Chapter Five

Sergeant Copley stood in the witness box with his back straight and his hands clasping the ledge. He was bald and in full uniform, with his medical mask pulled down so that it cupped his ginger beard.

‘Good morning, Sergeant Copley,’ Tom began. ‘I’ll be asking you some questions on behalf of the Crown, after which My Learned Friend, Ms Hart, will ask you some questions on behalf of the defendant, Mr Blake. Before I do that, though, let me just remind you—if I may—to speak slowly, so that notes can be made.’ 

‘Certainly,’ Copley nodded. He knows the drill, Tom thought.

‘One last thing before we get going,’ Tom said. ‘There’s a bundle of documents in front of you. Those are the exhibits for this trial, and there may be occasions when I, or Ms Hart, or His Honour, refer you to them—’

A voice crackled over the courtroom, cutting in and out: ‘I ha—t got an—thing!’ Blake was leaning in to his camera.

Anna rose immediately: ‘Your Honour, if Mr Blake hasn’t received—’

‘Let’s deal with this pragmatically, shall we?’ Denham spoke over her, dry and impatient. ‘If and when the use of exhibits becomes necessary, Ms Hart, we shall find a way to ensure that your client can view them.’

‘But Your Honour, if my client—’

‘Yes, Mr Wells,’ Denham invited Tom to continue.

Tom wondered whether he should give Anna more time to object, but she began to sit down so he pressed on. 

‘Sergeant,’ Tom said, ‘the Contaxx application plays an important evidential role in this case, so I wondered if you could start by telling us about your own use and understanding of it.’

‘Certainly,’ Copley said, again. ‘I’m the Vauxhall station’s Contaxx Leader.’

‘Which means…?’ Denham asked.

‘It means, Your Honour, that my responsibilities include managing the roll-out of the application’s updates and coordinating our use of the application with that of other organisations.’

‘And just for clarity,’ Tom asked, ‘how often are updates issued?’

‘Contaxx is the world’s leader in social connectivity. In order to maintain that position, they update their application every fortnight. That said, its primary purpose remains the same.’

‘Namely?’ Tom nudged him.

‘Well, its primary purpose is to trace an individual’s social contacts—so at any one time it can tell you who you’ve had contact with, linking your phone to theirs. In that way,’ he leaned forward and spoke as though reading from a script, ‘the path of an infection can be tracked and a new case detected before becoming symptomatic. That new case can then be isolated so as to prevent any further transmission.’

‘Thank you, Sergeant.’ Tom scrolled through the notes on his laptop, preparing to embark on the next line of questioning—when Copley went on, uninvited. 

‘So,’ he said, ‘if I’ve come into direct contact with someone who’s registered as infected, I’ll receive a red alert on my phone and I’ll be required to stay home. Contaxx’s curfew function will be activated to ensure that I do that, and once my case is logged, the medical authorities will contact me to determine whether I need to be hospitalized.’

‘Right, thank you—’

‘And if I’ve had indirect contact with someone who’s registered as infected, I’ll receive an amber alert. Again, my case will be logged, and I’ll be required to stay home until further information regarding that particular line of infection has been gathered. Only then will I be told what to do next. I could be upgraded to red, or, occasionally, issued with green clearance.’

‘Sergeant,’ Denham ran a finger up the bridge of his nose, pushing up his glasses, ‘before Mr Wells enquires about the specifics of this case, could you just clarify one thing for me: where does Contaxx get its information from—the data that’s used to issue these coloured codes that we get?’

Copley explained that Contaxx receives and relies upon four types of data: ‘The first,’ he said, ‘is hospital infection data, and the tracing of the contacts of those in hospital. The second is live test data from key workers.’ He spoke slowly and with relish. ‘The third,’ he continued, ‘is the information that comes from the public when they log their own symptoms on the application, as is required. And the fourth,’ he stretched that word out, lending it a sense of finality, ‘is what we call raw movement data: the details of people’s interactions and routines. When all of that’s fed in to Contaxx, it builds up a kind of web, alerting those who need to be alerted, and giving the government the means to monitor and model the virus’ transmission.’

‘Right, thank you.’ Denham turned to Tom. ‘Mr Wells?’

‘Sergeant, I’d like to ask you about the night in question.’ Tom bent down to Anna and whispered: ‘Can I lead on this?’

Her eyes remained locked on her laptop but, to his relief, she nodded. A wisp of hair fell out from under her wig and swung across her face. She tucked it away as Tom straightened up.

In response to Tom’s questions, Copley recalled that on a Tuesday evening four weeks earlier, he and PC Kavita Shah were patrolling South London in a squad car in order to ensure that the lockdown was being observed. At eight sixteen p.m. they received an alert over the radio: a resident of the Bromley House tower block had phoned the police to report that a neighbour had been heard leaving his flat. 

Copley explained that they were in the vicinity of Bromley House, so volunteered to respond. He raised his chin and said: ‘I’d do the same again, even knowing what I know now.’ 

He described driving up Kennington Road: ‘It was empty, of course, but it still took us a few moments to see him. He was heading north, towards St Thomas’, sticking close to the shops and houses—to the shadows, I suppose.’

They pulled up to the kerb and PC Shah jumped out, shouting: ‘Excuse me, sir. You need to go home.’ Copley then turned off the engine, exited the car, and joined her on the pavement.

Tom held up a hand: ‘Sergeant, let me pause you there,’ he said. ‘What were you and PC Shah wearing at the time?’

Copley frowned. ‘We were in full uniform.’

‘Anything else?’

Copley’s eyes widened. ‘Oh, right. Yeah, well, when we got out of the car we put on our gloves and masks.’

‘And can you tell the court what happened when you approached Mr Blake?’ Tom asked.

‘Well at first he, sort of, smiled and called back to us, saying, It’s OK, I’m green. In fact, he held up his phone so we could see his Contaxx clearance, then Kavita asked if he was a key worker.’

‘What did he say?’

‘He said No, so she told him again that he needed to go home, and that by remaining outside he was committing an offence.’

‘How did he respond to that?’

‘He seemed compliant. He said, OK, OK, and sort of, put his head down and walked off. The thing is, he just continued in the direction he’d been heading. That’s when I first became suspicious.’

‘So what did you do?’

‘Well, Kavita ran in front of him, blocked his path, and demanded to know where he was going. Then she held up her LandLine to scan his face—which is standard procedure,’ he insisted. 

‘And how did Mr Blake react to that?’

‘He raised his arm, like he was shielding his eyes from the sun, and said there was no need to scan him. Then I remember Kavita shouting: Sarge! She showed me the result of the scan and I knew immediately we had a problem.’

‘And why did you think that?’ Tom asked, as if he had no idea what was coming.

‘Well,’ Copley took a deep breath, ‘the scan gave us all the usual details: it confirmed his green Contaxx status, listed his address, his age, his occupation. But it also showed that he had form: turned out that at the start of the lockdown he’d been fined for being outside.’

‘So what did you do, now that you had that information?’

‘I said: You’re now committing an offence. Turn back and go home or we’ll arrest you.’

‘Did he turn back?’

‘No. Suddenly he started,’ Copley hesitated, ‘begging, really. He asked us to let it go, said he had to get to his mum because she needed help. Just like that’—Copley clicked his fingers—‘he was distraught. He said: I’ve got green clearance, I won’t hurt anyone.

‘And what did you think at that point?’

‘Well it was obvious he didn’t have the right to be outside, and the stuff with his mother … The fact that he hadn’t mentioned that sooner made me very suspicious.’

 ‘So how did you proceed?’

‘Kavita and I stepped back and discussed what to do. We decided we couldn’t trust him: he’d shown no willingness to go home, and had actually tried to trick us into thinking he was. Plus, we now knew he had form. So we agreed to arrest him. I mean, it was a brazen breach, and he was green so we knew—or we thought—we’d be safe taking him in.’

‘Did you in fact arrest him?’

‘I started to explain our decision and Kavita took out her cuffs. But then, just as she was opening them, he ran.’

‘And what did you do?’

‘To be honest, before I could even process what was happening, Kavita had gone after him. And she’s fast, I mean … like a flash.’

‘Can you describe that to us, please? Her pursuit of him.’

‘It didn’t last long. Maybe a hundred metres? She caught up with him, tackled him, Hollywood style,’ he laughed lightly. ‘Anyway, she took him down and by the time I arrived she was tasering him.’

Tom pictured Blake being tasered on the pavement; convulsing face-down, his rigid limbs shuddering against the concrete.

Copley then concluded his account of the evening: PC Shah arrested Blake for leaving home without reasonable excuse, before the two of them handcuffed him and bundled him into the back of their car. They took him to Vauxhall police station and interviewed him that night.

‘He answered No Comment to most of our questions,’ Copley added, ‘except that he kept bringing up his mother. He pleaded with us to just let him go, saying that he had to see her, that she needed help—and towards the end, begging us to visit her for him.’

‘Did you?’ Tom asked.

‘Well … no. Like I said, we didn’t feel that we could trust him.’

Blake was charged, Copley stated, and then detained.

‘It wasn’t until the next night, the Wednesday night,’ he continued, ‘that I became ill. I woke up about three a.m. drenched in sweat, my head thumping, my throat closing up. It felt like my chest was being crushed. I had to fight to suck in air. It was … I mean it was … terrifying. I knew immediately that I’d got it.’

‘So what did you do?’

‘First thing I did was update Contaxx with my symptoms, so everyone else would get an alert. Then I rang round my team. I couldn’t get Kavita or Rob, but I managed to get the others.’

‘Who’s “Rob”?’

‘PC Rob Scott, who’d booked Mr Blake in on Tuesday. He was in a coma by Thursday.’

‘Now,’ Tom did his best to sound gentle, tip-toeing up to the topic. ‘It isn’t disputed that PC Shah died of the virus two days later, on the Friday.’

‘Yep.’ Copley put a finger to his eye, as if to wipe away a tear, but none were visible. He bowed his head slightly and went on: ‘To be honest, I don’t remember anything between being picked up on Wednesday night and waking up in hospital on Friday. That’s when I heard she’d … she’d …’

‘Take your time,’ Tom said softly.

‘… died.’ He swallowed the word, like he was ashamed to utter it.

Tom couldn’t quite tell whether Copley’s grief was genuine. He wondered what Denham would make of it, then ploughed on:

‘Are you able to tell the court about the investigation that followed?’ Tom asked.

‘Well obviously I was recovering for the next ten days or so, but Sergeant Goode kept me in the loop with emails and calls. He needed to talk to me to find out what had happened, after all.’ 

Copley stated that he, PC Shah, and PC Scott all fell ill on the same night, and that PC Scott was still off work because of an underlying condition which had complicated his recovery. Blake, he added, became symptomatic shortly after they did: on the Thursday morning, whilst in custody. 

He explained that the days before they’d arrested Blake had been relatively quiet, with minimal lockdown breaches and no amber or red alerts. As a result, Contaxx was unable to identify the source of their infections. 

‘Did you find a source in the end?’ Tom asked, trying not to lead.

‘We did.’

‘How?’

‘Well it wasn’t long before the team suspected Mr Blake.’

‘Why was that?’

‘Because at the end of the week they discovered that an elderly lady who’d lived in his building had died of the virus. She was a neighbour of his. She’d been found dead at home on the Tuesday, the same day we arrested him. But because she’d never had a smartphone, the details of her case weren’t uploaded onto Contaxx until after her death had been processed—on the Friday, I think.’

‘And what did the team do with that information?’

‘They went to interview Mr Blake in hospital that Sunday. In the course of that interview he admitted that he’d delivered groceries to his neighbour the previous Saturday: so three days before we picked him up, and three days before she was discovered dead.’

Tom clarified the timeline for Denham’s benefit: ‘So, on the Saturday Mr Blake visits his neighbour; on the Tuesday she’s found dead, and you arrest him; on the Wednesday you and your colleagues fall ill; on the Thursday Mr Blake becomes ill too; on the Friday, PC Shah tragically dies; and on the Sunday, Mr Blake is interviewed in hospital—is that right?’

‘Yes. And they arrested him for infecting PC Shah that afternoon, in hospital.’

‘Thank you, Sergeant,’ Tom smiled and closed his laptop. ‘If you’d wait there, please.’

Go to Chapter Six

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