The job is to implement the orders of the court. Costa Kyriaco describes how being a bailiff is much harder than it sounds.
Marston’s is the UK’s biggest judicial services group with circa 2,000 staff and self-employed agents – better known as bailiffs. The company recovers £300 million per year on behalf of taxpayers, businesses and individuals through court order. My name is Costa Kyriaco and for three years I have worked under contract to Marston’s as a self-employed bailiff. What follows is an account of the trials and tribulations of my daily working life, followed by a dramatic episode which has made matters worse – much worse.
My alarm goes off at 5am in order for me to be up and out knocking on doors by 6am. I’d describe my day to day life as chaotic .The money is good but the drama I face every day can get overwhelming sometimes. On a daily basis I deal with: council estates, council estate people, drugs and alcohol.
Some of the houses I demand entry to are horrific. Smoke lingers in the air, rubbish and half eaten crisps packets are scattered across the floor, empty bottles of liquor are stacked along the table, whilst a mother high on drugs is slouched on the settee with her children sat there staring at the TV.
I’m used to being out and about in East London and was aware that being a bailiff in Hackney was never going to be easy but I never dreamed of how difficult it would actually be.
I begin my mission at 6am as I set off out door knocking. I target around 10 doors a day aiming to get people to pay their court fines. On average I’d say per day only two people out of 10 are going to pay. Four out of five of the people who answer the doors are aggressive and abusive towards me! I get called every name under the sun. I stay composed as I am in work mode but I can’t deny that it does get disheartening sometimes. I’m there to do a job and retrieve money owed to the courts so it does get me a little down when I am constantly verbally attacked. Nevertheless I brush it off as you need thick skin to survive in this industry.
Getting the door slammed in my face by irate people whose court fines are long over due is a regular occurrence. Occasionally I resort to contacting a locksmith to enable entry although I do hate for it to get to that stage. I always speak to people with compassion and respect – after all I am just here to do my job like any other working citizen. Although I’m used to having my foot slammed in Hackney doors unfortunately situations can get out of hand. Bricks and dirty nappies are amongst the things that have been dashed at my head. Not to mention all of the knives and cricket bats that I’ve been threatened with whilst on duty. Things can turn really nasty – that’s why a bullet proof vest is part of my uniform. I just want to do my shift and go home like normal people but I guess that’s rather ambitious for a bailiff. Here’s an example of how easily it can go the wrong way.
It was a normal cloudy day. I was up and out at 6am. I knocked a few times then stood waiting. After I had been standing on the doorstep for 10 minutes a middle aged man dressed in a tracksuit with a greasy brown beard half appeared through the door. After checking the residency to check it was the right person I informed him that he had to pay his court fines today. In a croaky voice he told me “step into my house and you won’t come out”. This early in the morning and I was already dealing with threats – a welcome to my life, the life of a bailiff.
“I’m not here for trouble,” I said. “I’m just here to collect your payment for the fine that’s overdue”. “What fucking fine?” he snapped, stepping out of the door. Used to the abuse I stayed put and explained to him calmly that he had an outstanding fine. In return, he was far from calm. “You got some nerve coming to my fucking door, you think I’m intimidated by the likes of you, you got another thing coming pal, I’ll do you one”. Taking a deep breath I maintained my composure and told him that I’d simply come to collect the payment, not for any trouble. The man became more agitated. He stood their shaking, spit frothed from his tongue as he started to rant: “Off my fucking drive, you heard me or ill fucking do ya, you got that I will fucking do ya head in”.
At the end of the day I had a job to do. This was almost like small talk to me. IKt didn’t faze me, I was almost immune to it. Remaining calm and collected I told him; “There is no need for threats I’m just here to do my job like everybody else”. Furious that I hadn’t given up, the hot headed man began chanting, “that’s it, that’s it.” He was gripping the door, shaking his head and sweating. “You just wait there, just wait there,” he demanded as he scurried back inside.
I stood their sighing looking at my watch. After all I had another nine doors to go. The man rushed out with a barking, black Staffordshire bull terrier in tow. “Get him, boy” he said to the snarling animal. As the Staff pounced forward I jumped back slamming the door in his face.
This kind of beast was not something I had been trained to deal with. I had a lucky escape I guess. After all a bullet proof vest wasn’t going to save me from that wild thing.
I could hear the man breathing frantically from inside the house. He stood pinned up against the door watching me whilst his dog barked like mad. I announced that I would be telephoning the police due to this matter, before heading towards my vehicle. “Wait, wait, I’ll pay, I’ll pay” called out a female voice.
A skinny blonde girl rushed to the door politely apologising and asking me to wait for a minute whilst she got the cash together. She informed me that she was the man’s girlfriend and was sorry for his behavior and that she would pay in full.
“Please don’t call the police I’m going to pay now,” she begged. I accepted her offer and waited patiently. She returned from the house with a wad of cash in her hand. “It’s all there”, she exclaimed, patting me on the back, “I’m so sorry about him.”
“Not to worry,” I told her. She asked me if I smoked and offered me a cigarette. “Here ya want one?” she asked, as she stood next to me lighting up her own. “No thank you”. “Can I get you a tea or something? Don’t worry about the dog he’s harmless, I’m so sorry about this”. “I’m quite all right thanks”. She asked me if I knew the Man United score and made jokes about the weather. She was extremely friendly and clearly trying to make conversation. I hadn’t been hurt by the man and his dog and had been paid in full so I decided not to phone the police and left the property making my way to my next destination.
Later on that day I was astonished to receive a phone call from the police asking me to come into the station. Once I had arrived at the station I was asked to remove my jacket and hand over my body camera. After being strip searched my DNA was taken and I was then asked to sit there on a little wooden chair against a wooden desk. I was sat opposite two male officers and a tape recorder. One of the officers took notes whilst the other gentleman, looking at me directly in the eye, questioned me in detail about what had happened that morning. I couldn’t believe this.
The coppers informed me that the girlfriend of the man who had threatened me with the dog in the morning had reported that I had sexually assaulted her. What the heck, was this seriously happening? The officers went on to tell me that the girl had phoned them screaming and had told them to check my jacket. “Her DNA has been found on your jacket Mr. Kyricao”. Is that why she had come and patted me on the back and been friendly to me?! I sat there in astonishment.
The officers checked the video footage from the body camera I had been wearing which confirmed everything I had been saying regarding the incident and the guy who had threatened me with his dog. I was able to leave the police station, although I wasn’t allowed to take my jacket with me.
The following day my boss interrogated me as the police had done. He wanted to see the footage from the body camera, but the police still had it. He arranged for the officers to send it over but there was an error in the download meaning part of the footage was corrupted. The boss wasn’t pleased that part of the footage was not viewable. He asked me the same questions over and told me to explain exactly what had happened regarding the alleged incident.
Was he annoyed that I hadn’t left the property sooner? Was this all just a headache for him? I couldn’t understand why I was being penalised. In the end he offered me an administrative role for the same company. The new job meant accepting a pay cut of up to £600 a week. Was I being demoted? But I hadn’t done anything wrong. The money on offer wouldn’t even be enough for me to pay my rent. I politely declined.
Being a self-employed bailiff officer, I don’t think I have been supported the same as an employed worker would have been. I am disappointed in the company and feel as if I’ve had to protect my own interests as they have ultimately let me down. They have offered me a job that pays much less than my previous earnings, when I haven’t committed any crime or done anything wrong. I can’t believe the situation I’ve been put in. All I wanted to do was get my job done and move on. It’s shocking the extent some people will go to in an attempt to ruin you. I guess that explains her friendly behaviour towards me. She made conversation with me so she could tap me on my back.
I’ve pretty much lost my job over nothing – nothing I’ve done, anyway. It’s bad enough going to work and receiving abuse everyday, let alone your company not supporting you when you’re falsely accused.
Maybe it’s time to give up the bailiff lifestyle.