Exactly why Southwark Crown Court has telephones and staff manning them remains shrouded in a mysterious fog, through which Tulkinghorn cannot penetrate. The sterling efforts by one deadline-facing reporter from The Lawyer last week to get hold of an order by Judge Peter Fingret, which reversed his earlier ban on press coverage of a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) prosecution, received the following treatment from the court (edited for brevity because boy, did it go on):
Switchboard fails to understand the request.
Reporter is transferred to a person who refuses to say who she is. Does say she can help. Doesn’t.
Call is transferred to a third person, who again refuses to name the department in which she works. Tells reporter she has no idea who can help.
Later, reporter discovers it is the court’s listing office that can help. Reporter is transferred.
Listings man says all calls that no one knows how to deal with are transferred to his department. Says he can be of no assistance.
Reporter empathises with listings man about the inefficiencies of Southwark Crown Court.
Listings man tries to help. Gives out four numbers, one of which he thinks is the court’s press office.
Reporter calls each number with no answer on any. One of the four lines is out of order.
Reporter tries the working lines again and eventually one is answered. The person on the line is a reporter who is based at the Old Bailey but occasionally covers Southwark Crown Court. He makes clear that he has no idea what The Lawyer is talking about and politely puts down the phone.
Exasperated reporter goes back to switchboard and demands to talk to the clerk handling the SFO case.
Gets through to the relevant clerk, James Price.
Price says he vaguely recalls 7 October but insists that no order was given. Judge Fingret, he claims, simply said: “I allow the press to cover the case.”
Reporter is not satisfied. Insists the judge said more than that, and asks again for help in getting hold of the order. Price says he can’t help, but that the reporter need not worry because all the judge said was: “The press can now cover the case.” Says he will try to talk to the judge at 4pm but insists he can’t help and that reporter should not worry.
Reporter contacts the SFO press office. It has an idea of what the order stated, but says The Lawyer should not rely on its understanding and should instead get it from the horse’s mouth: Southwark Crown Court.
Reporter tries James Price again. There is no answer. Reporter gently returns phone to cradle. Makes cup of tea. Cries.