Friday 23 June 2017

Juror faces jail for Facebook chat with defendant

John Aston in London

The first juror ever to be prosecuted for contempt of court involving the internet sobbed inconsolably yesterday as she faced the "terrifying" prospect of jail.

Previously a woman of "unblemished good character", Joanne Fraill (40) was told by Britain's Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, he did not think it would be possible to avoid her immediate committal to prison.

London's High Court heard that Fraill, from Manchester, had admitted using Facebook to contact Jamie Sewart (34), a defendant already acquitted in a drugs trial in Manchester last year, while the jury's deliberations were continuing.

She also admitted conducting an internet search into the defendant, whose case she was trying, also a breach of the 1981 Contempt of Court Act.

Peter Wright, appearing for Fraill, said she was "inconsolable" over what she had done and "terrified at the prospect of imprisonment".

She was a mother of three, with three stepchildren, who had not intended to do wrong.

The problem was that as the trial "gathered in momentum, she began to feel considerable empathy towards Sewart".

What she had done had left her "depressed, isolated and in complete despair" and a psychiatric report was being prepared.

Sewart, from Bolton, was also accused of contempt by chatting on Facebook with Fraill. She denied the charge.

Committal

Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Holroyde, said the case against Sewart was "proved", but indicated any committal order against her would be suspended because there were "some very powerful reasons" why she should not be jailed.

The judge said Sewart's own trial had led to her separation from her baby for 14 months and that it would not be in anybody's interest to "remove the mother from her child again".

The exact penalties both Fraill and Sewart will face will be announced tomorrow.

Lord Judge indicated the view the court took of the seriousness of Fraill's contempt could be affected by an appeal they also heard yesterday brought by one of the defendants from the Manchester trial, convicted drug dealer Gary Knox. Knox (35), who is Sewart's boyfriend, was jailed for six years for conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office. His lawyers argued his conviction was "unsafe" in the light of the internet contempt.

The judges said they would give their ruling on Knox's appeal when they sentence Fraill and Sewart.

Irish Independent

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