The killing of baby Cabby
By Jack Troughton Highlycharged courtroom drama Rough Justice centres on the murder of a ninemonthold badly disabled baby and examines whether a parent can be justified in a mercy killing.
The cut and thrust of an adversarial criminal prosecution came under the spotlight at Javea Players’ Studio Theatre and followed the trial of James Highwood, who would have taken over three minutes to smother his struggling braindamaged son – a child condemned to living in a twilight world
However, was Highwood – a wellknown television personality, presenter of controversial ‘British Justice?’, and writer – guilty of manslaughter or murder? It was for the jury and, later, the audience to decide. In law, did he intend to kill?
Naturally, being a celebrity, there is a media pack all of a frenzy at the gates of the building and a prolife demonstration baying for blood.
Rough Justice is an impeccably written piece and in the hands of director Lindsay Johnson also a thoroughly watchable evening’s entertainment. Bravo indeed for plumping for such a serious and emotional piece and congratulations to the cast for stepping up to the mark in a play that has attracted professional actors of the calibre of Martin Shaw, Tom Conti and Diana Quick.
Justice – who symbolically wields a sword and carries a set of scales atop the Old Bailey – can be difficult. Probing a moment in recent history is not in real time; every second is examined and probed. It is in itself a slowburning piece of theatre.
The prosecution seizes on a number of small points, lapses if you will in the defendant’s evidence. Central is why does the child not been named – Highwood is forced to admit the tiny boy is called ‘Cabby’; sadly, after ‘cabbage’ but seemingly an affectionate nickname after wife Jean made a slip
And there are confessions in Highwood’s cell that reveal what prosecuting counsel has guessed; the case is more complicated than it first appears. Judge and jury Nigel Poole brought the defendant to life. Arrogant, bullying, and not so much above the law as wanting to rewrite it – and redefining the role of judge, jury and barrister for the Crown to boot.
He is also a loyal husband and loving father – there are three other children looking to protect wife Jean. Nigel put his all into the part, handling the emotion it demanded and even staging a breakdown in the dock without descending into melodrama.
There are dark moments in the couple’s lives and Debbie Saunders as Jean hides the largest. Accused of being a trophy wife in court, she is not called to give evidence but reveals secrets the jury will never hear; a clever and believable performance.
Gary Johnson made a very believable judge. With Highwood determined to handle his own defence against the repeated advice and pleas of his solicitor (Ray Bigger), he has to be understanding and forgiving when rules of evidence are broken but uphold the system. As lord of all he surveys, Gary wore his wig with pride and upheld his and the jury’s roles; something Highwood was determined to scupper.
Margaret Casely QC was the prosecutor played by the talented Caroline DrewettMansell. Armour plated against the taunts of the defendant, she strives for the truth and is the ultimate professional, complete with the trademark actions of a top barrister – after all, it is a branch of the legal profession that is all about acting and drama. Completing the cast were Jennifer KellowWard as the . pathologist; Rosemary Brown as a renowned paediatrician; Mike O’Neill as PC Ramsden; and Roger Brown as the court usher.
The verdict was announced by Madam Forewoman of the jury – before the audience was polled at the end of the show.
A colleague frequently found on the press benches of Old Bailey – aka the Central Criminal Court – often lightened tensions when first spotting a defendant by quietly announcing: “Guilty as charged M’lud”. Oh, and a confession: it was also traditional for members of Her Majesty’s press to run a book on a verdict, settled when the legal case was run.
Photos by Phil Mansell
Solicitor Peter Ackroyd with Mrs Highwood
Prosecutor, judge and defendant