On Saturday we reported that Belinda McKenzie had already dusted off the old begging bowl, and had begun trying to raise money from anyone on her email and social media lists who might be able to cough up a bit of cash in order to spring her friend Sabine McNeill from prison.
By yesterday, she was claiming to have raised £12,000 of the £20,000 security which had been set on Friday when Sabine pleaded not guilty to a total of 19 charges—four charges of stalking causing fear of violence or serious alarm or distress, and 15 counts of breaching her restraining order.
How bail security works
We’re fortunate to have several people with legal experience commenting on this blog, and over the past 48 hours they’ve begun to enlighten us as to the difference between “bail surety” and “bail security”, and some of the finer points thereof.
You can have a surety (someone promising to pay if bailee runs away) and, separately, a security which is rarer and requires actual cash money to be physically lodged with the court.
Someone acting as a surety can withdraw at any time, usually in the hours before the trial (knowing all along the d(efendant) is going to do one) to avoid liability so is of questionable use.
Security is quite rare nowadays and usually suggests that the d(efendant) is considered a considerable flight risk.
Long-time commenter SJones added,
With a security, the £££ has to be lodged in court before the (defendant) is released. All of it. Grounds are same grounds as to impose any other bail condition: would offend on bail, abscond, interfere with witnesses. If she can’t come up with the £££ in 7 days she’ll have another hearing.
At end of hearing money is returned with interest, unless (defendant) absconds. Grounds to impose bail conditions are less stringent than grounds to remand in custody.
Belinda has described the bail condition as a “security” several times now, which makes sense given Sabine’s prior record of having fled the country in February 2015, when she heard the police wanted to speak with her about having released the videos of RD’s children.
At that time, readers might recall that Sabine stayed at her nephew’s flat near Berlin for nearly seven months, before finally returning to London, where she was almost immediately arrested at the Royal Courts of Justice.
In answer to a reader’s question—”How on earth does BM ‘know’ that anyone ‘putting up funds will get every penny back after the trial’”—SJones responded,
She is absolutely right that all the money is returned, indeed it’s returned with interest. It’s not imposed as a punishment (obviously as it’s pre-conviction) but as a way of ensuring the defendant surrenders to bail. So provided she turns up @ court, the money will be repaid at the end of case, whether or not she’s convicted.
The problem however is that the reason for imposing a security is to put pressure on the defendant to attend court, otherwise they lose their OWN money. If they know that someone is going to pay it all for them, it loses its force (and becomes the same as a surety, where someone else promises to pay).
So successful 3rd party funding of the security deprives it of its effect (unless it’s someone you feel a moral obligation to – your mum say, who would have to sell her house or sacrifice her life savings) and puts the court back at square one: what do we have to do to ensure she doesn’t abscond?
In other words, crowd-funding the money for a security essentially undermines its efficacy as a deterrent to the defendant leaving the country. A couple of lawyers whose opinions we asked said that if they were the judge in this case they wouldn’t grant bail on those terms.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Sabine will not get bail, should Belinda’s fund-raising efforts prove successful—but the odds seem stacked against that outcome.
Will donors really get their money back?
Assuming that Belinda is able to raise the full £20,000, and that the court accepts crowd-funded monies as acceptable security, there remains the uncomfortable question of what happens if Sabine does decide to bugger off to parts unknown as soon as she says farewell to the prison where she’s being held.
As mentioned above, crowd-funding undermines the usefulness of a security. And even Belinda admits that what she is doing is crowd-funding; here’s her end-of-day report from yesterday, in which she attempts to wring a few more pounds from her devoted followers:
Would Sabine feel a powerful obligation to ensure that a large group of relative strangers, each having contributed a few pounds, did not lose their Christmas cash?
Or would she think, “Oh, it’s only a few quid apiece, they can suck it up. I’m FREEEEEE!!!”?
Unfortunately, there have been precedents for this; a rather famous one is the Julian Assange case.
On 7 December 2010, in an effort to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was wanted for questioning on sexual assault charges, the WikiLeaks founder surrendered himself to UK police. He was held for 10 days before being released on bail. He eventually breached his bail and absconded. The country of Ecuador offered him sanctuary, and he holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
A group of nine friends and backers provided a total of £140,000 in 2010 to guarantee that Assange would abide by his bail conditions.
In 2012, following a plea to the court for leniency, these supporters were ordered to forfeit £93,500 of that money.
Making the ruling at Westminster magistrates court, the chief magistrate, Howard Riddle, said he accepted that the sureties “acted in good faith”, but said the system of sureties for defendants who want to remain at liberty would be undermined if cash was not forfeited.
“I accept that they trusted Mr Assange to surrender himself as required,” he said. “I accept that they followed the proceedings and made necessary arrangements to remain in contact with him. However, they failed in their basic duty, to ensure his surrender.”
Bail security is almost invariably deemed to be forfeit in the event that the defendant absconds. In the Assange case, the judge gave the donors three weeks in which to gather evidence with which to seek to persuade the court that it should not collect on the promises they’d made to ensure that Assange would attend his trial. They were unable to do so, and wound up paying the price.
So we wonder: in the event that Belinda is able to scrape together enough money to get Sabine out of prison until her trial in 2018, and that the court is minded to accept crowd-funded monies as a satisfactory security, what steps will the various donors take to ensure that Sabine abides by the terms of her bail?
We understand from Belinda that at least one of her donors is contributing the money she was awarded as damages for having been sexually abused. Will Belinda and Sabine take into consideration that this could be the most money this person has ever had?
Given that there are currently a number of rumours circulating about plans to spirit Sabine out of the country once she’s out of prison, we have our doubts about the whole endeavour. And if we were on Belinda’s mailing list, we think we’d exercise extreme caution before chipping into her latest fundraising scheme.