In-depth: Norwich judge to set to retire

PUBLISHED: 13:54 15 August 2012

Judge Alasdair Darroch retires later this year.  Photo: Bill Smith

Judge Alasdair Darroch retires later this year. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2012

Friday, September 7 is a day which will be a bitter-sweet experience for Judge Alasdair Darroch.

It is the day the 65-year-old father-of-one and grandfather-of-two will be able to start his retirement and also his last sitting day as a full-time crown court judge in Norwich.

Presiding over the most serious of cases committed in Norfolk over the past eight years is a job with an enormous amount of responsibility, but it is a role which, by Judge Darroch’s own admission, he has revelled in.

“Someone once said it must be one of the most boring jobs in the world, but it really isn’t. It’s a fantastic job,” says Judge Darroch.

“I’ve met people who don’t like it, but that is rare. Most people find it really challenging and interesting. On the whole you’re doing the interesting bits – you’re not getting the papers together or getting the witnesses to turn up.”

One of the most high-profile cases Judge Darroch has been involved in – the trial of fraudster John Drewe – was also at times one of the most laborious.

After a trial lasting in the region of 13 weeks, Drewe, 64, a convicted art fraudster, was jailed for eight years in March after being found guilty of conning a vulnerable retired Norfolk music teacher out of her home and life savings.

Sentencing Drewe, from Surrey, Judge Darroch described him as “the most dishonest and devious person I have ever dealt with”.

He adds: “That’s the longest one I’ve ever done. It was at the end of my career but I had never done a case more than five weeks.

“His previous trial was six months, so I was quite pleased we got through it quite fast.”

While this and other cases might have been a challenge in terms of having to consume such a wealth of information over a prolongued period, Judge Darroch says sentencing is never dull.

“Sentencing is not boring,” he says. “It is challenging. It is frustrating sometimes you can’t do what you would like to do, but it’s never boring.”

Other memorable cases include trial of Nerijus Lekecinskas, the man at the centre of a human trafficking ring in Bradwell, near Great Yarmouth, which was described by Judge Darroch as a “commercial enterprise of the most evil nature”.

Lekecinskas, of Meadowland Drive, Bradwell, was jailed for 11 years last September after being found guilty of controlling a person in prostitution for gain, trafficking within the UK for sexual exploitation and one count of rape.

Judge Darroch also sentenced two shopkeepers to 14 months in prison after they tried to claim the £156,000 prize money on someone else’s winning lottery ticket.

Alfred Jeevarajah, 45, and his wife Anne Jeevarajah, 38, of Oak Lane, Hingham, admitted fraud by attempting to claim the winning ticket and were sentenced at Norwich Crown Court in March.

Born in Kenya, Judge Darroch grew up in Cambridgeshire after his father, who was in colonial service, moved back to Britain from Africa.

He joined Mills and Reeve as a clerk in 1969, qualified as a solicitor in 1971 and was made a partner in 1974 before becoming a recorder in 1999 and a crown court circuit judge in 2000. He sat at Chelmsford before moving to Norwich in 2004, where he has remained ever since.

Judge Darroch, who has also worked in the family division, says it is sometimes “frustrating” to see the same people before him time and time again but admits it is “part of life”.

“There are people out there who just can’t manage their lives,” he says. “Not just in the criminal court but in family court – people who can’t deal with their lives. ”

During his time in the crown court, Judge Darroch has seen more than enough tragedy, adding: “Tragedy can be interesting, otherwise no-one would have read Hamlet or King Lear.”

Judge Darroch’s retirement next month follows Judge Paul Downes’ departure last year and comes as Judge Peter Jacobs approaches the end of his judicial career.

But despite the senior departures, he insists Norwich Crown Court’s future is in good hands. He says: “There’s going to be a big change-over but we’re very lucky to have two extremely experienced judges joining us: Judge Stephen Holt and Judge Mark Lucraft. I think the court is in very good hands.

“We’re all replaceable; there’s none of us indispensable. If you drop off the perch someone else will step on and they do and it will go on and they’re just what this court needed.”

Two of the biggest challenges Judge Darroch has faced in his time in court are sentencing death by dangerous driving cases, which, he admits, are “very, very difficult”, and dealing with the consequences of drugs.

“The war on drugs is, I think, extremely difficult. So much crime is drug-related. I just don’t know what the answer is. It would be very dangerous to legalise drugs but I can see arguments. At the moment I’m not sure we’re making any real progress.”

One area, however, where Judge Darroch has noticed a difference is in terms of traditional-style bank raids which he puts down to the advent of the mobile phone.

“One of the things we’re seeing fewer of is old-style bank robberies,” he says. “I do think the mobile phone is a great crime deterrent because someone will turn up with a mobile and say there’s a post office being done. The mobile really is quite a good deterrent.”

Away from court, Judge Darroch, who has been married to Elizabeth for 40 years, has a boat on the Norfolk Broads and enjoys collecting antiques.

He is also a member of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) and makes his own cider – and is enjoying the real ale renaissance in Norwich.

“When I came to Norwich it was a complete beer desert but now there are microbreweries all over the place. I think if you go into a pub now all pubs have a good selection of real ales,” he says.

After he retires Judge Darroch hopes to have more time to spend on the river and with his family, visiting his son in Glasgow.

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