The prison bag sits underneath our clothing rail in the bedroom where it has been gathering dust for almost three months. It’s a North Face bag whose previous uses have included trips to Cuba, LA, New York and Ibiza, weddings, funerals, visits to the in laws, camping trips, yoga retreats – It’s been around, but now it waits, holding an unlikely collection of items helpfully recommended by kindly veterans of holidays at Her Majesty’s pleasure. It contains an assortment of the usual socks, pants, T shirts and joggers, some pretty hideous shower shoes, a small radio, batteries, stamps, stationary, 3 precious books that have been deliberated over for hours, the closest thing permissible to a yoga mat. No hoods, no black, no camo.
I am entirely used to it now. During the first long weeks that the jury were out I hated it. I unpacked it mentally, saving the things that could be used in the course of our free lives, chucking the shower shoes for sure, wondering about the radio. The yoga towels might be good for the beach?
As the deliberation goes on I begin to be grateful for the continued presence of the bag. As long as it remains where it is, so will he. Every morning on the door step I say, “You just keep coming home, OK? You hear me? You just come home”. “I’ll try” he says and disappears on his bike, long legs turning the wheels easily. Fit, handsome, mine.
Being naturally nosy I have spent months bursting to know the outcome of this 9 month marathon of a trial, but not any more. I don’t care if I never know, if it never ends, no clear outcome, no release, no certainty, so long as he just keeps coming home.
It is May 12th. I pick my little daughter up from an ambitious camping trip with her school. It has rained all week. She greets me with a posy she has picked and held in a hot hand for the entire three and a half hour coach trip. It’s a little wilted, but it touches me more than I can say. She is grubby and exhausted and so so happy to be home.
We sit entwined in the garden eating watermelon, talking and telling and laughing. It is heaven. Rob is due home soon. The jury finish at 3.30 and we had spoken at 3. I don’t even ask anymore if there is any news. It has been a month without news. Every morning he leaves before 8, travels to Birmingham, sits in the court buildings all day and comes home at 6. Tomorrow the judge is otherwise engaged and so if we can make it until the end of the day we are looking forward to another weekend together.
The days when weekends were overshadowed by what might be coming are long gone. We just live the moments, all of them, not letting the menace of fear darken our times together. Tala wants to trick Rob and begs me to tell him she has gone to a friends house, delighting in the thought of the happy surprise he will get when she jumps out from her predictable hiding place behind the front door. I hunt for my phone, always somewhere else, or on silent. I find it in the car, on silent, vibrating rhythmically with his incoming call.
“Hello darling, are you nearly home, I’m afraid Tala isn’t here”. I say, winking at the now wildly gesticulating Tala, letting her know that her trick is underway. “Darling” he says and I know already from the tone of his voice that he must tell me something that he doesn’t want to speak out loud, something he knows will hurt me. His voice is so kind and so full of compassion for me and for the pain he is powerless not to inflict.
He comes out with it. A factual statement. “We’ve had a verdict and I’m afraid that it is guilty”. Nothing happens. It doesn’t register with me. It’s simply unacceptable. We know it’s wrong. We know the judge knows its wrong: He threw it out of court after listening to the prosecution make their case for three months, ruling that there was no case to answer in terms of the evidence presented or the Law. HMRC appealed however and the case went to the Court of Appeal where the judges’ ruling was overturned, much to his apparent frustration and so here we are. The jury have made a terrible mistake and surely that can’t be allowed to happen? Denial, total denial.
“Are you OK” I ask? “What about the others?”. “Cyril got off, but they did Norman too”. I’m stunned. Norman Leighton is 65 and retired. The work he did on the film scheme was a tiny percentage of the work he took on during a single year: a smallish job he probably didn’t even really think about. The fact that he ended up in the dock at all continues to be a source of puzzlement for everyone involved in the case, the judge included who had in his summing up given a very clear rationale of why Cyril and Norman couldn’t possibly be convicted.
I thank God for Cyril. He has worked with Rob for many years and was an employee who had no involvement in the structuring and running of the business and yet his life has been hostage to this legal process, as has ours, for the last 8 years. He has a beautiful wife and three small children including a baby just months old. I bless them all mentally and wish them everything good in life.
Suddenly my heart falls through my feet. I tell Rob that I love him so much. I try to hold it together. I try not to cry. I can hear that my choked tears are making him feel worse than he must already be feeling. “I’m coming home” he says, “but I’ll be a few hours”.
“Mamma, what’s wrong?”, Tala asks. “What’s happened to Daddy?”