Up before the beak, charged with a rum assault

I entered the holiday period on top of the world. The stipendiary magistrate at Camberwell court saw to that.

Readers may recall that last summer I was charged with affray and assault on one Mr Cadette. At 3.30 in the morning, Mrs Howe and I had been locked in a highly contentious argument, the details of which neither of us remembers. She who must be obeyed stormed out of the castle. In the twinkling of an eye, or more accurately in the tap of the phone, I knew her destination, proceeded there, leant on the doorbell and, armed with a bottle of the best Trinidad Puncheon rum as an enticement, loudly demanded that my wife return to the nest. But Mrs Howe had had enough. She charged in a rage, flattened me and there was a hell of a struggle lasting no more than five seconds involving Mr Cadette (who is gay, lest any suspicion of foul play be aroused).

My daughter, who had been following the whole saga and is a bit of a drama queen, called the police and was quoted as saying "my dad has gone bananas". Several officers arrived led by an inspector (to whom I will hereafter refer as Arbuckle), rather short and rotund in frame. He took one look at me and without a question had me hurtling towards the police van suitably handcuffed.

The first series of charges were drunk and disorderly, assault on Mrs Howe and entering premises forcibly, without permission of the owner. A hint of burglary here, and wife-beating - enough to make the front page of the South London Press and the Sunday Times, too. Whatever happened to an old-style lovers' tiff? I had simply erred on the side of passion. As for affray, this is defined as fighting to the terror of the Queen's subjects in a public place. I had been involved in a small skirmish at a friend's flat.

The police assumed imminent separation and divorce; they plunged in, seeking a statement from Mrs Howe, which she refused despite much cajoling. Mr Cadette was hardly more forthcoming, not having suffered any bruising at all. He succumbed and made a statement full of sound and fury signifying very little. He was struck on the head by a bottle, he said. The police seized the rum bottle. The bottle, along with the solitary statement, were sent to the Crown Prosecution Service. Senior counsel pontificated for a huge fee. I was denied legal aid, but Gareth Peirce, the solicitor famous for her work on miscarriages of justice and a dear friend of several aeons, stepped in.

The affray charge could not withstand the rigour of legal definition and was dropped on my first appearance. The court could not proceed on the assault charge because, it was informed, Mr Cadette was away on holiday. He must have missed his plane or the train because he was seen bopping along in Brixton earlier that day.

The hearing was finally fixed for 17 December. She who must be obeyed and I turned up with our brief in tow. Mrs Howe would now appear as a witness for the defence. No Arbuckle in sight. He had disappeared completely. There were two uniformed police officers, one carrying a plastic bag with two exhibits - the bottle and an electric iron. The latter I could not fit into the sequence of events.

An entire afternoon had been set aside for the case. Mrs Howe and I picnicked on McDonald's and a milkshake or two on benches outside the court. But two o'clock came and went; we waited and waited. Finally, I was summoned and pleaded not guilty. The black prosecutor, whom I nicknamed Ombojombo, addressed the beak. He wanted a postponement. Mr Cadette had been called and his mobile was switched off. His colleagues at work said he had gone off to a meeting and could not be disturbed. Fumbling with his papers, Ombo was unable to give the magistrate the hard information about the number of previous occasions a trial date had been set.

Permission for a postponement was denied, and Ombojombo was asked to present his case. He had none and said so. The magistrate dismissed the charges and I was out of that place in a flash.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.