances. The magistrates considered the offence grave and committed the defendant to Crown Court for sentence.
When my client's Crown Court case came up, sod's law decreed that he appeared before His Honour, the late Judge James Pickles. At that time, Judge Pickles was considered by every criminal, barrister, press reporter, and probation officer in the country as the 'hanging judge,' as he was the judge who handed down the severest of penalties. Indeed, he once sent a woman to prison for being too fearful to give evidence against her violent partner.
I duly presented my report to court at the time of sentence and Judge Pickles read it. I was as honest as I could be in my report which did not go down well with the learned judge. I indicated to the judge that given the circumstances that the defendant found himself in at the precise moment of offending, he did no more or less than I or any loving father would have done to protect his ill infant.The upshot was, my client did not get the prison sentence he and his barrister had feared, but I received a sentence of one day's imprisonment in the police cells beneath the court for the attitude I had displayed in my Social Inquiry Report.
It was somewhat ironic that the learned judge, who was the most rebellious judge in the country and had openly defied Lord Halsham, the Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom at the time, should imprison me for a day in the police cells for my rebellious attitude to the court. It was even more ironic that during the years ahead, Judge James Pickles and I would become the best of friends. There would be seven occasions during the years ahead when the judge would read from my books in West Yorkshire schools, and when I received my MBE, it was his daughter Carolyn Pickles (television actress of 'The Bill') who was the very first person to contact and congratulate me.
I'm even certain that had Judge James Pickles famous uncle, the radio presenter Wilfred Pickles, still been alive and living next door to my first probation client during that bitter cold winter with a poorly infant in his arms, his advice upon being asked, 'Shall I illegally connect the electricity supply?' would have been, 'Have a go, Joe!' " William Forde: September 14th, 2014.