From Dalmuir train station to Glasgow is a distance between not far and life changing, the the High Court an Intensive Care Unit of the Criminal Justice system. Nobody visits it by accident. In the hubbub of Glasgow Central Station near Boots dispensary Mrs Docherty absent-mindedly pulls a hanky from her coat sleeve and waves the white cloth in front of Pizza Face’s nose, swipes the snot from his nose as if it’s her own and shoves the hanky back in her bag and shuts it over. He has taken a bit of stretch in the last nine months, but is dressed to impress and not show her up with his smart school blazer, clean and buttoned-up white shirt and school-tie choking his neck. Weegin black shoes are buffed at the toes to shine modestly beneath the creased shelter of grey flared trousers. She stands square in the drizzle of rain on the concourse outside pigeons circling above her head to gets her bearings. Heading towards Argyll Street she clutches the hand of her son, ignores sluggish double-decker buses and black Hackneys choking the air, and establishes the right of way in wide city-centre pavements by sheer will power with other harried pedestrians bending round her stocky body. A circular nylon blue hat the size of a saucer, is pressed down over her forehead and pinned forcibly to her grey hair. A heavy dark coat falls below the knee and is good for any weather, from tinkling her white toes and paddling in the sea at Rothesay in sunny weather, to attending the High Court in Glasgow where her erstwhile daughter-in-law is accused of murdering her son Jaz.
As they get nearer to the High Court they hear him before they see the wee man with billboards tied with string that chop him off at the neck. A transcript from the Bible is scrawled with chalk on the back and front as he trails up and down the pavement declaiming: ‘Let Jesus into your life. Open the door to a new life. Open the door of your heart and let Him in’.
Mrs Docherty’s concentration wavers and she latches onto her son and staggers. ‘This way,’ Pizza Face says, dipping his shoulder, bearing her weight. He notes the way in which sometimes his mum’s face goes wan and she freezes, disorientated. He takes the lead because by now he knows by sight the way they are going.
The High Court in Glasgow is in your face. Its architectural roots in murky and damp subterranean cells, a cold looking place made of stone darkened by soot, fashioned in neoclassical style with porticos and pillars, made to intimidate and as you get nearer the past meets the present and brings on a case of the shivers, especially when the wind whips off the Clyde and blows through the dreich wide-open spaces of Glasgow Green and brings the tang of river life into high walls and men dressed in old-fashioned wigs and courtly gowns. Not that that’s a bad thing for Pizza Face leading his mother and coming to demand justice for her murdered son.
Since Karen is Angela’s mum Pizza Face is undecided whether he wants her to hang, but he daren’t admit it. That’s what his da and brothers think. They should hang her. The Daily Record cites as a local source an exclusive interview with Maisie, the shopkeeper at the bottom of the close, who classified herself as one of Karen’s few friend and who knew her well. She also thinks Karen should hang. The tabloid leads with that and in a smaller font headline banner, bring back hanging? - with a question mark suggesting ambiguity. The reporter’s illustration is a black-and-white picture of Karen in a summer print-dress laughing and eating an ice-cream cone. Lesser headlines highlight in bold black-block ink lead with how Karen became a bloody butcher twice, once for poisoning her partner and the other for murdering the innocent child inside her. Comparisons are made with Myra Hindley with her dyed blonde hair the same colour as Karen’s. But Pizza Face also knows from listening to bile and rage boiling over at home that they no longer hang people in Scotland. The next best thing is rotting in prison. He imagines her in a metal cage, attached to the walls outside Corton Vale Prison, soaking in the rain and bits of her falling off and thudding to the ground, a hand, an arm, a leg and landing with a satisfying splat.
Unwashed bodies, stale cigarette smoke block the entrance to the court room. Someone lights a cigarette while waiting for the trial to begin, but she wanders inside and is told by the court beagle to put it out.
A reporter breaks rank with his colleague, a connoisseur of misery, he edges close enough to sniff the lapels of Mrs Docherty’s coat. ‘Any comment?’ he whispers in her ear, ‘to set the record straight?’
Her eyes lack focus and she looks through him and doesn’t answer. Pays more attention to finding a seat for Pizza Face and herself. The gallery quickly fills and slopes down behind the prosecutor and defence lawyer’s desks. Mrs Docherty chooses to sit behind the prosecution team, twelve feet away from them. The jury team of fifteen honest men and women, but mainly women, sits to the side, elevated above the proceedings, looking down on them.
At first Pizza Face liked having the time off school, but then he gets bored. Everybody is old and half asleep, afflicted with a kind of blindness where they mope about searching for things around them such as a hanky or a cough lozenge or cigarettes with flailing hands.
Karen shows no inquisitiveness, does not glance around to see Mrs Docherty and Pizza Face sitting in the visitor’s gallery. She comes up from the cells below flanked by two prison guards. The court in session, Karen seems to retreat into herself inside her sack of a dress and takes little or no notice of the proceedings. She doesn’t look like a murderer. Tangle of hair and pallid hollowed-out face with sad eyes.
In the jury box Karen’s face flushes but she doesn’t look up as she’s sworn in and the charges are read out.
Places her hand on the bible and they swear her in. ‘The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.’
She struggles with this, the judge in his gown and wig peers through half-moon glasses down at her. ‘You have to answer,’ he prompts her.
Older but yet younger stumbling about like a child in the dock, looking to the judge for direction.
‘On the 31st October 1971 at a house in 176 Dunbarton Road, Clydebank, you Karen Boyd Orr did assault James Docherty by causing him to ingest paraquat or other similar toxic substances and you did murder him.’
‘How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?’
The defence team’s case is built around a prepared statement.
‘That on the 31st October 1971 the ambulance services had called at Karen Orr’s flat around three am. The accused was vomiting and in considerable pain. Her daughter and James Docherty’s mother were in attendance. She said that her partner had forced her to eat part of a chicken curry “that was not quite right” which she pointed to. Her partner James Docherty was lying in bed with bedclothes pulled over him. It was clear to the ambulance services that he was already dead but this was not known to Karen Orr. The accused was taken away by the ambulance services and subsequently suffered a miscarriage causing her to lose her child. When later she asked about the health of James Docherty and was told he was dead, she was overheard to remark, “good riddance to bad rubbish. May he burn in hell”.’