A JUROR has been given a suspended jail sentence for sending notes to two of the defendants in a teenage sex abuse and trafficking case in Sheffield.
Deborah Dean, 47, was charged with contempt of court after writing letters expressing derogatory comments about her fellow jurors.
In the original trial, five Bradford men were given jail sentences totalling more than 28 years after a 13-year-old girl who ran away from home was trafficked for sex while she was missing.
Today, Dean was jailed for three months, suspended for 12 months, by Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas and Mrs Justice Whipple at London’s High Court.
The judges heard Dean had suffered a bleed to the brain some months before the trial and was afflicted with daily epileptic seizures for which she needed medication.
In her letters to Usman Ali, who was serving three years for sexual activity with a child, and to Shakeal Rehman, who was sentenced to 12 years for trafficking and rape, she said she was sorry for the outcome and had tried to fight their corner in the jury room.
She apologised and said she was distressed and sent the letters out of misguided sympathy.
James Smith, 28, a juror in a different case, was also given a suspended sentence for carrying out internet research into the case he was trying.
The proceedings were brought by Solicitor General Robert Buckland, who told the court that Smith’s disclosure to other jurors of what he had found out about a defendant resulted in the 10-week firearms and drugs trial being abandoned at a cost of nearly £80,000.
Mr Buckland said later: “These are both serious examples of juror misconduct where the repeated directions of the judge were blatantly ignored.
“One of the cases cost the taxpayer huge amounts of money when the trial had to be abandoned. This wastage of costs was completely avoidable.
“Contempt of court of this nature involves serious wrongdoing and I instigated these proceedings as it was clearly in the wider public interest to do so.
Any action which interferes with the administration of justice is a serious breach and I hope today’s judgment sends a lesson to other jurors about their responsibilities.”
Smith, who was ordered to pay £900 costs, admitted he had been “basically nosy” and apologised for his stupidity.
His law-abiding life had fallen apart and he had left his job on the railways to become a taxi driver.
Lord Thomas said that both Smith and Dean, who accepted they were in contempt, had been seriously affected by the 18-month delay in bringing the matter to court.
Lord Thomas said that it was never an easy thing for a court to deal severely with those who were giving of their civic duty, but swift action against those who had broken the orders of the court had the effect of preserving trial by jury from interference.
He directed that, by October 1, there should be a comprehensive re-writing of the notices given to jurors into “plain English” so the court was not faced again with people who contended they were not aware of the law.
This would have the result that no-one could be in any doubt as to the obligations imposed and the penal consequences which would follow if they were broken.
He said it was an exercise which might cost a little money but the expenditure would be very small in relation to the £80,000 of public money which was lost.