Trial, tribulation and Tosca

lewes_crown_court_interior_woodworkIt was back in June 1985, when I returned home from the MET tour, that I realised my first marriage was not destined to last.  I had been on a serious diet, and by my return to the UK, I had lost 85 pounds in weight.  I was being picked up at Gatwick Airport by my wife, who didn’t recognise me, despite having walked past me five or six times before I said hello. She drove home, which was only about a half an hour away, and we went to bed soon after that (I had taken the morning flight from NY, so it was almost midnight).

I was awoken from my sleep at about 3.00 am when my almost three-year-old daughter Elizabeth, who had crawled into our bed, kicked me and said “Move over Steve”. I, of course, saw RED, but calmly took Elizabeth to her own bed. Then, I went back to confront my wife, who tried to tell me that my daughter would climb into bed with Steve when he stayed over in the spare room.  I was having none of it. I opened the patio doors in the bedroom, picked my wife up and put her outside, locking the doors between us.

I confided this story to a good friend, a nearby neighbour, who told me that, since 1981, whenever I went away to perform, he (Steve) moved in.

I had to obtain a court order from the Family Division of the High Courts of Justice, forbidding him to take up residence in what was then still the matrimonial home.  Of course it was totally ignored.

In September 1989 (having recovered from the bout of brucellosis recounted in my previous blog post), I was well enough to resume my contracts, and went to Zurich for Titus.  We rehearsed through September and October, but I was allowed home on October 10th to celebrate my birthday on the 11th. I had access to my daughter, Elizabeth, for that day as it was her birthday also.  She was seven years old.  Diana and I took her on a day trip together with Edward (my step son) and our recently born daughter Eleanor (eight months) to Drusillas Zoo near Eastbourne.  When we returned her home, I was met at the front door by the live-in lover of my ex-wife.  I told him that he shouldn’t be there and that I could only hand over Elizabeth to my ex-wife.  He grabbed her hand, pulled her into the hallway and then jumped on me, knocking me to the ground with a bombardment of thumping.  I was still very weak from my illness, and was unable to retaliate with any effect.  I screamed to Diana who was waiting at the car with Edward and Eleanor.  She came running up, with Eleanor in her arms and Edward practically hanging onto her legs to try and get him away from me, whilst I got to my feet to make a retreat.  He thumped her several times as well whilst she was trying to get away.  This was all witnessed by Elizabeth and my ex-wife.

Once at the car, we tried calling 999 to report the attack.  We had one of the first brick size mobiles.  We must have tried 999 six or seven times but couldn’t get through as there was hardly any service. We decided to go to the local police station to report the incident, where we found the policeman on the phone, and heard him say “They’ve just come into the station”.  We tried to explain to him what had happened but he said that it was not what he had heard.  Diana, still with babe in arms, and Edward now hanging onto her legs, started to argue with him.  He became very aggressive and swept his arm across his desk, knocking over photo frames and a computer.  On this, we started to leave the police station and were getting into the car when he appeared at the gate.  I was now trying 999 again to report this, and told him so.  He told me to f**k off, and said that if he caught me, he would ram the f*****g thing up my a**e.  We left and went to the main police station in Lewes to report everything.  We gave the officer there an outline of what had happened, but as it was getting late for the children we asked if we could report it to our local police station in Hampshire.  He took our contact details and allowed us to leave.

We made a statement at the police station in Totton the next day, and I showed them the bruises I had sustained as a result of the attack, which they photographed whilst holding measuring sticks up to my body to indicate the actual size.

A week later we were asked to go back to Lewes to clarify the details of our statements. We were instantly arrested: me for grievous bodily harm which involved me stabbing my assailant and Diana for criminal damage to and in a Police station.  We said that we were not going to be interviewed unless a solicitor was present.  We were provided with one, who arrived about two hours later.

A month or so later, we had to appear in the Magistrates Court in Lewes for trial.  My assailant was also charged for GBH and we had to stand in the dock together.  The Magistrates were not happy about judging the case, and had it passed over to the Crown Court with a date to be confirmed. The Crown Prosecution Service – who decide what goes to court and what doesn’t – decided to lower the charges for my attacker from GBH to Actual Bodily Harm, and a little while before the Crown Court trial, his case was dropped completely, as the CPS thought there was a better chance of a guilty verdict in my case.  Diana’s case of Criminal Damage was also dropped after her appearance in the Magistrate’s Court, as the policeman’s report was not at all convincing.  Sir John Tooley, former General Administrator of the Royal Opera House appeared in court as a character witness.

The trial was set for September 1990, when I was due to perform Cavaradossi in Tosca at the English National Opera.  My rehearsals for this were in August, and my trial started at the same time as the performances.  There were three clashes in the eight-day trial, but as court finished at 4.00 pm every day, I was able to get to London in time.

Some weeks before the trial, I met with my QC on several occasions to discuss every aspect of the occurrences of that fated 11th of October. This was all to be in vain, as the day before the start of the trial he cancelled, as his previous case ran overtime which necessitated me finding another QC urgently.

I had to surrender to the Crown at 8.00 am every day, to be locked in a cell in the basement of the courthouse and wait until 10.00 am for the trial to begin.  That first day however, I was allowed to talk to my barrister for an hour before commencement of the proceedings, which took place in the very courtroom pictured at the top of this post.  I was again locked in the cell for the lunch break and released on bail at the end of the day to return the next morning to do it all over again.

On three occasions during the course of these proceedings, I had to clear my mind, travel to London, and sing in Tosca. Hopefully you’ll agree I did a good job of not letting it affect me!

Recondita armonia, Tosca (ENO 1990)

I had expert after expert giving evidence on my behalf including a forensic scientist who completely quashed the accusation of stabbing, by proving that the shirt that my opponent was wearing was soiled by rubbing a crumpled up shirt on a dirty step and that it was not made dirty when it was being worn.  Also, there was no blood on or around a small tear in the fabric.  I should add that the policeman in question was found to have perjured himself in my Crown Court trial in that his verbal evidence was very different from his written statement a year before.  He amazingly disappeared from the area shortly after that case, but we heard that he was sent to America on a police exchange scheme.

The outcome of the trial was in my favour and I was acquitted with all my costs – which amounted to almost £40,000 – being paid by the Crown Prosecution Service. Being tried by a jury during the day and then, in the evening, being judged by Scarpia and executed by his assassins had been the weirdest feeling imaginable!

This picture of me meeting my demise is from the actual run of performances in which I was singing during the trial. Fortunately, the verdict went in my favour in the real world!

Tosca-ENO-1990

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5 thoughts on “Trial, tribulation and Tosca

  1. A horribly memorable story, but I shall certainly make every effort to hear you perform when I go to London. Glad you survived – il primo grazie di Scarpia!

  2. David, you never shared – other than the fact your first marriage had broken down (the reasons of another party’s involvement over a lengthy period whilst you were away performing) that you had gone through this horrendous trial and the police officer had perjured himself … in turn, I never preyed as, clearly, (to say the least) this was a very painful period of your life. To say I’m utterly horrified is frankly inadequate but, on the other hand, in terms of dealings with the CPS, nothing surprises me – said with some experience of their performance albeit not on such a personal level! To your friends David you were and always will be a gentle giant and to have even been accused of such is unthinkable! The irony of you going through this in the day time and performing Tosca in the evenings immediately struck me as I started to read this post – I came to see you in one of those performances and you were simply wonderful, perhaps even emotion worked its way through into an outstanding performance!! Ruth x

  3. What a horrific experience, David – glad all ended well.

    I was at one of those Tosca performances and -no- your (literally) daily trials did not affect your wonderful, passionate Cavaradossi! Thank you.

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