Judge highlights Bury St Edmunds court closure fears after witness intimidation case

Bury Magistrates' Court

Bury Magistrates' Court - Credit: Archant

A judge has highlighted the potential difficulties arising out of the proposed closure of magistrates’ courts in Suffolk after hearing that a witness was threatened by a defendant as she travelled to court on public transport.

Annalee Butters, 21, was on a bus travelling from Newmarket to Bury St Edmunds, where she was due in the town’s magistrates’ court to face a charge of assault on her sister, on June 16 when she made threats against Stephanie Long, who was a witness in the case, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

Matthew Butcher, prosecuting, said Mrs Long overheard Butters say quite loudly: “Wait until she gets back home in Newmarket. I know where she lives.”

Butters had then threatened to put dog faeces through Mrs Long’s door, set fire to her flat and to “smash her face in”.

Mrs Long reported the threats as soon as she arrived at the magistrates’ court and the matter was reported to the police.

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Butters, formerly of Newmarket but now living in Royston, Herts, had denied witness intimidation but was found guilty in September by St Edmundsbury magistrates who committed her to the crown court for sentence. Hearing that the meeting on the bus between Butters and Mrs Long was by “pure chance” David Goodin said it highlighted the potential problems that could be caused if more magistrates’ courts in the county were closed.

“Because of the closure of the magistrates’ court in Newmarket people have to travel to other courts,” said the judge.

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“There is a risk, if they haven’t got a car, of them travelling on public transport at the same time and being thrown into contact with each other. Now there is talk of closing St Edmundsbury court.”

He described the threats made to Mrs Long as “ugly and frightening”.

The Ministry of Justice’s proposals to close courts in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft – leaving only the Ipswich magistrates’ court open in Suffolk – has provoked widespread outrage.

One of the key concerns is the length of time it would take witnesses, victims, police, lawyers and defendants to travel from the west and north of the county to cases being heard in Ipswich.

The county’s MPs are demanding more local justice – not less – with more cases being heard in towns near where alleged offences took place.

During Monday’s sentencing hearing Mr Butcher told the court that Butters had been facing an offence of assault on her sister Cherine. Butters’ sister did not support the prosecution and was travelling with her on the bus from Newmarket to court on June 16 when Mrs Long, who was also on the bus, overheard Butters’ threats.

In addition to being given a suspended prison sentence, Butters was given a 12-week electronically-monitored curfew between 8pm-7am and ordered to take part in a 30-day rehabilitation requirement.

She was also banned from contacting Mrs Long or going to her home in Newmarket for five years. She was also ordered to pay a £180 criminal courts’ charge and a £100 victim surcharge.

Richard Kelly, for Butters, said the case was not the most serious case of its kind and said it arose from a chance meeting and the threats had not been made directly to Mrs Long. He said Butters had not faced a trial on the assault charge as her sister, who was the alleged victim, had not supported the prosecution.

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