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Stockholm Syndrome

Sometimes I get little theories in my head; this is one of them.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it (there maybe somebody), Stockholm Syndrome is the phenomenon whereby captives form an attachment to their captors.  The phrase first appeared following the Norrmalmstorg robbery when bank employees were held hostage and later refused help from the authorities and defended their captors in public.

Those of us to work with suspects and defendants often see a fledging state of Stockholm Syndrome taking hold of some of our clients.  It usually happens with clients who are new, or relatively new, to the system and particularly among those who would not normally expect to be involved with the Criminal Justice System.

I recall one client who was accused of a number of very serious sexual offences.  I have no doubt that he was innocent and, after hearing evidence from his accusers and from him the jury rejected the evidence against him completely.  He was held by the police for a number of weeks because he became ill in custody and so was under police guard at hospital until he was fit to return to the police station.  Afterwards he was put in prison to await trial.  He was terrified by everything.  The thing I remember about him most was that he was really upset that the police thought he was a rapist and a paedophile.  He wanted them to like him.  He was desperate to be liked by the people who had power and control over him.  They hated him.

In more normal police station cases (the sort that last less than 24-hours) you see certain types of client who will take your advice, usually to answer no comment, but then ask “how will the police react?”  They genuinely feel the need not to upset the officers.  I don’t think this is fear that they’ll be beaten up or kept locked up any longer than necessary.

As well as my other work, I run a drink drivingsolicitors firm in London.  Something that surprised me when I moved into that specialisation was the pressure felt by defendants in court.  When I am with a client in a court room the problem is easily manageable.  But, the problem often arises where clients decide to attend a first appearance by themselves to enter a not guilty plea in the misguided belief that it will save them money (it won’t because the first appearance is a quick hearing and doesn’t take much solicitor time, the majority of work is done in preparation for the trial).

Thankfully only a few clients chose to go it alone at the first appearance, but the typical pattern I find is the client speaks to me saying he’s been accused of drink driving.  He says he wasn’t the driver or whatever, but says he wants to attend court alone at first.  I make it clear this is a bad idea but tell him what he should do.  After the hearing I call the client and discover that the client pled guilty.  Usually the reason given is along the lines of “the clerk said I didn’t have a defence”.  I have little doubt that the real reason is a loss of confidence and an underlying desire to take the path of least resistance – in effect to get on with the court staff and magistrates.

The moral of the story is that whether somebody is facing a criminal allegation, whether it is drink driving or something more serious, that person is in a very vulnerable position when they step into a police station or a courtroom.  Anybody who is accused of a crime should take legal advice from a qualified solicitor.  The prosecution will always be prepared by a lawyer and represented by somebody who has been trained to present the prosecution’s case.  Why would anybody not want to have a solicitor on their side?


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