I looked down at the neatly typed sheet: “On Her Majesty’s Service. Greenshire County Magistrates’ Court: Young Offenders Division.”
I hadn’t seen one of these for a few weeks. When the new government had decided to crack down, as it were, on the misbehaviour of miscreant youths, there had been a rush of sentences under the new Judicial Punishments Act. Under Section 34, to be precise. The clause that gave magistrates the new power to award “an appropriate sentence of corporal punishment to those young offenders where an alternative to custodial sentences is deemed apt, such punishments to be administered within 14 days of sentencing by an approved Officer at the nearest Youth Remand Centre.”
Which is where I fit into the equation. As an approved Officer. Senior Warden, to be precise. Cherfield Girls Remand Centre. Ready for duty, sir.
I’d been the obvious choice in the Centre for the new role, I guess. I’d long been an advocate of the short, sharp shock: teach them a lesson they wouldn’t forget, and save the taxpayers money by not locking them up for months. So when the Governor asked me to swing my arm in her Majesty’s service, I hadn’t hesitated to agree.
When the Act came into effect at the turn of the year, there was the predictable rush of cases, my Home Office-approved tawse and cane both quickly being worn in on a succession of young ladies of ill-repute. Yet to be honest, I didn’t think the magistrates were really using their new powers effectively: I’d already had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting almost everyone who came before me on previous occasions – former prisoners at the Centre, repeat offenders, sentenced to a different form of punishment by the State, but already hardened in their ways. Even the ones I didn’t know, it turned out, had all served time at one institution or another. And I hadn’t had anyone sent my way for several weeks.
But as I scanned the sheet of paper before me, it struck me that I didn’t recognise any of the three names before me. Samantha Baker, Anna Porter and Cath Owen. Aged 20, 20 and 19 respectively. New names, for sure. Maybe the magistrates were finally waking up to the deterrent effect of their new powers, at last.
I wasn’t given much in the way of details: name and address, age, implement to be used and recommended number of strokes. Not even the offence – I guess the theory was that I was simply the disciplinarian, the one to administer the sentence that the courts had handed down. I didn’t really need to know why.
But even then I knew more than the intended recipients. It was one of those strange quirks with the new law: when they were sentenced, the magistrate didn’t actually tell them anything other than that they would ‘be required to report’ to the Centre on a particular date, where ‘their offences would be reviewed’. Now, as it happens, we have for some time run half-day ‘workshops’ for some offenders, where we encourage them to explain the reasons for their actions and agree a plan to keep out of further trouble. Set up under some more liberal regime. Never works. Waste of time. But it does mean that on arrival at our front door, the young lasses don’t actually know whether they’re here for a sound talking to or a sound thrashing. Presumably the logic was that if they knew it was the latter, they might never turn up…
I studied the form, and noticed that the first two shared an address. 14 Stockton Grove, Castle Morton. And the third – in Castle Morton as well, but this time in Somerton Park, indeed. Home to Cherfield University. Now there was a turn-up for the books. I wondered… could it be that my three visitors were students? Fascinating. I’ve long had a healthy disregard for the rich kids on the block. Six or seven thousand of them, hundreds of miles from home, living a life of non-stop parties and drunken debauchery. Or so it seems to me. Well, if I did have three young undergraduates to deal with, that was fine by me. I’d look forward to teaching them a thing or two about the real world.
I glanced at my watch. They should be here by now. In fact, they should have been waiting for a few minutes. That was good: it was no bad thing for them to be kept in suspense, contemplating. Kept worrying. They were all supposed to turn up at the same time, 2.30 pm, then wait their turn in the reception area until I went to fetch them. Sitting there nervously, glancing at one another: trying not to show their fear. Looking up at the receptionist, wondering when they’d be summoned. Wondering whether she knew what might be in store for them. I wondered what they would have been doing that morning – pacing up and down, no doubt, worried sick about what might be to come. Hoping upon hope that their sentence was to be a lecture, a discussion, a ticking off: well, they’d soon find out otherwise.
I reached into my pocket, and selected a key, opening the wooden cupboard at the side of the room. I took out the tawse and cane, laying them on the table at the back of the room. I arranged the furniture, leaving my chair behind the desk, but moving the other chairs to one side. I sipped from my glass of water. Then I opened my desk, and took out the folder with the paperwork for the punishment procedure. Checked it, quickly. All the right forms there. Fine.
I closed the door behind me, and set off down the long corridor to the reception area. I smiled at the receptionist, then turned to look at my three customers for the afternoon. And a more terrified group of young ladies I don’t think I’ve ever seen. Sitting next to one another, dressed ever so smartly – wearing what one might term their “interview suits”. Well, I thought, they won’t be needing those before too long.
I looked at them, watching them return my gaze nervously. I glanced down at the piece of paper in my hand. “Miss S. Baker, Miss A. Porter and Miss C. Owen.”
They all stood up, trying to avoid eye contact with me.
“Follow me.” I turned, and led them back down the corridor – their footsteps behind me, their minds racing no doubt, wondering where I was leading them.
We reached the door of the punishment room, and I glanced down at the paper again. “Miss Baker, come inside. You others wait outside until I call you.”
I held the door open, and the tallest of the girls walked past me into the room. I closed the door behind me, and pointed her to stand facing the desk. I, of course, sat down, and opened my file. Slowly, I looked up at her: pale, shaking. An attractive girl: light brown hair, slightly built. An air of prosperity about her: smart clothes, tidy haircut, nice necklace. Funny how the judicial system could bring everyone to the same level – this educated, middle-class lass about to be dealt with in exactly the same way as some of the young tearaways who usually came my way.
I opened the file. “Might I check your name?”
“Samantha Jane Baker, sir.” Her voice trembling.
And your address?
“My… my home address or my University address, sir?”
“Whichever I’m likely to have on my piece of paper, young lady.”
“Yes, sir. 14 Stockton Grove, Castle Morton, Cherfield, sir.”
“Thank you. Well, Miss Baker, I have in front of me a letter from the Young Offenders Division of Greenshire County Magistrates’ Court, following your recent appearance there. You have been asked to attend this Remand Centre in connection with the criminal offence or offences of which you were convicted on that occasion, to be dealt with in the way proscribed in the magistrates’ letter to me.”
“Miss Baker, the magistrate’s instruction to me is that…” I paused for a moment, glancing down at the letter, although I already knew full well what it contained. I continued ” …you should receive a sentence of corporal punishment, under Section 34 of the Judicial Punishments Act.”
She gasped, and rocked back on her feet. “Please, sir. We didn’t do anything really wrong. It was just high spirits after our exams, and we were only singing a few songs.”
I looked up. “Singing songs?”
“Yes, sir. In the town square. At three in the morning. And the police came and arrested us for being drunk and disorderly. Please, sir…”
“Miss Baker, the details of your offence are of no concern to me. My sole role today is to discipline you in line with the magistrates’ decision.”
She looked down at the floor. I could sense tears beginning to form.
“To continue, Miss Baker. As Senior Warden of this institution, I am an Approved Officer under the terms of the act, and as such am required to administer your punishment as laid down by the court. On this occasion, I would inform you that the implement that I am to use is to be…”, looking down, “…the tawse, and that you are to receive… six strokes. Do you understand the sentence, Miss Baker?”
Sniffing: “Yes, Sir.”
I continued. “Miss Baker, under the terms of the Act, it is a requirement that the offender strip to receive their punishment. I would therefore ask you to remove your clothing and any jewellery that you may be wearing.”
She looked shock. “Sir?..”
The nudity requirement was an interesting one, I’d always thought: guaranteeing that all offenders received their punishment in a way that treated them quite literally as equals under the law. And it never failed to bring home the gravity of her predicament to the young lady concerned.
“There is a chair at the side of the room on which you can place your garments.”
“Please…” She looked at me, and I held my gaze steady. “I’m waiting for you, Miss Baker.”
Shaking, she walked over to the chair and took off her jacket, and turning away from me unbuttoned her white blouse. She lifted off her necklace, then stepped out of her shoes, undid her skirt and folded it on the chair. She hesitated now she was down to her knickers and bra, before these too came off. I walked to the back of the room, and picked up the black leather tawse – a nice instrument, well crafted, heavy. To the traditional Scottish design, I believe. Included within the new Act so that our friends North of the Border voted for the regulations when they went through parliament. And a nice instrument for those whose behaviour did not quite merit the stick. Most effective.
I laid the tawse on the desk, and called her over. “Miss Baker, please return to the desk and face me, hands by your sides.” Blinking back tears, she stood as if to attention in front of me, eyes unable to avoid staring at the strap with which she was shortly to become so closely acquainted. Even more attractive naked than she had been clothed, I thought to myself – entirely inappropriately, of course, but what’s a healthy red-blooded man supposed to think when a lovely young woman stands in front of him in the nude?
“I have in front of me a form which details the sentence that has been imposed. You are to sign it, to indicate that I have explained the nature of your punishment to you, and that there are no valid reasons why you may not be disciplined this afternoon.” I held out a pen, which she took, scribbling her name on the relevant dotted line.
“I also have to inform you under the terms of the Act that should at any point I feel that you are not co-operating fully with the punishment, I am able to administer additional strokes to you at my discretion. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Crying openly now. And that was before she had even been thrashed: these middle-class lasses really were ridiculously timid.
“Well, Miss Baker, I’d like you to position yourself in front of the desk, with your legs one metres apart, and assume the position for your punishment by leaning forward over it until your forehead touches the surface of the desk, with your hands clasped on the back of your head.”
She bent forward, her whole body trembling. The punishment position that had been determined by the Act really was a most satisfactory one, I thought to myself, looking down at her.
I picked up the tawse, and moved to her left side. Holding the handle in my right hand, and the other end in my left, I draw my arms upwards, holding the strap out before moving my left hand away and arcing the leather down across the her backside She yelped – whether through the shock of the blow, or the pain that must by now be starting to radiate out across her behind, I didn’t know. I looked with satisfaction at the red outline that the tawse had formed – perfectly horizontal, right across the centre of her buttocks. Very good, I thought to myself: practice clearly does make perfect.
The other thing about the first stroke, of course, was the impact it would have on those waiting on the other side of the door. Up to that point, they had doubtless been straining to hear the conversation, wondering whether they would be in for a ‘workshop or a whipping’, as I termed it. Well, they would know now, all right.
I liked to deliver the second and third strokes in quick succession, aiming them directly on top of one another, below the first mark. With young Samantha, these were beauties, and she let out a cry of surprise as the third stroke descended. Her breathing was deep now – trying to keep control; trying not to give in to the ever-increasing pain.
I paused, making sure the previous strokes had had their full effect, and building the tension in the room as the girl braced herself for the next blow, not sure when it would land. And then… a beauty. Low down. Hard. Very satisfying: I do like the sound of the tawse as it cracks across its target. And a real sob from the young offender, as the blow struck home.
Number five. The penultimate stroke. One knows, of course, that at this stage the young lady – if she still has her wits about her – is counting down. Only one more after this, almost through, if I can clench my teeth and bear just two more… that sort of thing. Which makes it all the more important to really apply some effort to the blow.
THWACK! Her fingers clenched hard on the back of her head, as if trying to keep her down in position, to push herself down – to stop the instinctive reaction of jumping up and clenching her behind. And young Samantha stayed down: she was taking this well, I thought to myself. For a young lady whose buttocks were now a uniform bright crimson, she was being remarkably brave.
The last blow – hard, overlaying the previous marks, was another good one. A little cry from the student. And then deep, loud breathing as she tried to compose herself, knowing that her ordeal was through.
“Stand up and get dressed.”
“Yes, sir.” I watched as she rose, her hands rushing to clasp her backside, clutching it, willing the pain away. She dressed gingerly, trembling fingers struggling with her buttons.
As she finished, I summoned her back to the table. “I must ask you to sign the following form, Miss Baker,” I said as I completed the main details – the date, my name, hers, and “Six – tawse – naked” under the heading “Discipline Administered”. I stamped the form with the Reform Centre’s details, signed my name and turned it round to her. She was blinking back tears as she added her countersignature.
I tore off the top copy, and read from my notes. “This is for your records, Miss Baker. As you may be aware, a sentence of corporal punishment includes a suspended sentence. Under the terms of the Act you are required if convicted of any other offence within the next twelve months to present this copy to the Clerk of the Court. In addition to any sentence that may be passed for that offence, you will then be subject to a repeat of the punishment that you have just received. Do you understand me?”
Tearfully. “Yes, sir.”
“Thank you Miss Baker. Your punishment is over.” I walked to the door, and opened it, showing her out. Her two friends leant forward, a look of panic on their faces as they saw their friend’s tearful demeanour. “Miss Baker, please wait outside the door to this room until I have dealt with today’s other offenders, and do not leave the building until I give you permission.”
“Now Miss Porter, please.”
I ushered the next offender into the room. Tall. Slim. Dark haired. And ever-so smartly dressed. I walked to my seat and sat down; the girl stood, upright, opposite me, hands clasped in front of her. Her eyes took in the sight of the tawse on her desk, and she bit her lip.
“Might I check your name?”
Clearly: “Anna Georgina Porter.” Trying to be confident. Interesting…
“14 Stockton Grove, Castle Morton, Cherfield CR62 9ZX.” Very well spoken. Upper class, even.
I checked the form. Unnecessary, of course: I already knew that 14 Stockton Grove was likely to be an interesting location for any fly on the wall that evening.
I followed the standard text. “Miss Porter, I have in front of me a letter from the Young Offenders Division of Greenshire County Magistrates’ Court, following your recent appearance there. You have been asked to attend this Remand Centre in connection with the criminal offence or offences of which you were convicted on that occasion, to be dealt with in the way proscribed in the magistrates’ letter to me.”
I looked up. No response. She was a cool customer.
I glanced down again. “Miss Porter, the magistrate’s instruction to me is that you should receive a sentence of corporal punishment, under Section 34 of the Judicial Punishments Act.”
Still she stared ahead. Well, I’d take her down a peg or two.
“As Senior Warden of this institution, I am an Approved Officer under the terms of the act, and as such am required to administer your punishment as laid down by the court. On this occasion, I would inform you that the implement that I am to use is to be…”, looking down, “…the cane.”
Still no reaction. Wow. She glared at me. Interesting – no wonder the magistrates had decided that little Miss Cool needed taking down a peg or two.
“You are to receive eight strokes. Do you understand the sentence, Miss Porter?”
“It is barbaric and unacceptable, but yes I do.”
Exactly the sort of smart comment that makes me loathe students. I ignored the comment, and ordered her to strip. Still showing no signs of emotion. Folding her clothes neatly. Standing in front of me, her hands again clasped in front of her, protecting herself.
I picked the tawse up from the table, and took it to the back table, grasping the curved handle of the cane and swishing it through the air as I walked back across the room.
I drew out the form, and ran through my spiel, handing her the pen to sign, which she did clearly.
I instructed her to take the position, bent over the desk. It would be interesting to see how long she retained her composure, I thought, swishing the cane up and down through the air a few times, then measuring it out across her backside, the cool wood pressing gently into her flesh.
I drew the rod back, high, and with expert aim delivered the first stroke. The clear, straight red stripe formed quickly, perfectly horizontal, deepening in colour, forming an attractive tramline across her buttocks. But from Anna Georgina? Not a murmur.
Well, I thought, if this is going to be a battle of wits, I know who’s going to win. CRACK! Hard again. But still no reaction.
As I striped her for the third time, I noticed her shift position ever so slightly on the desk. I smiled to myself – perhaps I was beginning to get through to her at last? So I redoubled my efforts for the fourth stroke, slicing the rod down in a perfect arc, and landing it directly on the previous mark. And bringing a slight gasp from Miss Porter. Always an interesting stroke for reactions, the fourth of eight – far enough into the flogging for the pain to be reaching its climax, yet still the same number to go.
The fifth finally brought more of a reaction – a beautiful low stroke, my young offender lifting her head off the desk with a plaintive “Owwwww”.
“Please try and stay in position and take your punishment in silence, young lady,” I commented, before stepping back and thwacking the sixth, and best so far, down across her now well-striped behind. A loud sob filled the air… good, I thought, we’re getting through to her.
I finally won our little battle of nerves on the seventh stroke. Anna shot up into the air, clutching her backside, crying openly, hopping from foot to foot.
“Now I really don’t think I can count that stroke, young lady.”
“I beg your pardon?” Unbelievable!
“I… er… nothing… sir.”
I placed my palm firmly between her shoulders, just below her neck, and pushed her body forward over the table. “As I said, that stroke didn’t count. So you still have two left. And I shall be adding one extra for your abusive language.”
CRACK! She howled. CRACK again – and again she was on her feet. “You really should try and stay in position, Miss Porter, or we’ll be here all day.” THWACK! Loud sobbing. And then the final stroke – hard, perfectly judged, completing the punishment.
She lay over the desk, her shoulders heaving. I laid the cane down next to her. “You’re very welcome to stay there, young lady, but you might prefer to get dressed.” She stood up, clutching her backside, shuffling over to the chair to pull on her clothes.
A most satisfactory contrast, I felt, between the confident and arrogant figure who had arrived in the punishment room a few minutes before, and the dishevelled lass in front of me now, biting her lip, not sure whether to use her hands to brush away her tears or hold her behind.
“I must ask you to sign the following form, Miss Porter,” I said as I completed the details. “Eight – cane – naked, plus three additional strokes”, stamping the form, scribbling my name and handing her to pen to sign, hands shaking
I passed her the top copy. “A souvenir? Seriously, young lady. This is for your records.” And I repeated the spiel about the repetition of the punishment should she re-offend, before showing her the door. “Miss Porter, wait outside. Miss Owen?”
My final punishment candidate was already sobbing as she entered the room. I always felt a twinge of sympathy for the last on the list – having to listen through the door to the previous sentences being administered, trying to picture what must be going on, dreading their own turn. And, perhaps, helping to comfort some of those who had already been dealt with, whilst all the time needing comfort themselves. (Somehow re-assurances of “You’ll be OK” from a friend who clearly was not OK after her own thrashing couldn’t exactly be re-assuring!)
We did the name and address details – Catherine Diana Owen, Dixon College, Cherfield University, Somerton Park – and ran through the rules and regulations. The poor girl could hardly look at me, gazing at the floor, wiping away tears, apologising profusely for having broken the law, promising never to offend again.
She gasped in horror as I pronounced the sentence – six with the cane. “But Sam only got the tawse,” she pleaded.
I looked at her. “Miss Owen, it is not for me to comment on the punishments administered to other offenders. Nor is it for me to determine the punishment that you will receive. I can only conclude that the magistrates deemed your offence to be worse, or that additional correction was needed to punish you. But that was a matter for the court.”
Crying openly now, she stripped for her punishment. Well, I thought, as I watched her: you can say one thing for these students – they’re certainly pretty. Fair, blonde Miss Owen (natural blonde, I couldn’t help but notice), was the pick of today’s bunch in that respect.
As she bent over the desk, I almost allowed myself to feel a degree of sympathy for her – the poor girl seemed so distraught even before we started. I rested my hand on the small of her back. “Try not to think about the punishment that’s being inflicted, just close your mind off and think about being somewhere far away.” She nodded.
I delivered the first five strokes quickly. Hard, surely. Very hard. A really sound thrashing. And her pale skin striped beautifully. I could hear her deep breathes between strokes. But I didn’t think the lassie could stand a long, drawn out whipping.
I always save the best until last. Of course. So has every good disciplinarian, since time immemorial. And it was no different with Miss Owen… after the five strokes in quick succession, I ran the cane slowly up and down, over her weals, before the rod descended from on high and completed the pattern.
I pretended not to notice as she shot upwards, flinching from the blow. She’d paid enough of a price for her drunken behaviour, I thought, and ordered her to dress. We filled in the forms – young Cath still apologising for her misdemeanours and “for the trouble she’d caused”, before I told her to wait and went to the door.
I called the others in, and lined them up facing the desk, hands by their sides, before sitting down in my chair. I looked up at their tear-stained faces, and then glanced down at my standard text. “Her Majesty’s Government re-introduced corporal punishment as a means to discipline those who have committed serious offences. You have each taken your punishments this afternoon, and Her Majesty’s Government hopes that your floggings will act as a deterrent to you, and ensure that you do not re-offend. Should you re-offend within the next year, the consequences will, as I outlined to each of you individually, be serious.”
I glanced up, then continued. “I should also note that under the regulations, your names and addresses and details of the punishments that have been imposed on you will be published in the next issue of the local newspaper, in this instance, the Cherfield Chronicle. This will serve to illustrate to the local population that the Government is taking significant steps to reduce crime, and to act as a deterrent to others.”
I closed my folder, and stood up. “If you follow me, I will show you out.” And I led them along the corridor, past the receptionist – who, as always, looked up curiously to scrutinise the well-disciplined offenders; comparing and contrasting their demeanours now to their behaviour on arrival; seeing if my job had been well done. I opened the door and ushered them out into the outside world.
“Thank you, sir.” A chorus from each of them. I looked them up and down, silently, and turned back into the building. As I closed the door behind me, I glanced around, watching the three friends fall into one another’s arms, hugging each other for support and comfort.
Back at my desk, I reflected on my afternoon’s work. It had, as always, been a pleasure to support Her Majesty’s Government. To play my small part in fighting crime. To help to keep the Great in Great Britain.
I filed the papers in my desk, and packed away the cane and the tawse ready for the next young ladies to be sent to my door. And I wondered about my three young student visitors. Guessed that they would head back to 14 Stockton Grove. To comfort one another. Compare my handiwork, perhaps?
I wondered if their friends knew – would they have to explain what had happened to an expectant audience? Or had they kept their situation secret? And when the newspaper came out tomorrow – hoping and praying that no-one they knew saw the notice? Perhaps having to explain what had happened, shame-faced? Wondering whether news of their experience would reach their families?
Yes, I thought. I liked the Judicial Punishments Act. A great leap forward for legislation. And an honour to serve Her Majesty…