Michael Huggins, a familiar face at Norwich combined courts, is retiring on Friday

For people not familiar with the court system, ushers are the men and women dressed in black cloaks who usher defendants into courts and try to make the system run smoothly.

For the last 17 years Michael Huggins has been an usher and for the last six years lead usher at Norwich Combined Courts.

The 67-year-old is retiring on Friday, July 20 and although he could have stayed on longer, he discussed retirement with wife Cindy last year and they decided that he would give up to spend more time with the family and to enjoy short break holidays in Britain with her.

One of his main claims to fame as an usher is that he was in charge at the trial of Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, who in 1999 killed one burglar and wounded another who had both entered his home.

Martin was convicted of murder, but saw the conviction reduced to manslaughter on appeal.

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He has an opinion on the Martin case, like everyone else, but maybe his is a little more informed than most. The case obviously left a deep impression on him.

He plainly knows a lot more than he is prepared to discuss about the comings and goings at court, and who he thinks was wrongly convicted or not.

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He has also picked up a bit about body language and how to tell if a defendant is lying in court, although most of the time ushers look at the back of people's heads, he said.

'Stand-out moments have been the murder trials,' he said. 'I was the usher on the Tony Martin trial, which we went out on a site visit to.

'The only time I saw him crying was when his collection of teddy bears was discussed.

'I also remember the McDonald's manslaughter trial in Norwich, although I was not the usher on that. The most distressing cases are often those involving death by dangerous driving. There are no winners in that, and the atmosphere in the courts is tenser than for any other trial.

'I also remember the crop-trashing trial involving Lord Melchett when there were 26 defendants. We had to have a row of seats in front of the dock for that.

'They were acquitted.'

It's obvious he has thoroughly enjoyed his time as an usher and he admits that he will miss the camaraderie among the ushers and all the characters he has met.

'My time has been hugely enjoyable. I do the jury induction presentations, and presentations to schools, which I enjoy. I always say my mouth got me where I am today, for right or wrong.

'I love meeting people, interacting with staff and the judiciary. If someone's on the concourse outside the court building looking lost, I will help them.

'It's great fun in the ushers' room, where I'm the only one with a desk, and we have a great relationship with the judiciary.

'I often describe barristers as failed thespians. They failed as actors so went into law.

'One of the most impressive barristers I've seen is John Farmer, who is very impressive and very theatrical. Michael Clare, in a different way, is omnipresent in court.'

Top judge Peter Jacobs was also a memorable figure, he said.

'If he's not pleased, he does not hide it. You can always tell what mood he's in from the look on his face whereas, with Judge Barham, you could never tell what he was thinking. When Judge Jacobs retires next April it will leave a big hole in our criminal court resources. Judges are great people. One judge stands up to greet a lady usher when she comes into the room.'

He said the role of the usher was to inform and lighten the mood inside the courts.

He added: 'And to make people feel comfortable. That includes the public, witnesses, grieving families. We try and make them feel more relaxed, especially when it's families of deceased in murder trials.

'We ensure everyone is treated the same and given the same respect, and we must be neutral at all times.'

Born in Norwich, he went to the City of Norwich School, which was then a boys' grammar school. His career with British Gas, or the Eastern Gas Board as it was, lasted 34 years in Norwich. He was made redundant at 50.

He then applied to be an usher at the court, because he thought it would be interesting.

Who do you think would make a good Evening News Original? Call David Bale on 01603 772427 or email david.bale2@archant.co.uk

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