The jury that said no to the judge
In 1670, two Quakers, William Mead and William Penn, were facing an unfair charge “seditious assembly” after preaching in London. The jury refused to convict. The judge angrily locked them up for two nights without meat, drink, fire, tobacco or a chamber pot. The jurors were all punished by hefty fine and were imprisoned pending payment. Four, led by John Bushell, refused to pay and spent months in prison. They were eventually released by another judge. The case established the jury’s right to follow its own conscience even if that meant contradicting the opinion of the judge.
Sex and hysterics
In 1987 Cynthia Payne was found not guilty of charges of controlling prostitutes. She organised sex parties for gain in a suburban house in Streatham, southwest London. Some of the clients were senior police officers, former squadron leaders and senior citizens. During the trial the jury had to consider scenes of tumultuous partying recounted by police officers who had attended the parties in disguise. When the uniformed police burst in they found distinguished gentlemen having sex with women on the stairs, in beds and in the bath. The jury repeatedly fell into hysterical laughter. The judge warned them that the case was “a criminal trial, not a form of entertainment”. But they seemed to disagree, acquitting Ms Payne in the teeth of all the evidence.
Not the spirit of the law
In 1993 Stephen Young, 35, was unanimously convicted by a jury at Hove Crown Court in East Sussex of two murders. He was jailed for life. It later came to light, however, that during the time the jury was out, three jurors who were wavering about the best verdict used a Ouija board to consult with one of Mr Young’s alleged victims. They held a séance to ask the victims who killed them. A juror claimed that they conjured up the spirit of Harry Fuller, who was killed with his wife Nicola. The spirit allegedly confirmed that the defendant was their killer. Using the board, the jurors had spelled out the name of the victims, the type of gun referred to in the evidence and the message: “Vote guilty tomorrow.” The Court of Appeal ordered a new trial. Mr Young was again convicted – this time on the basis of terrestrial evidence.
A very criminal court
An Old Bailey judge was forced to order a retrial when two jurors nearly came to blows after one had accused the other of burgling his flat. The row had been simmering from the very start of the burglary trial in 1993 when, during a break for legal submissions, one juror accused the other of smoking in a no-smoking area. Two days later the accuser arrived in court in a foul mood because his home had been burgled. He immediately blamed the other juror calling him a ***** ***** and claiming that he had taken his name and address from a label on his rucksack. As tempers threatened to boil over the two jurors were dismissed.
What kind of chavery is this?
In 1996 in London a trial took place involving what became known as the Jury from Hell. The jury was trying a man called Ray Lee for the killing of a young police constable, PC Walters, in Ilford, Essex. The jury maddened barristers, caused untold anguish to the deceased’s parents, left an usher in tears and the taxpayer with a £250,000 bill. The jury appeared to be unusually young and immature, squabbled over the issue of smoking, sent notes complaining about each other to the judge, demanded a change of hotel to one with a gym 30 miles away, then turned up late one morning because some of them had been working out. Two jurors spent their breaks passionately connected in the court corridor. Eventually, when they failed to reach a verdict, the judge dismissed them and ordered a retrial.
Today you will meet an angry judge
In July 1998, a juror at Newcastle upon Tyne Crown Court was barred from the trial of a man charged with grievous bodily harm after he requested the defendant’s star sign so he could reach a verdict. The juror, a man in his twenties, had written a note to the judge asking for the accused’s exact time and date of birth so that he could draw up an astrological chart to see what it foretold. Judge Esman Faulks discharged the juror on the ground that consulting such a chart fell outside the terms of his oath to consider only the facts before the court.
An awful cuff-up
A jury at a trial at Lewes Crown Court, East Sussex, had been considering its verdict for four hours in 1998 when the judge was told “the foreman has handcuffed himself”. The trial was of four men accused of planning a jewel robbery. After hearing that the gang planned to use a pair of handcuffs on a Brighton shop assistant before raiding the safe, the foreman of the jury decided to experiment with the evidence while deliberating a verdict. He locked the hand-cuff and ratcheted it tight but then learnt that there was no key to free him. The judge sent for the fire brigade but then remembered that the law prevented outsiders from entering the jury room or speaking to jurors. As the foreman sat grimacing in pain, legal minds wrestled with the tricky issues raised. Finally, barristers agreed that the courtroom should be cleared and the foreman was freed with bolt cutters.
The terrible cost of cough
A defendant at Cardiff Crown Court was mistakenly sentenced to two years in prison in April 1999 all because a juror happened to cough at an inopportune moment. Unable to stifle a tickle at the back of his throat the juror coughed just as the foreman was announcing the verdict of “not guilty” with the result that the noise drowned out the word “not”. Judge Michael Gibbon thinking that the defendant, Alan Rashid, had been found guilty on the charge of making a threat to kill, promptly jailed him for two years, thanked the jury for their efforts during the two-day trial and released them. The puzzled jurors assumed that Mr Rashid was being sentenced for other offences of which they were unaware, until, on the way out of the building, one juror asked an usher why Mr Rashid had been sent down after being found “not guilty”. The official realised there had been a blunder and called everyone back into court. Mr Rashid was freed.
40 per cent proof
At Southwark Crown Court, south east London, in 1999, a juror caught drinking vodka brought to a halt a multimillion-pound trial. The woman started sipping vodka when the jury was sent to a private room to consider its verdicts. She had smuggled the vodka into court hidden in a lemonade bottle and became so tipsy that her fellow jurors wrote a note to the judge. He immediately ordered them into court where he watched in amazement as the juror had to be helped to her seat. He ordered the jury to cease deliberations and go home so the woman could sleep off the drink. He said: “It is plain to those who have dealt with her that she is profoundly drunk and nothing can be achieved without her having a very long sleep.” What was the trial? Of course, it concerned an illegal trade in alcohol.
A private matter
This event, recounted by Sir John Mortimer, QC, concerns an indecency case. A woman witness was giving evidence and was asked what the man in the dock had said to her. She was too embarrassed to repeat it in court, so the judge asked her to write it down. She wrote “would you care for a screw?” This document was passed around the jury until it reached juror No 12, an elderly gentleman who was fast asleep. Sitting next to him was a pretty young lady. She read the note, nudged her neighbour and, when he was awake, handed it to him. He woke with a start, read it and, with apparent satisfaction, folded it and put it carefully away in his wallet. When the judge said: “Let that note be handed up to me”, the juryman shook his head and said: “No need, it’s purely a private matter, My Lord.”
Professor Gary Slapper is Director of the Centre for Law at The Open University