02 October 2012

The Great Train Event. Part Two


Nothing more was heard about our train rooftop adventure for some weeks.  The local constable, Bill Devine (1926 NZ Rugby League representative) met me one weekend and asked if I’d come and see him at the Islington police station on Monday!  Apparently the NZ Railways had asked the police to press charges against the three of us over the train incident.  The charges were to be ‘behaving in a disorderly manner in a public place’.  When I called at Bill Devine’s police station on Monday morning he gave me my summons and said he didn’t think the police would regard it as a very serious matter, but they were obliged to process the charges.  When I asked what we were expected to do (this was a very new experience for me) he suggested I go and see Charley Reardon who was the police prosecutor at the time.  I did and he reaffirmed that they didn’t regard it as very criminal and apart from engaging a lawyer (which none of us could afford) we could present our own case in court either orally or in writing.

Mike had a police visit to home and a jolly policeman on a bicycle turned up at Jim's place to be confronted by the white-collared Rev Malcolm Wilson who was the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church for NZ at the time.  “Oh,” the policeman said, “I must have come to the wrong place.”  Jim’s father assured him that he hadn’t, and Jim was duly served his notice.   

We decided to do a written submission and met a few days before the court appearance to decide what to say.  We composed a magnificent story about the heat of the day, the challenge and spur of the moment, the sense of adventure – lots of other imaginative stuff  – and how in the spirit of Sir Edmund Hillary (he had recently climbed Everest) and overcome by a desire to conquer what was an irresistible challenge we lost control of our better judgements, with the result of our presence in His Worships courtroom.  We finished by stating that we were young students starting our careers and that our careers could be ruined by a conviction.  We finished by pleading guilty, begging leniency and casting our future fate at the feet of His Worship.

A Hanging Judge
On the appointed morning we all appeared in the Christchurch Magistrates court.  Unfortunately word of our predicament had spread like wildfire about Canterbury University and the courtroom was packed with excited and rebellious students determined to either see us hung, drawn and quartered or deported.  The charge was read and we were asked if we had anything to say in our defence.  To shouts from the back of the gallery of “send them to Australia” “flog them” and even “hang them” Jim went forward and presented out case to Rex Abenethy the Magistrate.  While Mr Abenethy was reading our words the prosecutor stood and said, “May it please your honour, these lads were mistaken for three escaped convicts”.  Three convicts had escaped from Paparua Prison on the day in question and a member of the public reported the three of us on the train roof to the police.  This immediately explained the nervous disposition of the constable at the Darfield railway station.  The Magistrate looked up from his perusal of our submission and, over the top of his glasses, said, “Well, these lads are not convicts ---- not YET!”

This caused an immediate uproar from the students present; much laughter, more calls for the birch and suchlike and the, by now, very red faced clerk of the court shouting “ silence in the court” and threatening to clear the students from the court and deprive them of their moment of ‘schadenfreuder’.  Finally he succeeded in silencing the rabble.  A good nudge in the ribs from Jim alerted me to the fact that, alone in the courtroom (and in the dock), I was still laughing.  I quickly sobered up and looked serious and repentant. 

And so the proceedings ended.  Mr Abenethy ruled that in view of our youth, lack of previous convictions etc he would discharge us without conviction but ordered us pay court costs, and in future to confine our climbing to the mountains.  The court costs were not cheap and included the travel and accommodation of the witness who’d seen us.  He was a worker from Mt Torlesse station.  I finished the morning having lunch on the bank of the Avon with Lorna, my Irish girlfriend at the time.  She had come to see if her boyfriend had become a felon.