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Killer John Buchanan threw a knife at his victim

A look into the life of Canterbury Crown Court through the baby-faced knife killer case

It’s seen people accused of terror offences, mass drug importation, human trafficking and sexual depravity of the most despicable kind.

Yet with so many apparently extraordinary things going on in it few people in Canterbury would ever dream of visiting.

That’s because unless you’re facing a serious criminal charge, a victim or known to a victim or a juror, you probably wouldn’t find yourself heading up to Canterbury Crown Court.

Which is perhaps a tad surprising given that court dramas such as Rumpole of the Bailey, Kavanagh QC or Judge John Deed are so popular.

Canterbury Crown Court

That may be because many people don’t know you can simply turn up and watch cases.

But the truth is that there is real drama inside our courtrooms. Take, for example, the case of John Buchanan.

Aged just 21, baby-faced Buchanan killed a love rival in bizarre circumstances.

He had begun an affair with an older woman, Hannah Blake, who was the mother of two of Michael “Archie” Ward’s five children.

The couple had gone to a barbecue last summer when Mr Ward, 40, turned up. He and Buchanan, who is now 22, started rowing.

Victim Archie Ward with ex-partner Hannah Blake

As Mr Ward went to leave in his car, Buchanan appeared at the front door of the house and threw a knife into the vehicle. It struck the femoral artery in Mr Ward’s thigh and he died of massive blood loss.

Police arrested Buchanan and he stood trial at Canterbury Crown Court, charged with both murder and manslaughter. A jury would acquit him of the former, but convict on the latter.

The trial and sentencing hearing were heard before Her Honour Heather Norman, famous for prosecuting singer Boy George for false imprisonment in 2007 before the Queen appointed her a judge.

Anyone who spends any time in a Crown Court will know that judges are serious, serious people. Judge Norton is no exception. Possessed of a powerful intellect, she exudes a sense of awesome authority.

The complexity and seriousness of the Buchanan case is also reflected in the fact both barristers were QCs, the veteran Philip Bennetts for the prosecution and the highly regarded Oliver Saxby for the defence.

After Buchanan’s conviction, it was Mr Saxby’s job to speak on the killer’s behalf. It is an invidious verbal journey – especially with some 15 members of the victim’s friends and family, including Miss Blake, in the courtroom heeding every word, reading and interpreting every physical movement.

Some of them had wept quietly in the public gallery while Buchanan sat impassively in the dock dressed in a suit. Nevertheless, it was a journey someone as skilled as Mr Saxby navigated with aplomb.

Judge Heather Norton

He told the court: “There was a background of threats by Mr Ward, to beat Mr Buchanan up and to kill him.

“On the day, Mr Ward pretended he had left a jacket at the house to get in and then chased Mr Buchanan through it.

“There was a mixture of anger and fear on his part and Mr Ward was willing Mr Buchanan to go outside.

“There was a volley of remarks which caused Mr Buchanan to act the way he did. There was significant provocation.

“That said, he is a man who has real regret for the loss of life. He has not lost sight of the fact that a life has been lost and has been deeply affected by what happened.”

After Mr Saxby’s remarks, it was Judge Norton’s turn to conclude the hearing. Jailing Buchanan, for nine years, she told him: “The jury rightly rejected your defence that you acted in self-defence.

“Your conduct that day was not of a fearful man. It was instead the conduct of a cowardly, immature, fired-up man who acted in the heat of the moment.

“This was in many senses a unique case, but it was unique only in the way that the fatal injury was caused. But for the use of that knife, Michael Ward would still be alive.

“His father would still have a son and his children would still have have a father.”

Buchanan, who comes from the Newington area of Ramsgate, will be eligible for release when he completes half the sentence.

The length of the sentence apparently angered several people in the gallery who stormed out of the courtroom in fury as soon as it was handed down.

Crown Courts are not like you see on tv, but that’s just why they are so much more fascinating than the script writers can manage.

The dramas played out in them are real, the lives – and deaths – of those involved actual.

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