Published: 06:00, 20 July 2020
| Updated: 07:29, 20 July 2020
From the quarter sessions in Carmarthen to the Old Bailey in London, Adele Williams has seen many courtroom changes throughout her distinguished career.
But the judge, who once imagined life as a barrister, never dreamed she would be sentencing villains from her own kitchen in Ashford.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced courts to rethink how cases are organised and how trials and sentences are dealt with.
And that has meant many of Kent’s judges having to turn their homes into courtrooms - with barristers and defendants appearing via videolink.
Judge Williams, who grew up in Wales, has just retired after 20 years as a Kent judge - eight of them as resident judge at Canterbury Crown Court.
And by her side during her career has been husband Andrew - who was resident judge at Maidstone Crown Court for many years until his retirement.
The couple first met at the Old Bailey when the two were co-defending - and Adele was a trainee barrister.
The two also successfully defended two defendants charged with looting during the Broadwater Farm estate riots in Tottenham, in 1985.
In October that year, four policemen burst into the home of resident Cynthia Jarrett looking for stolen property.
They did not find any, but Ms Jarrett had a heart attack and died.
In the ensuing violence police were pelted with bricks, bottles and petrol bombs and PC Keith Blakelock was stabbed to death.
Three people were jailed for his murder in the late 1980s, but their convictions were overturned and another murder trial in 2014 ended with a not guilty verdict.
After marrying, Adele and Andrew moved to Kent where they became one of only a handful of married couples to become resident judges at the same time.
She recalls: “I didn’t know of Kent in any real sense until I started coming here to do work and just loved it.”
It was in the county they raised their family, daughter Louise, who now lives in Australia and son David, who followed his parents into law and is now a well-respected barrister.
Among a plethora of trials and bizarre cases she has presided over, the one which stands out was the attempted murder of Ray Weatherall, which she described at the time as “cold, calculated and chilling cruelty”.
The case had involved Mr Weatherall’s cheating wife, her lover and his daughter.
In 2018, the three plotted to shoot him at Sandwich Marina after a number of bizarre failed attempts to kill him, which included giving him an insulin overdose and pushing him overboard while on a fishing trip.
He was shot in the face but survived, with all three defendants convicted of conspiracy to murder and handed life sentences.
Judge Williams also presided over the case of a notorious sex offender called Dale Bolinger, dubbed the ‘Canterbury Cannibal.’
Bolinger, a nurse, was 62 when he was convicted in 2014 of plotting to rape, decapitate and eat a 14-year-old girl. He had even bought an axe for his meeting with the girl - but she did not show.
He photographed himself holding the weapon in front of a mirror.
He was jailed for nine years in September 2014, with Judge Williams telling him “You have shown no remorse and indeed cannot understand why anyone should find your behaviour in any way abnormal or perverted, let alone criminal.”
Bolinger, an American citizen, was released early and tried to set up home in the small backwater of Blair, Nebraska.
The judge has also had a link with a case which still continues to cause debate today in Kent, following an horrific murder 24 years ago.
She tried Damian Daley, the man who helped convict Michael Stone of the killing of Lin and Megan Russell in Chillenden in 1996, for the murder of a drug dealer.
Daley was himself given a life prison sentence and told he must serve at least 20 years.
Twenty four years ago Stone was found guilty of killing Lin and Megan Russell in Chillenden – after Daley gave evidence for the prosecution.
Daley told the court that Stone had confessed to him in Canterbury prison that he had carried out the dreadful attacks on the 40-year-old mother and her six-year-old daughter.
No DNA linked Stone to the scene and he was largely convicted on Daley’s evidence.
Stone has always maintained his innocence and in 2017 a legal team assembled for a TV documentary backed Stone’s attempt for a third appeal and cast doubt on Daley’s evidence, saying much of it had already been published in press reports.
In 2014, a jury convicted Daley of helping in the murder of drug dealer Gus Allman in Folkestone.
Judge Williams described Daley as a violent and manipulative man.
She told him: “You armed yourself and joined in the attack on Mr Allman, even to the extent of following him out into the street.
“This was a drug-related argument during which each of you used a knife. This was a brutal murder.”
And one of the most dreadful cases she recalls was the killing of University of Kent student Molly McLaren.
Her ex-boyfriend, Joshua Stimpson, slit her throat while she sat in her car at the Dockside Outlet shopping centre in summer 2017.
Stimpson was jailed for life, with the trial hearing how he had embarked on a terrifying stalking campaign of the 23-year-old student. He’d followed her to her gym, moments before killing her.
“That was just horrible,” Judge Williams recalls. She had told Stimpson in court: “This was an act of wickedness. You took away Molly’s life quite deliberately in the most vicious fashion to punish her for finishing the relationship with you.”
Judge Williams has also witnessed close up vast changes in how evidence is given in court and the extra protection now given to children who are witnesses.
“I recall having to call a child who would have been between six and seven years old who had been the victim of an abduction,” she said. “She had screamed as the man tried to drive away and her brothers managed to get a partial number plate of the vehicle.
“She came into the court and was so small we had to sit her on a number of cushions just so the jury could see her.”
Today, evidence from young or vulnerable victims is pre-recorded and the video shown to juries. If there is a need to ask questions, the witness is in another room away from the gaze of jurors and defendants.
“That’s a huge improvement into ensuring the quality of evidence and it will continue to evolve,” said the retiring judge. “The Covid-19 restrictions has forced us all to look at ways we can improve dealing with cases.”
Now, husband and wife are planning to pool their vast knowledge of cases and write a book.
When she was at Canterbury, Adele organised open days where she co-opted barristers, staff, the press and even her husband into taking part in mock trials - all of them penned by the judge - involving Goldilocks, Cinderella and others.
She will continue as a Kent Deputy Lieutenant and will see her daughter in Australia.
'Disobey my orders at your peril'
Judge Adele Williams once threatened to jail a Kent Police computer expert for contempt of court.
It followed a bust-up between defence lawyers and the Maidstone-based unit over access to trial evidence in 2011.
Back then she was a presiding judge in Canterbury and ordered indecent images - which the forensic department had recovered from seized computers - could be examined by defence experts.
But bosses at the unit refused to hand over the material - claiming that it was Kent Police’s policy only to react to written orders.
The angry judge, who had seen three similar cases delayed by bureaucracy, summoned a forensics analyst and warned him: “When I say something in open court, that is the order.
“You do not require a scrappy piece of paper. Anyone who disobeys my order potentially puts themselves in contempt of court with the requisite punishment for that.
“You are building in months of delay to cases involving serious allegations.
“I am the resident judge at this court and I will not have someone clinging to bureaucracy and disobeying my order.
“Do you know what the penalty for contempt of court is? It is punishable by imprisonment.
“You disobey my orders in future at your peril.”
More by this authorPaul Hooper
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