74 year-old Norwich court reporter set to retire

A freelance who has covered Norwich Crown Court for 55 years is to hang up her notebook.

Seventy-four year-old Maureen Huggins, who regularly files court copy to the Lynn News, is to retire from her West Norfolk beat.

The freelance, who also files for BBC News online, intends to now dedicate her time to a memoir about her life spent on the press benches – during which she has reported on some of the country’s most high-profile criminal cases.

‘The most colourful murder case was definitely Tony Martin,’said Huggins.

The sensational 1999 case saw farmer from Emneth, Norfolk charged with murdering 16-year-old Fred Barras as the teenage burglar attempted to flee from Martin’s home.

‘Everyone thought he was going to be found not guilty of murder,’she said. ‘I got the shock of my life when he was found guilty.

‘When I first went into court he said: ‘Hello, don’t I know you?’I used to go to antique sales, so I said perhaps he had met me there.

‘That case was so packed with national press and other media; I couldn’t get in the press bench.

‘The judge and the court clerk agreed that I could have a little stool put at the end of the press bench just for me, so I could nip in and out of the court to cover other cases.”

Martin was found guilty of murder but upon appeal the sentence was commuted to one of manslaughter for which he was given a five year sentence.

‘The most extraordinary day was one day when he was on bail and supposed to be hidden in a safe house. I was in court and my colleague rushed into the court and said, ‘Tony Martin’s outside’.

‘And there he was, wearing his trademark floppy farmer’s hat, just wandering around the court. I couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t supposed to be seen in public until the case started – least of all at the court.

‘It turned out that he thought that his safe house had been discovered so he had come to court to be asked to be locked up for his own safety.

‘I got on the phone and filed the story but the office came back and said that Max Clifford – who was acting as Martin’s press agent – had said the story was a complete invention.

‘I just said, ‘I don’t care what Max Clifford’s saying – I’m looking at Tony Martin now’. That story went right the way around the whole word.”

The Martin case was a highlight of a remarkable career for the Norwich-born, self-trained reporter who first working for a news agency when she was 19.

‘Don’t ask me my first case, I’ve done that many thousands,’she said. ‘I never take any of the cases home with me, in the sense that I think about what I’ve heard. And of course, over the years I’ve heard terrible things that people have done to each other.

‘But it does not worry me in that sense. Although the funny thing is that I hate horror films… if I watched Dracula I’d be convinced he was coming through the window when I went to bed.

‘It does make you aware of the badness of life.

‘People thought it was odd because I took my daughter along with me to a murder trial. But I wanted to make her aware of the bad things in life. I have a fascination with why people kill people.

‘My daughter was amazed seeing me in court and told people, ‘my mother goes up to the dock and talks to murderers’. But I told her, they weren’t going to murder me – they’ve nothing against me.

‘Why do people do it? There are just evil people, I guess. But there is no doubt, that drugs have changed the whole criminal scene. That is the one big transformation I have seen over the years. And knives. When I started people would carry bicycle chains and coshes, but never knives. It’s shocking.

‘When people had a fight on a Saturday night they would end up with black eyes. They wouldn’t kick anybody to death or stamp on them.”

Maureen said it took her some time to understand the ways of the criminal class in West Norfolk.

‘I could never understand how they could afford to drive the Porsches and BMWs they were crashing or being arrested in for drink-driving. Then it clicked – they had been for a night out and just stolen the cars to get home,’she added.

Maureen’s dedication to her journalism is legendary. She claims to have only had one day off sick in 55 years – when she was sent home after going into labour.

‘I thought it would make a good story for the nationals if I had a baby at court,’she said.

And she caused chaos when selected for jury service.

‘Funnily enough, it was for an arson which I had been called out to cover when they had arrested the suspect,’she said.

‘I had actually spoken to him at the scene. Anyway, when they called the jury into the box all the lawyers, the clerk and the judge looked at me astonished.

‘They said ‘What are you doing here?’… they wouldn’t let me be on the jury.”

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