University student Harry Middleton opens up about six months in prison before he was cleared of trying to kill his ex-girlfriend
Softly-spoken Harry Middleton still looks in shock when I see him outside Portsmouth Crown Court.
Harry has just emerged from a courtroom after watching the trial of a teacher accused of being a sexual predator.
‘Innocent until proven guilty,’ Harry tells me. And he would know. Just weeks before in the same building the university student was cleared of trying to kill his ex-girlfriend.
It’s remarkable to see him back at the court where he tearfully told a jury he had injured his former partner by accident in a failed attempt to end his own life with a knife.
The university student had been working in the Wimpy at Hayling Island’s Funland when he was arrested.
Prosecutors said he wanted to kill. But jurors found him not guilty after hearing his explanation, largely bottled up for six months while in jail on remand.
‘I never have bad feelings about that building,’ Harry said.
‘But it was six months of hell - it didn’t register, it’s only now.’
Now after spending time in jail the 21-year-old, from Havant, insists he is a ‘better person’ for having gone through the criminal justice system.
This autumn he restarted his sports therapy degree at the University of Chichester, and is trying to move on with his life and the lost months in prison.
Harry had been suffering with depression at the time of the alleged incident and was on medication. Since coming out of prison he is getting more help.
He previously told jurors his poor mental health was linked to financial trouble and his mother having a brain tumour.
Harry was held on remand since the moment he was arrested on November 24 last year in what police at the time called a ‘domestic dispute’.
Trainee teacher Louise Brindley, 21, had been working in as an elf at Santa’s Grotto while Harry was working in Wimpy. The pair had split after a summer romance but Harry was characterised in court as being ‘besotted’ with her and wanted her back.
Prosecutors alleged when the pair went into the restaurant’s store room he lunged at her with a knife in his back pocket. But a jury accepted he had resolved to die by suicide, having selected a knife while chopping vegetables.
‘At the trial I told the truth the whole way through - it was my whole mindset when I was in court. Finally getting it out and telling everyone was so emotional,’ said Harry, who is now in a relationship.
‘Obviously I’m frustrated by what happened but at the same time I have to look from her point of view.
‘If she turned around and saw that I was in the room with a knife with her and she woke up covered in blood I have to see it from her (perspective). You can’t assume.
‘But I was the only one who knew the whole truth.
‘Now I’m just focusing on moving forward and I’m not letting it hold me back. If anything I feel like I’m a better person now.
‘My friends and family weren’t aware (of what happened). I’ve kept it secret but now everybody knows, I’ve got more support.
‘The whole time I was in prison my mindset was “keep your head down” and get to the trial when I can tell the truth and get the truth across.
‘When the trial came about I was absolutely terrified - my whole life depended on that week. It was a relief in a way that I was finally able to go and tell my side of that story.’
Harry, who was acquitted but given a five-year restraining order banning him from contacting Louise, was on trial for four days - and cleared after two hours of jurors’ deliberations.
He told them he fell on Louise in the moments he tried to kill himself.
During the trial he said he 'fell forwards into' Louise in the storeroom and they struggled 'wildly' when she tried to take the knife off him.
‘Because we both had it, held onto the knife, I fell into her and because I fell over into her the knife went into her leg,’ he told jurors.
The stakes had been high. Just weeks before the same judge had jailed a man for a frenzied stabbing for 17 years.
Jurors could have convicted Harry of the lesser offence of wounding intent - which still carried a maximum sentence of life in jail.
The whirlwind of the criminal justice system started the moment he was arrested.
He was bewildered. From his point of view he intended to kill himself. Then he was accused of trying to kill Louise.
‘It didn't register for a while to be honest,’ Harry said.
‘When the incident happened, I was not expecting any of that to occur. Going to the police station I felt sick. It wasn't until they took me over to a room I was “oh my god is this real?”
‘The whole day I was in a real down state. Throughout the day it got worse and worse to the point I was so depressed I was ready to commit suicide that day.
‘It felt so weird going from being in that state of mind to being in prison.’
At the trial barrister, Sarah Jones QC, was able to question witnesses on his behalf but Harry’s only chance for his own voice to be heard was when giving evidence on the third day.
For the preceding six months, apart from his solicitor and barrister, he had to wait for that day from inside prison.
Harry spent time in HMP Lewes, High Down and then at Winchester before the trial started.
According to court service data from January to March this year, the average time between a crime being committed and a case being finished at the city’s crown court is 602 days. That is up by 105 days from the same period in 2011.
The number of cases have dropped from 253 to 187 over the same period.
Defendants in custody have to be dealt with much quicker as the law only allows a person to be held on remand for 182 days, until plea or conviction.
‘I had to go through the prison stage but that’s all part of the process,’ Harry said.
‘The fact that I was able to get justice at the end of it, I have sort of faith in it. The whole way through I was praying that I’d get through it in the end. Even then my barrister she was so incredible at her job.
‘I did spend six months in prison. You come out with nothing, having lost your life. I didn’t have my phone or my bank cards for a month. It was really frustrating.’
Perhaps unsurprisingly he now has a strong faith in the criminal justice system - especially after hearing the jurors return a not guilty verdict.
‘It was a massive relief,’ he said. ‘I knew the whole time I was innocent and so did my family and everyone - I was just getting that across to the jury.
‘I couldn’t believe it when I heard it.’
He added: ‘The system works, you’ve got to have faith.’
Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust, said: ‘Remand always means the loss of someone’s liberty, sometimes for a significant length of time. It can also result in the loss of a home, job and family ties. For the substantial number of people each year who are remanded and subsequently acquitted, the impact can be devastating. And yet they are not entitled to any support on release to repair the damage custody has caused.’