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‘My husband was murdered but I need to pay £14,000 for the records to show our daughter’

When her children and grandchildren ask her what happened, Rachel Knight wants to have the answers.

She too will have questions about her husband’s murder and how the case played out in court. Although she sat through the trial earlier this year, she was in no state to remember, let alone process, all the details.

Having the court transcripts to bring closure after a crime that has changed the course of her life seems like a small ask. Knight was beside herself when her request for the 17-day hearing came with a bill of nearly £14,000.

Making victims and bereaved families pay for court transcripts is another way in which they are sidelined in a flawed criminal justice system, i has been told by campaigners who want reform. The Government is under pressure to wipe the cost for victims who want the documents.

“I’d have probably stretched to £2,000, £3,000, £5,000 max,” Knight tells i. “I’d struggle because I’m now a widow, I’m not working because of what’s happened, my financial income at the moment is benefits.”

The 45-year-old from Wakefield is in disbelief and cannot afford the quote from Opus 2, one of six companies that carries out transcriptions for court.

“If I had £50,000 in the bank I’d probably talk myself around it. But that’s not the point, it’s… the fact that they’re charging what they’re charging.

“I’ve had to deal with one thing after another, after another, after another. It’s destroyed me, losing him. I’ve lost everything. I’ve lost my self-confidence. I’ve lost my best friend, the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I’m empty… and then to have that bill, that quote emailed over…”

Knight’s husband, 41-year-old Tony Steel, died in September 2022 after he was fatally stabbed while trying to help a friend retrieve his stolen bank card. Three people have been convicted for their part in the murder and events leading up to it. One man was jailed for life with a minimum term of 24 years.

Rachel Knight said her husband’s death meant she has lost her best friend (Photo: Supplied)

Knight hasn’t yet grieved. Instead she has been dealing with the realities of losing someone, including initially being cut off from their joint bank accounts which, at one point, left her unable to afford sanitary products.

“This is why I’ve still not actually broken because I’ve had all this sh*t to deal with right from the start.”

Asked why she wants the transcripts, she says: “Because I have detached myself emotionally from the whole situation from the start. I went to court every single day through that trial and probably missed 70 per cent of what was going on, because I sat there as his wife and I maintained my own self-dignity and I represented my husband the right way.

“My marriage was cut short, we were going to spend a lifetime together. I want to be able to, in maybe 10 years or 20 years’ time, or on my own deathbed, read about my husband that I lost to these tragic circumstances… So the reason for the transcripts was because I wanted something to refer back to if I needed to ask any questions, or if I am ever asked any questions.”

Knight says their teenage daughter – they have five children between them – will one day want to know more about her father’s death. She believes transcripts should be freely available to next-of-kin.

Without them, Knight worries she will never get closure. She says the system is “making profit out of people’s misery. That’s how I feel, it’s disgusting, it’s absolutely disgusting… it’s soul destroying.

“I’m never going to get that closure, I’m never going to be able to answer questions that I may have myself. It’s like a gap, it’s like a void. This whole thing has been hard enough as it is.”

Joanne Early, CEO of SAMM (the Support after Murder and Manslaughter charity) said bereaved families often want court transcripts because they remain in a “traumatised state” for a long period of time, adding that attending a murder trial can be extremely stressful.

“You’re often hearing evidence, very graphic evidence, for the first time with the family, and you simply cannot take all the information in and you cannot remember it all. And families want the transcripts as a record of what was said in court. Others have younger children… those children want to grow up and have access to the court transcripts because it was about their parents.”

Having worked with bereaved families for 13 years, she said Knight’s “is the worst quote I have ever seen”.

Early said: “I normally see quotes from between £3,000 and £5,000 for the transcripts for a murder trial.”

“It’s a classic example of bereaved families not being at the heart of the criminal justice system.

“It sends a very clear message [that] victim’s families are not an important part of this process. It sends a very clear message that they’re secondary to this whole process and there’s an imbalance of power.”

Early wants the Victims and Prisoners Bill to include free court transcripts for victims and bereaved families. She adds that profit should not be made from victims and that companies should face limits on how much they can charge.

Individuals who want court transcripts must fill out a form setting out whether they want a record of the whole hearing or certain parts, such as the prosecution’s summary of the facts, the judge’s sentencing remarks or the antecedents, which cover the defendant’s background and previous offences. A transcript of sentencing remarks usually costs around £40.

Each Crown Court has been assigned one of six transcription companies by the Ministry of Justice, which says the cost of producing transcript involves staff listening back to audio recordings sometimes spanning several weeks of evidence.

It is viewed as rare for victims to request a transcript for an entire trial, they usually ask for sentencing remarks.

Sometimes judges can request transcripts in criminal cases are made available if the case is of significant public interest. Victims can also appeal to a judge for a transcript to be made available at public expense in the court where the case is being held.

The London Victim’s Commissioner Claire Waxman says court transcripts are important for all victims to understand their case, and supports including free transcripts for them in the Victims and Prisoners Bill.

She points out that some victims, particularly if they are a witness, will not be present for all parts of the trial and they might need transcripts in order to appeal the outcome.

Some victims, she says, are unable to move on with their lives if they do not understand why there has been an acquittal, for example.

“We’ve heard from a few rape victims that felt that they were unfairly cross examined – they use the word brutal cross examination… So that’s why sometimes rape victims will want to access their transcripts.

“I think it’s for closure, understanding exactly what’s happened, why a decision might have been made, they can try and piece that together.

“The crime has happened directly to that person, to that victim. But what our criminal justice system does is, as soon as that victim comes into the system and reports the crime, they’re taken out of the equation, they’re put on the sidelines. They’re treated like a bystander, and so they’re not an active participant in that justice system.”

Ms Waxman said the justice system dehumanises victims.

“At every point through that justice system, they are dehumanised again. It’s a case. It’s not a person.”

An Opus 2 spokesperson said: “We are deeply sorry that Ms Knight suffered the tragic loss of her husband. The Ministry of Justice’s website states that there are circumstances when an individual can apply for a free court transcript. This must be done via the court where proceedings were held.”

A HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokesperson said: “Court proceedings are not routinely transcribed so when a request is made for a transcript the fee covers the considerable costs that come with writing up the audio recording of weeks’ worth of hearings.”

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