Questions over legal aid as Honiton woman is spared jail

PUBLISHED: 17:00 27 January 2017

Exeter Crown Court.

Exeter Crown Court.

Archant

A Hallowe'en partygoer threatened a group of strangers with a screwdriver during a drunken confrontation in the early hours of the morning in the centre of Exeter.

Leanne Babb tried to encourage her boyfriend to attack the group after they had exchanged insults with her, but, when he refused, she produced the weapon from her bag.

She approached the men in Fore Street, Exeter, while holding the screwdriver and although one of them suffered a slight cut in the melee, it was not clear how it was sustained.

Factory worker Babb, aged 26, of St Pauls Road, Honiton, admitted threatening behaviour and possession of an offensive weapon.

She was jailed for six months, suspended for two years, and ordered to undertake 15 days’ rehabilitation activities with the probation service by Recorder Mr Ignatius Hughes, QC, at Exeter Crown Court.

He told her: “I am not going to send you to prison today, but you need to realise that if you carry weapons around - even if you don’t mean to hurt anyone - that may happen, even if you don’t want it to.

“That means courts have to protect the public, so those who carry weapons often have to go to prison. These are serious offences.

“The probation service will work with you to address your use of alcohol. If you carry any kind of weapon in the future, you will certainly go to prison.”

Mr Nigel Wraith, prosecuting, said the incident happened at 3.50am, on Sunday, October 30, in Fore Street, when Babb got into a confrontation with three young men.

He said: “They were minding their own business. Babb started threatening them and said her boyfriend was going to beat them all up. He said he did not want to and was not interested in fighting.

“Babb continued shouting and said she would sort it out. She reached into her bag and produced a screwdriver, which she held in her hand. One of the men grabbed her wrist and it fell to the floor.

“He sustained a small cut but it is not clear if it was sustained during this incident or earlier during his night out.

“He had a tetanus injection as a precaution.”

Babb was not represented because she could not afford to make a legal aid contribution.

She apologised and told the judge: “It was Hallowe’en and I drank an excessive amount with my boyfriend. A couple of blokes were being quite rude towards me and my boyfriend.

“He was fine and trying to get away from them. They were threatening me and I got it out.

“Please give me a chance to carry on working. I am never going to do anything like this again. I am going to stop drinking and get help.”

She said she has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and a personality disorder but is not currently in touch with the mental health services.

The judge criticised the legal aid system, which required Babb to make a substantial contribution even though she earns only £1,000 a month working at a food factory in Honiton.

He said: “It beggars belief that an official in Nottingham can look at this case and decide the defendant is too wealthy to have a lawyer because she earns a pittance at a factory.”

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