Retiring judge lifts lid on career and says Norwich 'best' resident job
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
As Norwich’s honorary recorder for the past eight years, Judge Stephen Holt has presided over some of the most horrific cases to have come before Norfolk courts.
Since succeeding Peter Jacobs in the role in 2013, Judge Holt has seen it all - murderers, rapists, drug dealers, burglars, robbers - and even the effects of a global pandemic.
But the 68-year-old, who became a judge in 2009, is hoping to now spend much more time in the county which he has "fallen in love with".
It comes as Judge Holt officially retired on Friday, April 16 - eight years to the day since he took over the reins as Norwich’s top judge.
Looking back over his time, Judge Holt praised the "fantastic team" at Norwich.
He said: "It’s been a pleasure coming in and working in a court like Norwich; it’s the best resident judge job in the country.
"It’s a beautiful place to live in and you’ve got a great team behind you who are so experienced.
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"It’s something like 500 years of experience if you add up all the number of years they’ve been working here."
Coronavirus has affected everyone over the past year and has also had a huge impact on the criminal justice system across the country.
But as difficult as that has been, Judge Holt insists Norwich has been leading the way.
He said: "It has been an extremely challenging 12 months since the first lockdown in March last year.
"An immediate challenge was how to deal with cases where the defendant was in custody as there were no video conferencing facilities in the courts in March 2020.
"I'm very proud that the solution came from Norfolk and was known throughout the country as the Norwich solution.
"We used Skype for Business and two laptops set up by our Digital Support Officer, the brilliant Stacey Bertram, to enable defendants to be able to take part in hearings.
"This system kept custody cases moving across England and Wales for three months until the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) introduced their own Cloud Video Platform (CVP).
"There was a good deal of fear stalking the courts at the start and we kept footfall to a minimum but re-started jury trials in July."
He praised the "keenness and stoicism" of Norfolk jurors who "turned up in numbers and fully embraced the difficult social distancing rules" to help ensure trials in Norfolk could resume.
Judge Holt, who grew up in Northumberland, worked as a barrister before he became a recorder, or part-time judge in 2003.
He became a full-time judge in 2009 at Harrow Crown Court before later arriving in Norwich.
During his time at Norwich Judge Holt has dealt with cases including the brutal murder of Kerri McAuley by her abusive former partner Joe Storey in January 2017.
Judge Holt said: "I think that was one of the most harrowing cases; what that man did to her was just awful.
"He’s one of the most dangerous defendants who has come before the courts.
"Storey is a case I will never forget. The brutal murder of his partner was pure savagery. He had a long history of violence against women and was supposed to have been under the supervision of the probation service at the time he killed Kerri.
"She was posting phots on her Facebook page showing the bruising he had inflicted on her and had the Probation service looked they could have recalled him to prison prior to the murderous assault."
Other cases which stand out in Judge Holt’s mind include the fatal stabbing of David Hastings by Rolands Heinbergs, in June 2018, which he described as being “just chilling”.
He said: "Heinbergs decided he was going to stab someone to death in the centre of Norwich and bought a knife from a local shop and then stalked the streets of Norwich selecting his victim - a completely innocent man who he had never met before - and stabbing him on the streets in front of his partner.
"I remember the bravery the two unarmed police officers who approached him knowing that he had just stabbed a man to death. They arrested him and stopped further violence on the street that night."
Judge Holt also recalled the case of Jake Killick, who went on a rape and sexual assault rampage through the streets of Norwich in March 2017.
He said Killick was "a very dangerous man” and said the case was a “horror story”.
But while cases like these demonstrate the very worst in human nature, they also show some of the best sides too.
Judge Holt said: "Although I have tried some horrific cases there is always the other side of human nature that comes out in a case such as the bravery of the police in Heinbergs case, the bravery of Kerri’s mother and brother who discovered her and the bravery of the Killick’s victims who came to court and testified against him."
Judge Holt said he will "miss the comradeship and good humour of my fellow judges and all the court staff" but leaves with "fond memories".
Looking to the future Judge Holt, who lives with his partner Jonathon Hill at Upton, now hopes to be able to spend more time exploring the county.
He said: "My partner and I had had a house in Norfolk since 2001 and always intended to live here as we had fallen in love with Norfolk."
Norwich Cathedral and the city's medieval heart are two of the things Judge Holt said he enjoyed about life in Norfolk as well as the White Horse, a community pub at Upton, which his partner had invested in.
They also have a small boat called “Ratty” which they sail.
Judge Holt, who said it was “just magical” to be able to get out on the Broads, said: "We have a small boat on the Broads and we enjoy going to some superb restaurants in Norfolk but it is so long since we have been able to do so we can’t remember their names.
"Plenty of time to swot up. I also want to spend time putting back into the county that has so warmly welcomed me."