Published: 05:00, 03 April 2022
A “devastated” woman who claims she was abused as a child may never see justice - because a court can’t afford to replace its lift.
Cash-strapped Canterbury Crown Court can no longer afford wheelchair access, meaning more cases are delayed with lives left in limbo - often for society’s most vulnerable.
It comes as the number of cases waiting to be heard in the county has soared, despite the opening of Maidstone’s Nightingale Court.
A “frustrated” senior judge this week told barristers: “We can’t afford disabled wheelchair access as it currently stands - we can’t try this case.”
And it was revealed the 89-year-old defendant, who suffers late stage prostate cancer, may not survive to be tried.
It means all parties involved in the case, including witnesses, may never see a resolution, with the first allegations made four years ago.
The alleged victim, who must remain anonymous, pleaded with the court to fix the lift, so the case can be heard to allow her to “live my life.”
“To hear this trial may be delayed again is devastating - to hear this might not happen again is decimating,” she said.
“This is not a high profile case but this is my life ruined, my life lied about for years.
“I need closure, please allow this trial to go ahead, please allow me to live my life. My fingernails are chewed.”
She told how her anxiety has accelerated nearer each trial date, with each one railroaded, having waited four years to get to court.
But resident judge Simon James was forced to adjourn the sensitive trial - which carries more than 20 allegations of child sexual abuse - for nine months on Tuesday.
The trial has already been adjourned for six months due to a shortage of judges amid growing caseloads.
After sympathising with the woman, Judge James said: “We can’t afford disabled wheelchair access as it currently stands - we can’t try this case.
“I have received a number of complaints from witnesses and from those involved in the case, I understand those frustrations, I share those frustrations."
John Cammegh QC, defending, said the legal profession sympathises with the courthouse, dubbing its financial position “a very serious issue.”
“We at the bar can only sympathise with the invidious position the court finds itself in.
“The defendant is nearing the end of his life, in November he will be 90. The Prostate Specific Antigen levels in his blood at the moment are dangerously high.
“He is now wheelchair bound, he has lost a tremendous amount of weight since I last saw him - he is in bad shape.
“It is possible he won’t survive - this is a very serious issue,” he said.
Paul Hogben is expected to represent an 82-year-old co-defendant. He said she suffered a stress related heart attack and lamented “the very emotive trial” could not go ahead.
And prosecutor Paul Valder described the court as “hamstrung by lack of funding.”
The trial could have been transferred to Maidstone however, the defendants are too unwell to travel from their village near Folkestone.
"I need closure, please allow this trial to go ahead, please allow me to live my life...”
Requests to fix the lift were first made in summer last year, a court official told KentOnline.
It prompted the Ministry of Justice, which holds the purse-strings, to conduct various reports.
But this month it emerged a new lift is required altogether, preventing wheelchair access into the building.
A spokesperson for the MoJ said:“We apologise for the current lack of wheelchair access at Canterbury Crown Court, and are urgently working to replace the lift.
“Efforts to move the case to an alternative court were made, but unfortunately parties were unable to agree to these arrangements.”