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'Threat' to Newbury MP Laura Farris: Howgate trial postponed again

THE resumed trial of a man accused of sending a menacing message to Newbury MP Laura Farris was halted again after his behaviour became increasingly bizarre.

The case against Ian Howgate had already been adjourned several times – most recently last December, when he appeared to be experiencing coronavirus symptoms.

The postponed trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in Central London resumed on Monday – but not for long.

Mr Howgate, of Ley Gardens, Speen, was representing himself, but told the judge he would refuse to speak during the proceedings.

Instead, he handed in a list of conditions he wanted met, which included having the trial moved to a crown court.

Senior district judge Tanweer Ikram told the 56-year-old this was not legally possible. He added: “And, regarding wanting an advocate of your choice... you’ve had a reasonable amount of time now” and pointed out that Mr Howgate had also refused the help of a court-appointed advocate.

Mr Howgate, who had previously responded non-verbally with nods or head shakes, then shouted: “It’s been intolerable today, here, and I’ve been denied the right to a fair trial.”

He said he would refuse to take any further part in the proceedings.

However, when prosecutor Lisa Goddard said: “Mr Howgate appears to be in some distress”, the judge remarked: “He appears to be doing the crossword at the moment.”

District judge Ikram asked whether abandoning the trial and simply imposing a restraining order on Mr Howgate might resolve the problem.

Ms Goddard said the case had recently been reviewed “at a high level” and that the crown’s view was that the matter was so serious that a trial must take place.

She added: “He’s apparently tried numerous times to instruct a solicitor and hasn’t been successful. That isn’t likely to change. We assess it’s in the public interest to continue [today].”

Mrs Farris, who has now attended two abandoned trials to try to give evidence, had been in fear for her life, the prosecution claims.

The court has heard of an email Mr Howgate sent to Mrs Farris in which he referred to the killing of British politician Andrew Pennington.

In January 2000 Mr Pennington was acting as an assistant to the Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, Nigel Jones, when he was stabbed nine times by a constituent wielding a Samurai sword. Mr Howgate denies a single charge of sending a menacing message.

The judge pointed out that Mr Howgate – who says he is suffering from dyslexia and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – had already been granted special dispensations including being allowed his own desk in the courtroom and not having to go into the dock like most accused.

After several hours, after being told the trial must proceed, Mr Howgate began violently shaking in his chair. Eventually the judge said he would reluctantly adjourn the proceedings once more because he was “not sure Mr Howgate is in a mental state to continue today as a litigant in person, which is what he is”.

One issue to be determined, he said, was Mr Howgate’s fitness to plead. The judge ordered psychiatric reports and adjourned the case until the autumn.

Meanwhile Mr Howgate was once more released on bail.

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