Kettering firestarters' bizarre court appeal against conviction
The couple were repeatedly told to 'stop chuntering' by the exasperated judge
A couple dragged three Kettering council workers, a police officer and a PCSO to court to give evidence in an appeal against their conviction - before one of them stood up and immediately admitted the offences from the witness box.
Piper Corstin and Christopher Johnson, who has now changed his surname to Corstin, had previously been convicted of ignoring legal notices ordering them to stop burning rubbish from their house clearance business Mr and Mrs All Round Van Services in their garden in Pytchley Road, Kettering.
At a magistrates' court hearing last July they were found guilty of lighting 18 bonfires at the front and back of their home after being ordered to stop by the fire service, the police and the council and fined £5,000.
But on Friday (January 24), in an appeal costing thousands of taxpayers' money and three hours of court time, the hapless pair appeared at Northampton Crown Court in front of a judge and two magistrates to contest both the conviction and the sentence.
In a perplexing hearing, the pair were told by the furious Judge Michael Fowler to stop 'chuntering' their way through the evidence and to stop chatting to each other from their position behind their barrister Daniel Green. Piper Corstin also had to be told to put away her phone.
Christopher Corstin, was heard to admit the offences he was appealing against just a few minutes into the hearing. But despite this, on their instructions, their barrister called several witnesses who had to give evidence about the bonfires they had documented during a 12 month period.
The court heard how Kettering Borough Council had received numerous complaints from multiple neighbours about the bonfires in early 2018.
From the witness box, former KBC Environmental Protection Officer Ciaran Corkerry told the court how he had sent warning notices and community protection notices (CPNs) in September 2018 via first class post to the Corstins telling them to stop burning rubbish on their land. Then, when they switched to burning rubbish on KBC land instead, they received further notices banning them from burning waste anywhere in the open air.
They were also accused of not providing waste transfer notices to customers.
They denied ever receiving such notices, despite 'aggressive' calls to Kettering Borough Council to dispute them. At one point KBC workers were told they must travel in pairs or take a police escort to their home following threats.
After the CPNs were issued, there were 18 more bonfires with the fire service had attending on ten occasions. The call-outs to their home were estimated to have cost the taxpayer about £20,000.
Barrister for the appellants Daniel Green asked Christopher Corstin in the witness box: "What do you have to say in relation to these fires?"
"I set them," said Corstin.
"I'm a man of my own world. All my life I've done what I wanted to do. I've never really listened to anyone.
"No-one would tell me what to do which is why I've spent most of my adult life in prison."
Corstin, 28, who spent thirteen years of his youth in 800 different foster placements, said that if his partner told him to stop lighting fires he would simply tell her to shut up.
"I didn't listen to any of them," he said. "PCSOs, police, council staff. I do what I want."
He said he had now obtianed professional help for his behaviour and the couple had moved to Leicestershire after 'receiving threats' following media coverage of their case.
Piper Corstin, 32, said that she had never received any notices in the post and had not lit any fires. Instead, she said she'd pleaded with Corstin not to start the fires.
She said: "He was an absolute monster back then. I was scared of him."
But she was said in court to have been the driver of the van that carried out the clearances and had phoned KBC to complain about the notices.
His Honour Judge Michael Fowler did not believe their story and, after giving the appellants a stern lecture for needlessly calling so many witnesses to court ' for no purpose at all', he dismissed their appeal and upheld their existing fine. Their barrister Mr Green said that he had called the witnesses on the instruction of his clients and that it had not become apparent they would not be needed until the proceedings were under way.
Judge Fowler heard that the pair, who have since started another business called Corstin Landscaping and Removals, lived off Piper Corstin's £400 per month disability living allowance and did not have the means to pay the court costs.
Judge Fowler said: "These appellants have caused inordinate costs to the council, not only in the initial proceedings but in these proceedings as well.
"We're not going to improve anyone's position by burdening them with costs which are going to be borne by the ratepayer of Kettering."