A day in the life of Swindon Magistrates’ Court

    It’s the court where all cases start, but until you’re summonsed there very few people have ever stepped through the doors of a magistrates’ court.

And that’s it – we’re done for the day.


A special thanks from JPs for Michelle James, the only probation officer in court today and who has been rushed off her feet.

Martin Clarke, bench chairman, says: “Thank you very much for all your hard work you’ve done today.”


He’s given an 18-month community order, with 20 rehabilitation days and 200 hours of unpaid work.

Martin Clarke, chairman of the bench, says: “You’ve got to stay off the booze, I think is the message. You go on the booze and all he’ll breaks loose.”

He’s told to pay £100 compensation to each victim and £170 in costs and surcharge.


Barbieri – on a two day binge – was said to have used foul language towards his ex-girlfriend, a barmaid at the pub.

He returned to the pub, urged three darts players to fight him. Barbieri threw a chair, shouting: “I’ve just thrown a chair at you. Why wont you fight me, you bunch of pussies?”

He attacked one victim then punched the other man in the face, breaking his victim’s glasses.

Tom Power, prosecuting, said: “So, two unpleasant assaults on members of the public who are out enjoying a game of darts.”

Defending, Emma Thacker said her client struggled to cope with alcohol when he was upset.


We’re now onto the final case of the day (hopefully).

Anotonio Barbieri is said to have mouthed off and punched two members of the public enjoying a game of darts at the Shield and Dagger pub.

He also admits possession of cannabis and spitting in a police van.


Martin Clarke, chairman of the bench, says: “Ball’s in your court now, Mr Reynolds. Get in with your life and be that good dad you want to be.”


An eight month restraining order bans him from contacting his ex and his mum.


Reynolds avoids jail, although he’s told by JPs they could have sent him back to prison.

Instead, he’s been given a two year community order. He must do 92 hours of unpaid work and  30 rehabilitation days.

He will also need to pay £200 compensation for the smashed glass and £175 in costs and surcharge.


The magistrates are back – we’re just waiting for the defendant to be brought up from the cells.


The magistrates have gone out to consider their sentence.


Reynolds, who suffers with ADHD, has no previous convictions for domestic violence. Miss Thacker questions if a restraining order is really necessary.


He had been remanded in custody after a breach of bail. Sent to Winchester Prison and due to appear before the Swindon court on August 22, he couldn’t – because a prison riot meant the facility was placed on lockdown. Reynolds was not involved in the riot.


The court is hearing more information about the criminal damage matter.

Reynolds punched glass panels in the Welsh dresser, picking up an injury to his hand.

He then came out into the garden, picked up a garden trowel and smashed the glass patio doors.


He’s said to have smashed a pane of glass with a garden trowel, damaged his mother’s Welsh dresser, then pushed his mum over in the garden.

Prosecuting, Tom Power said Reynolds then flicked blood at his mum from an injury picked up as he damaged the dresser.

He also threw his girlfriend of four months over a garden fence.

Reynolds has previously pleaded guilty to two assaults and criminal damage.

Prosecutors want a restraining order.


We’re now onto the next case. 26-year-old Matthew Reynolds is accused of two assaults and damaging a Welsh dresser. He’s represented by Emma Thacker.

Reynolds has been waiting since around 9.30am – seven hours ago.


Mr Hall points out that his client is, technically, in breach of a curfew. Magistrate Martin Clarke says: “I think he has a good reason.”


Chairman of the bench Martin Clarke gives Jefferies a strafing: “Your record is appalling. Absolutely appalling. One of the worst I’ve seen for a long time. We’re going to give you one last chance – you better grab it and hang onto it.”

He’s sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment suspended for nine months. He must also pay £85 costs and a £122 victim surcharge.


Jefferies had been charged by the police with failing to surrender to the court for a previous hearing.

But the Bristol man was said by Mr Hall to have been ill.

He had a sick note to prove it but was unable to retrieve it when he was picked up by police when they swooped on his mother’s home this week.



The latest theft case before magistrates in Court Three is symptomatic of many that come before JPs.

By magistrates’ court standards its a high value, planned theft: £451-worth of booze from a Co-operative store in Corsham.

Two men and a woman selected boxes of alcohol from the store and lifted them into a waiting car. But, said defence solicitor Philip Hall, the thieves were so inept they were caught by police further down the road.

Aidrian Jefferies, 36, of Kingswood, Bristol, pleaded guilty to theft from a shop.

Mr Hall said: “You won’t be surprised to hear the underlying problem is an addiction to drugs: both heroin and crack.”

However, Jefferies had managed to get himself off the drugs and onto a prescription to heroin substitute Subutex.

He had been roped into the theft plot by his sister, who wanted to use the proceeds of the theft to pay off a drugs debt.



There’s a bit of confusion here about maths. Magistrates are trying to work out how long they need to ban Smith from the roads.

According to their guidelines, they say, they should be able to extend Smith’s existing 12 month ban by an extra three months – from June 17, 2020.

But the legal adviser points out that driving bans need to start from the date of sentence – today, in other words.

There’s a bit of back and forth about how long that ban should be. Eventually they land upon 13 months.

Smith is also told to pay a £100 fine for the driving without due care and attention and told to pay a £32 victim surcharge. There is no separate penalty for the charge of driving without insurance.


Unusually, Laura Smith was still paying her car insurance as she didn’t realise she was disqualified. It means that the owners of the car she hit were able to make a claim against her insurers.

“It’s unusual,” says Martin Clarke, chairman of the bench.


The magistrates’ legal adviser is now trying to piece together what Miss Thacker’s client, an Laura Smith, owes the court in fines and other charges.


I’m back in Court Three after a lull in Two. Emma Thacker is defending a woman who has admitted driving whilst disqualified and driving without due care and attention on Corporation Street.

The 31-year-old hit another car, leaving her Hyundai a write-off and another car with a smashed light.

Miss Thacker said her client was unfamiliar with the roads and unaware she had been disqualified from driving.



There are two defendants due before the courts with the surname Bishop. One seems to have arrived and the other hasn’t.

But it’s not clear which one’s arrived. Now, the one that was here has disappeared.


A warrant’s being issued for Darren Strowger’s arrest without bail.

The 49-year-old, of Knowlands, Highworth, is accused of exposing his genitals on August 7. He was due to turn up this morning, but has been a no-show.



Most bail conditions are pretty simple – don’t go to a particular shop or a victim’s house.

But one man due to appear before JPs today for flashing had a bail condition with a difference.

His condition reads: “Not to be in your garden without your genitals being covered by underwear, trousers [or] clothing.”

He’s not yet turned up at court.


There are some questions being asked of the prosecution how summons were served on two defendants who have failed to turn up. The legal adviser suggests the summons have not been endorsed.

The question? Show it’s been served.



An arrest warrant’s just been issued for a woman accused of filching pies, assaulting a man and making threats.

Hayley Chichester, 33, of Sackville Close, Walcot, was due before magistrates this morning charged with two counts of shoplifting from Tesco and TK Maxx, assault and threatening behaviour.

A warrant not backed by bail has been rubber-stamped by the JPs.



Solicitor Andrew Watts-Jones tells magistrates he has been trying to find a probation officer to check what his client has told him, but he’s not been able to track her down.

The probation service locally – as nationally – is overstretched and under-resourced. At times in recent months there have been times when there is just one probation officer for both the magistrates and crown court.

In court, probation officers are there to make recommendations about whether defendants are suitable to be dealt with by way of a community order. They also report on people’s progress against existing community orders.

Without probation officers the criminal justice system would almost certainly fall to pieces.


Smith, 36, was said to have been spotted by an off-duty police removing items out of a hedge outside the Chippenham Sainsbury’s.

Defending, Andrew Watts-Jones said of his client: “He tells me when he found the items in the hedge he thought all his Christmases had come at once.”

The lawyer added: “It’s broad daylight by a busy road, pretty much guaranteed to raise attention. It was a complete fluke an off duty policeman was passing at the time with his son, got out the car and arrested him.”

Smith had been stealing to fund a heroin addiction. Earlier this summer, he had managed to get onto a prescription – or “script” – for heroin substitute methadone while in prison.

But once he was released, Mr Watts-Jones claimed his client lost that script when he was five minutes late for a doctors’ appointment.

It was only after developing blood poisoning and finding himself in intensive care at the Great Western Hospital that he had managed to get re-scripted.

Magistrates fined Smith £120 for handling stolen goods, ordered he pay £50 compensation to Sainsbury’s for the theft and £67 in costs and surcharge.


We’re now onto the case of RWB man Julian Smith, who is accused of shoplifting. He’s come into court with his solicitor, Andrew Watts-Jones.

One of the charges has just been changed to handling stolen goods.



AN L-PLATE moped rider was stopped when police spotted he had a passenger on the back.

Officers noticed the smell of cannabis and, when searched, herbal cannabis was found in 21-year-old rider Declan Foyle’s backpack.

Blood tests later showed he was over the drug drive limit, with the equivalent of 2.7 microgrammes of the drug in a litre of blood. The legal limit is two microgrammes.

Defending, Philip Hall said his client had offered his friend the ride as he needed to get into town to insure his car. That had raised the suspicions of police, rather than any poor driving on Foyle’s part.

He had come to court “like a lamb to the slaughter”, Mr Hall added. Losing his licence would make it harder for Foyle to find work.

Magistrates fined him £120, ordered £85 costs and a £30 victim surcharge. He was banned from driving for 12 months.



For many of those appearing before JPs it’s the first time they’ve ever been in court. Some won’t have been able to get a solicitor, others will rely on the services of the duty lawyer.

Even for the most hardened criminal, the dock can be a scary proposition.

There to support defendants is a small platoon of volunteers, part of the court chaplaincy service.

Martyn Cook was a magistrate for 38 years in the county. Now, he helps manage the voluntary organisation.

He said: “We’re here to talk to people, because coming to court guilty or not guilty can be very traumatic and stressful. Of course, some of these people have been under investigation for months and then they eventually get the court and, for the majority, it’s the first and probably only time.

“They don’t know what to expect and most of them don’t have the money to pay for a solicitor. They don’t know what to expect.”

The chaplaincy volunteers speak to them about the case, checking if they have been seen by a lawyer.



Trial numbers have slumped over the past 10 years.

In 2008, there were 536. Last year, it was 146. One former magistrate suggested to me it could be a consequence of the heavy cost of trials should the defendant lose.

Wiltshire Times:

Wiltshire Times:



Mr Buckland, South Swindon MP and Justice Secretary, said: “I am working hard across the criminal justice system to ensure the smooth running of our courts, including here in Swindon, and the Conservative Government is half way through an ambitious £1 billion reform programme, using modern ways of working to ensure swifter and more efficient access to justice for everyone.

Wiltshire Times:

Picture: PA

“The Single Justice Procedure is just one way we are using technology to improve the efficiency of our courts. Moving these cases online means courts can deal with more serious cases, quicker, and ensure more criminals are put behind bars.

“I have asked my officials to write to Simon Wolfensohn outlining my position on the Single Justice Procedure.”



A SENIOR Swindon magistrate has warned that the criminal justice system is stretched.

Simon Wolfensohn, chairman of the Wiltshire Magistrates’ Association, has served as a JP for almost three decades.

“There is absolutely no question whatsoever that the criminal justice system is underfunded, undermanned and under pressure,” he said.

Mr Wolfensohn said of the job: “It is definitely harder. When I first started it was altogether more relaxed. The number of cases we would have expected to deal with in a day was smaller.

“Whilst it was still fundamentally the same, we now have more information to process and the through-put of cases is much faster. The case load is much higher.”

The JP added: “We see more unrepresented defendants.” Those cases take longer to deal with, as the magistrates have to ensure strict fairness. “They haven’t got anyone to speak for them.”

And he called on Robert Buckland, South Swindon MP and the newly-appointed Justice Secretary, to take a careful look at the single justice procedure.

That’s the name given to the relatively new process by which those accused of certain low-level crimes, such as speeding offences or failing to pay your TV licence, don’t have to go to court if they plead guilty by post.

Mr Wolfensohn  pressed the importance of justice being done in public, rather than by what is known as the single justice procedure: “Judicial decisions shouldn’t be made in a closed room.”

Recent figures from the Ministry of Justice show that around 60 per cent of those issued with notices under the single justice procedure never reply to enter a plea. The Magistrates Association has suggested that people dealt with under the fast track rules do not understand what a conviction could mean for them, leaving them with a criminal record.


Tom Seaward@Adver_TSeaward

I’m live blogging the from Swindon Magistrates’ Court this morning @swindonadver

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Tom Seaward@Adver_TSeaward

Lunchtime update. Back at 2pm. @swindonadver

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Magistrates in Court Three have risen for lunch. They’ll be back at 2pm.



Curtis Delicata, 27, of Kingshill Road, was due for sentence for recklessly damaging a bus stop on August 3, stealing headphones and wine from Tesco and damaging the window of Domino’s Pizzas.

But he hasn’t turned up. Magistrates have issued a warrant for his arrest. It’s called a warrant not backed by bail.



Burns asks if she could see the probation service. All her money has been stolen from her and she has no other way of getting home.



A shoplifter’s case has been put off for a week to try and work out if she’s subject to a crown court suspended sentence.

Anna Maria Burns, 33, of Swindon Road, Stratton, admitted four thefts.

They included £72-worth of clothing from Mothercare, £34.97-worth of beauty products from Boots, two £10 watches from Argos and food and drink worth £55.40 from Costa.

Her solicitor, Mr Collins, said there was some confusion about her previous convictions: “It’s important, because on the face of it there’s a suspended sentence order from the crown court floating about.”

Magistrates adjourned the case to Wednesday, September 4.


Business is finished at Court One. I’m battling hunger and RSI, but I’ve moved to my usual haunt: the press bench in Court Three.



Finn Nicholson, 23, of Brunswick Street, Old Town, has failed to turn up at court.

He was due before magistrates in Court One to answer charges of possession of cannabis and cocaine with intent to supply.

But he’s a no show. As a result, magistrates have issued a warrant for his arrest.


Tom Seaward@Adver_TSeaward

Magistrates waiting for the next case to start are talking about the @BarristerSecret’s book. From what I can gather it’s been named by would-be JPs as must-read prep material.

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The dad-of-two has been given an 18-month community order. He has to do 80 hours of unpaid work, complete a Building Better Relationships course and pay £170 in costs and surcharge.

A restraining order bans him from seeing his two children for the next year. However, under the terms of that order he should still be able to video chat with the pair.

There’s some confusion in court about whether the restraining order banning direct contact would also prohibit the dad from chatting with his kids on FaceTime, an Apple video chat app.


The man, in his 30s, was said on one occasion to kicked his younger son in the stomach. He muttered: “I ain’t got no f***ing time for this.”

The girlfriend of the man, who we are not naming as magistrates have given the children in the case right to anonymity, claimed: “He was also pushing [the older child] and swearing at him, but he was worse with [the baby]. Sometimes they would walk past him and he would deliberately trip them up so they fell to the floor.”

Mark Glendenning, defending, said his client’s problems stemmed from not being able to manage his emotions and “not having the sufficient skills at this time to be a parent”.

Magistrates are currently considering the sentence.



A dad-of two is currently before magistrates for sentencing of four child cruelty matters.

He bit his baby and pushed over his toddler last year. He’s already pleaded guilty to the charges.

Prosecutor Nick Barr shows an image of the bite mark on the screen. It’s a sore red circle. The image was taken by the man’s horrified girlfriend.



Experienced defence solicitor Emma Thacker raises concerns about the disclosure of information by the CPS.

Her client has just entered no pleas to serious charges. She tells magistrates it’s because she hasn’t received enough information from the Crown about the nature of the charges.

Miss Thacker said: “I can’t check the charges are correct and he’s entering pleas to the right charges.”

Were she to simply advise him to plead guilty or not guilty, she would be “hauled up before the Law Society and deemed negligent”.

It’s not an isolated problem, she warns.

Magistrates order a note is placed on the file, telling the crown court that the no pleas was a consequence of lack of information – rather than the defendant playing for time.



Wiltshire Times:

Grant Morton outside Swindon Magistrates’ Court Picture: ADVER PHOTOGRAPHER



A 29-year-old woman’s currently in the dock accused of biting one man’s arm and pulling another female bartender’s hair on a night out in Marlborough.

Defending, Andrew Watts-Jones says his young client suffers from unstable personality disorder and severe anxiety. Its roots started in a sustained campaign of sexual and physical violence at the hands of her father.

“Her father was extremely violent, sexually abused her constantly. Her mother was aware of it because she witnessed it but made no effort to protect her daughter,” he said.

“Ultimately, her mother left taking my client’s siblings with her but leaving my client with her dad. The abuse continued.”

His client had no memory of attacking the pair, Mr Watts-Jones added.

CCTV appeared to show she had been assaulted earlier in the evening by a violent partner.

He said: “She accepts this happened and it shouldn’t have happened.” She later tried to make-up with her victim, taking a large bunch on flowers to the woman’s place of work.



Magistrates have declined jurisdiction over the case. He’s been awarded unconditional bail to appear before Swindon Crown Court for a plea and trial preparation hearing on September 28 at 10am.



A SWINDON man denies spying on young girls.

Grant Morton, 46, of Purley Avenue, Park South, is currently before magistrates where he has entered no pleas to 18 charges.

It is said he used covert cameras to spy on teen girls.

Those charges, dated between 2012 and 2017, are:

:: Seven counts of observing for the purposes of obtaining sexual gratification a person doing a private act

:: Five counts of making an indecent image of a child (including more than 7,000 category B photographs), one count of distributing an indecent image of a child and three counts of possession of indecent images (including more than 50,000 category C photographs)

:: Two counts of causing a computer to perform a function to enable access to unauthorised data.


There’s a man having a snooze out in the main atrium. It feels like a pretty good metaphor for today in general. It’s a quiet day.



We frequently get calls to the newsroom claiming that we can’t publish court stories because we haven’t got the permission of the defendant.

That’s not true. With very few exceptions courts are open to everyone – public and press. Everything that’s said in open court can be reported unless a particular reporting restriction – like those banning naming youths – has been made by the judge or magistrates.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has published an excellent guide here.


Back in Court One, nothing’s happening – still. We’re waiting on solicitors to speak to their clients.

Waiting is not unusual here. For defendants particularly, who are told to get here for 9.30am – but might not even be seen until after the 1pm lunchbreak.



In Court Three there’s what’s called an overnight case – a defendant who has been arrested by the police usually at some point in the past 24 hours and remanded in the cells to be put before the courts in the morning.

Josh Lewis, 25, of London Road, Marlborough, is being fined after pleading guilty to using threatening behaviour with intent to cause fear of unlawful violence.

I come in just as his solicitor, Emma Thacker, is summing up her mitigation – the words said in support of a client.

He’s remorseful, she says, has gone back to his victim to apologise directly and shake him by the hand, and is even developing a children’s app.

Martin Clarke, chairman of the bench, says: “Miss Thacker’s probably read you the Riot Act downstairs.” He’s fined £53 and ordered to pay £85 costs and a £30 victim surcharge.

I follow Miss Thacker out, as she’s defending a big case in Court One that I’m keen not to miss.


There’s a bit of a hiatus here in Court One, so I’m going to try one of the other three court rooms sitting at the Princes Street building…



Axford did not take his sentence well. The fact he had been given six points meant, as a new driver, he would automatically lose his licence.

He’d just got a new job and next week was going to be given the use of a van.

“He was chasing me,” Axford bristled at JPs as he left the dock.

“I’m on a bike, he’s in a car. What do you expect me to do? I’ve lost my licence now.”

Slamming the doors of Court One on his way out, he shouts: “F***.”



Prosecuting, Nick Barr said a PCSO had been cut up by a motorbike as he was driving through Penhill on February 24 this year.

The bike passed a no entry sign on Bradley Road, followed by the Vauxhall Astra. The PCSO said it was suggested to him the moped was being chased by the Astra.

Both men pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention.

Representing himself, Axford acknowledged he had knocked the Astra’s wing mirror as he tried to overtake the car near a bus stop.

“I’m worried he [White] was going to crash into me so I drove off,” he told JPs.

White, an enviro-crime officer with Swindon Borough Council, said he had followed Axford’s bike in an effort to see his licence.

Magistrates fined Axford £80, gave him six points on his licence and ordered he pay £85 costs and a £30 victim surcharge. White, with his larger salary, was told to pay a £280 fine and £115 in costs and surcharge, also receiving six points on his licence.



We’re getting underway with our third case of this morning.

Two men are facing charges they drove without due care and attention, passing a no entry sign on Inglesham Road in February.

Aaron Axford, 26, of Alton Close, Penhill, is said to have been driving a Yamaha XT motorbike while David White, 21, of Pound Lane, was behind the wheel of a Vauxhall Astra.

They’re both in the dock now. Neither are represented by a solicitor.



While we’re waiting, here are some comments from Simon Wolfensohn. He’s been a magistrate since 1991 – the year I was born – and is chairman of the county’s Magistrates’ Association.

“I have always been interested in the law,” he said.

“My mother used to work for a solicitor and my brother is a barrister.” The vet added: “My second career option would have been law.”

Mr Wolfensohn had already appeared in magistrates’ courts in Essex and Wiltshire as an expert witness in RSPCA prosecutions, so formality of the courtroom was nothing new to him: “It wasn’t a strange environment.”

He said of the role of magistrate: “It’s a very heavy commitment, obviously. It’s something to be taken very seriously. There is no place for people who are just doing it as a hobby. It’s not like being a volunteer in other senses.

“I see the magistracy as a fundamental building block of our democracy. It’s a vital thing – for people to be involved in the law. We have magistrates, we have jurors in the crown court. I see it as a vital duty.”

He added: “We want people who are clear minded, thoughtful and logical, who can separate the emotions from the process and make fair, balanced decisions on the facts presented to them.”



While we’re waiting, here are some comments from Simon Wolfensohn. He’s been a magistrate since 1991 – the year I was born – and is chairman of the county’s Magistrates’ Association.

“I have always been interested in the law,” he said.

“My mother used to work for a solicitor and my brother is a barrister.” The vet added: “My second career option would have been law.”

Mr Wolfensohn had already appeared in magistrates’ courts in Essex and Wiltshire as an expert witness in RSPCA prosecutions, so formality of the courtroom was nothing new to him: “It wasn’t a strange environment.”

He said of the role of magistrate: “It’s a very heavy commitment, obviously. It’s something to be taken very seriously. There is no place for people who are just doing it as a hobby. It’s not like being a volunteer in other senses.

“I see the magistracy as a fundamental building block of our democracy. It’s a vital thing – for people to be involved in the law. We have magistrates, we have jurors in the crown court. I see it as a vital duty.”

He added: “We want people who are clear minded, thoughtful and logical, who can separate the emotions from the process and make fair, balanced decisions on the facts presented to them.”


Lawyers aren’t yet ready with a number of cases, so magistrates in court one have “retired” (stepped out of court momentarily). The legal adviser and usher are looking for cases from the other courts that they can deal with.



A carer has denied mistreating his patient.

Appearing before justices in Court One this morning, Clement Bonsu, 54, of May Close, Gorse Hill, pleaded not guilty to two counts of ill-treating or wilfully neglecting an individual.

It is said he verbally abused the woman in his care and also pushed her on several occasions in March 2019.

Magistrates awarded him unconditional bail to appear before the Swindon court on November 25.

Unconditional bail means that, for the moment, there are no restrictions on where Mr Bonsu can live or do. By contrast, conditional bail imposes conditions like a requirement to sleep every night at a particular address.


Court One is generally where the more serious cases are heard. Many end up in the crown court.

…And it’s where I am at the moment.


Tom Seaward@Adver_TSeaward

I’m live blogging the from Swindon Magistrates’ Court this morning @swindonadver

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A lawyer acting for Daniel Hegarty is applying for a trial to be moved from Salisbury to Swindon.

The 28-year-old faces a string of charges dated Christmas Day 2018, including assault by beating, taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent, failing to provide a specimen of breath and driving without insurance.

Hegarty, of Upper Stratton, has written magistrates a letter asking for the case to be moved.

His solicitor says the letter covers the application “admirably”. With a sly smile he adds: “The prospect of sharing a car to Salisbury with him fills me with dread.”

The JPs confirm the trial will be relisted for November 14 at Swindon Magistrates’ Court at 10am.


Wednesday is usually the busiest day of the week at Swindon Magistrates’ Court. But it’s quieter than usual today – 40 cases plus seven overnights.

This is Wiltshire


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