sparring | 

'Freeman' wears down judge so much with rant he gets conditional discharge

'I want you out' of here, says exasperated judge as he releases 'Freeman of the Land'
John Attwood was representing himself in court using a ‘Freeman of the Land’ defence

John Attwood was representing himself in court using a ‘Freeman of the Land’ defence

Steven Moore

This is the infuriating 'Freeman' who wore down a judge into not punishing him at all - just so he could get him out of his court!

John Attwood was representing himself in court using a 'Freeman of the Land' defence - though he denies this - as he was being sentenced this week for resisting arrest after dragging a cop through a hedge.

The 55-year-old from Burn Bank infuriated District Judge Michael Ranaghan during an angry contest hearing by demanding judicial reviews, refusing to accept the validity of the proceedings and refusing to address him properly as "your worship".

Despite facing a potential prison sentence or at least a suspended one, Judge Ranaghan gave up and gave the smart-assed property owner a conditional discharge - effectively letting him off the hook.

Judge Ranaghan told him: "I have had the misfortune to put up with this behaviour on numerous occasions. I have tried, with great effort, to retain my temper.

"It's open to me to send you to prison, but I want this case out of here and I want you out of here, so I'm doing the very least I can by imposing a conditional discharge for six months."

When Attwood attempted to speak out, the judge said: "Now is a really good time to leave, because I am so close to sending you to the cells just for the sake of it."

This week we approached Attwood at his home in Co Tyrone and he claimed: "All I was doing was standing up for my own rights.

"I'm not a 'Freeman of the Land', that's a caricature, I'm just a man, a law-abiding citizen who did a lot of public service and I wanted to be treated right.

"I've been sparring with this judge for a couple of years. I don't mean to be disrespectful to him - I don't want to be in court but I expect things to be done properly."

Attwood has garnered plenty of support from the public for standing up for his rights and after an hour in his company it's clear he's an intelligent man who is calm and polite and feels passionate about his case.

But he also leaves you feeling sympathy for the judge as it becomes clear that getting to the nub of why he was being arrested in the first place is more complicated than brain surgery!

It seems he owned a number of buy-to-let properties and someone filed a petition to bankrupt him which he didn't accept.

He was adjudicated bankrupt in November 2017 and under insolvency legislation he was then required to provide full assistance to the Official Receiver.

However, it was claimed that he continually declined to cooperate, failed to attend for interview or to make the necessary disclosure of any assets. Bench warrants were issued but he contested they weren't signed, and he was charged with resisting arrest.

During one arrest in May 2019 - when his front door was kicked in - he was brought before a High Court judge and jailed for six months for contempt of court for failing to disclose his financial affairs.

He explained to us that the police had been to his home several times since 2018 to arrest him - even showing us where they booted in his front door in May 2019 - but he says every time they came with a warrant it wasn't signed. "If the police had come with a signed warrant and had shown me it I wouldn't have had any issue but instead for challenging their methods all I got was violence - they kicked my front door in and carted me off in a cage before putting me in prison," he explains.

"Police seem to have body cameras on when it suits them but not when it doesn't. Until 2018 I'd never been in trouble with the police, but I've been arrested several times now and have a criminal record, as far as I know."

He says he stayed in jail for almost six weeks before signing papers which allowed him to be released early - something he says he now "regrets".

"It was traumatising being arrested for a civil matter and then being thrown in a cage and then humiliated in the High Court.

"Jail was a very strange experience; I'd never been before."

In the lead-up to the judge giving him a conditional discharge, Attwood clashed repeatedly with him this week while representing himself and remained disruptive throughout the hearing.

He insisted the warrant for his arrest was unlawful, adding: "I request a judicial review. I can't proceed with any certainty and make a conscious determination."

He insisted: "It would be prejudicial to proceed. I wouldn't call it a warrant. It was a piece of paper which wasn't signed so it wasn't authorised."

When Judge Ranaghan ordered the warrant to be shown to Attwood, he said: "It's an alleged warrant. There's no stamp or signature."

Warning Attwood on his conduct, the judge said: "That's the last time you speak to me without saying 'your worship'. Watch yourself going forward. Do you understand?"

Attwood dodged this, leading Judge Ranaghan to ask again: "Do you understand? That's yes or no your worship. Say it."

"I don't understand anything," replied Attwood.

The judge asked: "Are you still refusing to call me your worship? I don't care what you think of me but you must show respect to the court. Your refusal to address the court properly is disrespectful."

Attwood didn't respond and the judge moved on stating: "Enough of this circus."

The court then saw Attwood cross-examine a police officer who arrested him, who explained Attwood had refused to identify himself, claimed John Attwood had been dead for 55 years and then stated he had no surname or date of birth.

The officer managed to handcuff Attwood's left wrist, but he pulled away then lunged forward, trailing the officer into a hedge.

He calmed briefly but while being led to the police car Attwood shouted, "Dishonour, dishonour" and accused the officer of dishonestly tricking him.

Offered the opportunity to give evidence under oath, Attwood declined stating: "I want a judicial review. It would be prejudicial to give evidence without having the facts. I'm not happy with the whole process."

Judge Ranaghan retired briefly to consider the evidence, warning Attwood not to leave the building.

He responded, "With all due respect..." but was sharply cut off by the judge who told him: "Don't say with all due respect because you have none."

On return, the judge ruled the officer acted appropriately and "I draw inference on the failure of John Attwood to give evidence, mainly because he had nothing with which to counter the police. All he sought to do was challenge the validly of this process."

He was then handed the conditional discharge by the exasperated judge.

steven.moore@sundayworld.com


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