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In Happy Valley S03E05, Tommy Lee Royce escapes from the witness stand box by:

  1. Two thugs sitting around outside the courtroom beat up some guys, causing a commotion and setting some alarm off
  2. Royce (who isn't in any way restrained) now beats up the two distracted guards in the box with him; and
  3. simply climbs out of the box and runs out of the courthouse.

YouTube clip of above.

(Note that Royce was convicted for multiple murders and rapes, a known violent criminal, and was in the witness stand for a case against a major mob boss.)

Would anything like the above actually be possible in the UK?

2 Answers 2

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Yeah, kind of.
It's only been a requirement in the last 20 or so years that the court's dock [where the accused is placed] is enclosed. Not all docks are even enclosed yet - it is not compulsory in the British legal system. Some that are have ceilings, many don't.

It's not beyond the realms of possibility that such a sequence of events could occur. Stretching it a bit, that no-one managed to stop him, but not absolutely impossible.

Random selection of images from DuckDuckGo

enter image description here

Some legal wranglings and background on the design of British court docks…
Justice.org In the dock: Reassessing the use of the dock in criminal trials

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    Not only is this realistic, the use of a dock is a subject of debate in legal circles (in the UK as well as other jurisdictions). Putting a defendant in a dock and/or restraining them prejudices the jury against them. It is counter to the 'presumed innocent' stance of the legal system. In the USA it is most common to see the defendant as one person of many sitting at the defendant's table in front of the judge, and restraining them or putting them in a dock is only typically used to protect the defendant or others in the room from an assumed violent defendant.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 16:32
  • @iandotkelly - Yup. That's the gist of the linked article & others I found on the way. I only 'knew' the beginnings of this answer because, though I've never been in a real, functioning court, I've seen a lot of disused ones used for filming. They have a variety of dock types, which type is usually favoured depends on the period of the piece. Mainly for 'old' stuff they like an open one, of course, but I have seen 'lidless glass box' and 'completely enclosed'.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 16:38
  • Landscapers (2021) had a totally closed-off corner of the room, from which this escape could not have been done… though the witness stand was fully open to the room, of course. It could easily have been done from there, with sufficient alacrity & brute force.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 16:40
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It's not common, but there are cases of UK courtroom brawls and escape attempts involving defendants forcing their way out of the dock. I couldn't find an example exactly like this with a co-ordinated brawl and escape attempt, but here's some similar examples that show it's certainly possible.

Here's a case where the courtroom security was "overpowered" by two defendants jumping out of the dock, and it seems an escape might have been possible if the security in the rest of the building had been preoccupied:

Shocking courtroom brawl breaks out after Sheffield cousins are found guilty of shooting man in hand

Staff at Sheffield Crown Court have been left 'shocked' after two defendants and 20 people from the public gallery became involved in a courtroom brawl, following the return of guilty verdicts.

..."He jumped the dock. He dragged the security guards who were on either side out of him out. He shattered the glass on the dock, we've had to have that replaced today."

He continued: "Both of the defendants were involved. And as soon as it started, about 20 - 22 people from the public gallery came down and got involved.

"It's the type of thing you'd expect to see at a football match. It definitely amounts to an affray.

"One security guard was knocked to the floor. The police and security guards were definitely overpowered. We had to bring the security guards from downstairs up to the court to deal with it."

Here's an attempted escape where the defendant managed to exit the courtroom. Again, controlling the situation depended on police elsewhere in the building not being busy at the time:

Iraq veteran tries to escape court after murder conviction

...Sergeant Michael Ross, now 29 and a sniper with the Black Watch, jumped over the dock and tried to escape after the jury at Glasgow high court today found him guilty of murdering Shamsudden Mahmood in June 1994.

Police captured him after he ran through a side door.

Here's an example where the convict did plan the escape attempt, and managed to make it out onto the street after fighting off three security guards with a stick:

Report on how child killer Richard Kwakye, from Twickenham, escaped Kingston County Court released

A convicted murderer was able to smuggle a weapon into a Kingston courtroom before escaping from three security guards, a report has revealed.

Child killer Richard Kwakye managed to hide a “stick” on him as he travelled from Pentonville prison to a hearing about his child at Kingston County Court.

The report, by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), says Kwayke eluded three Serco guards to run out of the hearing, down the main staircase and out of the front door into St James Road.

He also pushed a former Kingston University student off her bike for his attempted getaway before being stopped by security guards.

In all three of these cases, the defendents were able to overpower or evade the security within the courtroom, and were only stopped by backup from outside the room, so that Happy Valley plotline seems very plausible.


As for the specific detail of climbing out of the top of the glass box, exactly that happened (but in Russia, not in the UK) in 2019, and was captured on film:

enter image description here

Happy Valley’s absolutely wild Tommy Lee Royce cliffhanger actually happened in real-life

...a 2019 murder trial in Russia was disrupted when the accused, 18-year-old Leonid Greyser, climbed out of the defendant’s glass box.

The shocking incident was captured on film at the time – Greyser attempts to flee by climbing out of the glass box and then up through the ceiling. However, he was unable to make his escape, with surrounding officers able to subdue him and recover him, and Greyser was subsequently found guilty.

In the UK, there's a case of a defendant awaiting trial apparently climbing through the ceiling of a regular (non-glass) pre-trial holding room, and successfully escaping before being caught 3 hours later:

Suspect escapes from court after dramatic dash 'through ceiling and fire doors'

A man made a dramatic escape from a magistrates court today by apparently climbing through a ceiling despite being in custody...

He was arrested yesterday - Wednesday - and was making his first appearance in court. One police source told the Manchester Evening News he was brought to the court in custody, but managed to escape from a room he was being held in by climbing up through a ceiling.

He then exited the building through fire doors and escaped...

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