Tag Archives: Retrial

Rachel Manning killer finally imprisoned after boyfriend wrongly convicted

Shahidul Ahmed

photo courtesy of BBC News

Shahidul Ahmed has been convicted of the murder of Rachel Manning in 2000, five years after Ms Manning’s then boyfriend, Barri White, was freed on appeal and acquitted in a retrial.

We covered the beginning of the trial, here.

In 2000, two days after attending a friend’s party with Mr White, Rachel Manning was found dead on a golf course.  Her face was disfigured, after death, by a car steering lock, presumably in an attempt to conceal her identity.

Ms Manning and Mr White left the party together, went to a nearby nighclub where they stayed until the early hours of the morning, leaving separately after a disagreement.  Mr White went to the home of his friend, Keith Hyatt, believing Ms Manning had gone home.  Later that evening Mr White received a call from Ms Manning asking him to collect her and take her home, but when he got to the Blockbuster store where they arranged to meet, Ms Manning was nowhere to be seen.

In 2002 Barri White, was convicted of her murder, a conviction that was quashed on appeal in 2008.  Keith Hyatt was also convicted for perverting the course of justice, and was imprisoned for two and a half years before his conviction was overturned.  Mr White was retried in 2008 and was acquitted.

Five years on Shahidul Ahmed has been convicted of the murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 17 years.  His DNA was found on the car steering lock, linking him to the crime.

More on the case can be found here.

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The double retrial – Rachel Manning murder retrial begins. Again.

rachel manning

Image from PA

Facts

In 2000, Rachel Manning, 19, was on a night out with her boyfriend. They had an argument and went their separate ways. She went missing and her body was found some days later at a golf club, in the undergrowth. She had been strangled and her face had been disfigured with a steering lock, which was later found some 500m away.

First trial: Barri White

Barri White, Rachel’s boyfriend, was arrested and charged with her murder. He was tried and convicted in 2002. A co-accused was convicted of perverting the course of justice (moving the body). White was given a life sentence with a 15-year minimum term. White had claimed he was at the co-accused’s house at the time of the murder. In 2003 there was a BBC Rough Justice programme about the case.

Mr White appealed and in 2007 he had his conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal. His co-accused’s conviction was also quashed. John Coffey QC, defending, said: “It is quite clear now that the jury (at the first trial) were seriously misled about the significance of these scientific findings.”

Second trial: Barri White

Barri White stood to be retried after the decision of the Court of Appeal to quash the conviction. The trial began in early 2008. After the forensic evidence was questioned, White was acquitted at the second trial.

Mr Shahidul Ahmed

Mr Ahmed, 41, was arrested in relation to a sexual assault (and subsequently convicted). When his DNA profile was obtained it proved to be a match for the profile found on the steering lock.

Third trial: Shaidul Ahmed

Earlier this year, Mr Ahmed was tried for murder. The DNA evidence linking Ahmed to Rachel’s body and to the steering lock was questioned.

The jury were unable to reach a verdict and they were dismissed. There would be another retrial.

Fourth trial: Shaidul Ahmed

The fourth trial, and second retrial, began this week.

The trial continues.

More detail

BBC News (13 August 2013)

ITV (18 February 2013)

Telegraph (16 January 2013)

Daily Mail (7 December 2011)

MW Web (17 December 2008)

British Murders (date unknown)

Discharging the Pryce jury – Will Sweeney J’s decision prove costly?

Image courtesy of http://www.futurity.org

The first trial and the jury’s questions

On 5 February 2013, Vicky Pryce stood in the dock at Southwark Crown Court, charged with perverting the course of justice. Her ex-husband, Chris Huhne, had pleaded guilty on rearraignment the previous day to the same offence. As has been well documented in the press, both Hunhe and Pryce accepted that Pryce had ‘taken’ Huhne’s penalty points for a speeding offence; Pryce pleaded not guilty on the basis of marital coercion.

The trial ran into its third week and the jury were sent out to consider their verdict. After almost 14 hours, they returned with a list of questions – a somewhat unusual occurrence in itself – which caused much speculation and debate, not least about the reliability of the jury trial as we know it.

The questions included ‘Can you define what is reasonable doubt?’, ‘Does the defendant have an obligation to present a defence?’, and perhaps most worryingly, ‘Can a juror come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it, either from the prosecution or defence?’.

Mr Justice Sweeney sent the jury home for the evening and discussed with counsel the answers that he would give. Andrew Edis QC, prosecuting, asked for the jury to be discharged on the basis that the questions indicated that it was “ultimately unlikely” that any verdict could be said to be a safe and proper one.

Edis said: “Overall the picture is not reassuring as to the extent to which this jury has truly understood its task at this now very advanced stage of their deliberations. It’s surprising they are still struggling with this very basic concept of jury trial.”

The following morning, Mr Justice Sweeney answered the jury’s questions; he referred to the 17-page written directions he had provided to the jury before they retired. He then said:

“If for any reason one or more of you feel less than confident that you understand and are able to apply my directions of law, then it would be wholly wrong for any juror in that position to reach a verdict one way or the other.”

If after further consideration you find yourselves in a position that you are simply not able to agree, no matter how much longer you continue to debate and that’s going to remain the position then you must, of course , have the courage to say so by your foreman sending me a note to that effect.”

The jury subsequently (after more than 15 hours considering their verdict) passed a note to the Judge stating that it was “highly unlikely” that they would reach a majority verdict (the majority direction being given some hours earlier).

Undoubtedly, some of the questions showed a lack of understanding. I happen to think that is not necessarily a problem and support the view that David Allen Green proffers in The Observer; the jury should be commended for daring to ask questions. However, as I said to David on Twitter, I would prefer a jury who listened attentively in the first place; as Sweeney J stated, all of the questions were answered in his written directions.

Discharging the jury

In response to the jury’s note indicating that they were unable to reach a verdict, Mr Justice Sweeney said:

“I have received your note which indicates that it is ‘highly unlikely’ that you are going to reach even a majority verdict. I am grateful for that.

“Against the background of the length of time that you have been in retirement already, I have decided therefore, and it is my decision one way or the other, that I must discharge you from any further deliberations.

“That means that your role in this case is now over.”

After the jury had left court, Mr Justice Sweeney said,

“In 30 years of criminal trials I have never come across this at this stage, never.” and stated that the jury had shown a “fundamental deficit in understanding” of its role.

The prosecution quickly indicated it’s intention to seek a re-trial.

Despite Sweeney J’s decision, there was a feeling that his comments (when answering the jury’s questions) relating to the jury being unable to reach a verdict and having the ‘courage’ to indicate so were a thinly veiled encouragement to do so. This was reinforced by his comments (recited above in part) to the effect that the jury had not grasped the fundamentals of their role – a concern for any judge, defence or prosecution advocate.

A re-trial

Where a jury cannot agree on a verdict, the prosecution are entitled to seek a re-trial. In fact there is a presumption that they will do so.

CPS Guidance suggests that the following will be considered when determining whether a re-trial is sought:

a) The merits of the case (realistic prospect of conviction, availability of witnesses etc.)

b) Likely reasons for the jury’s failure to reach a verdict (was the failure ‘perverse’?)

c) The public interest in seeking a verdict (seriousness of the offence, likely sentence if convicted, consequences of not proceeding etc.)

d) Interest/views of the victim (obviously not relevant here)

e) Views of trial judge, prosecuting counsel and the police

What is the situation if a second jury cannot agree on a verdict in Vicky Pryce’s case?

A second re-trial?

It is common practice that the prosecution offer no evidence against a defendant where two juries have failed to reach a verdict…but no more than a convention, Bowe v R 2001 6 Archbold News 3 per Lord Bingham.

His Lordship continued to state that whether a second re-trial would be oppressive and unjust depends on a dispassionate assessment of how the interests of justice are best served. He also stated that ‘full account must be taken of the defendant’s interests’.

In R v Bell 2010 EWCA Crim 3, the court, led by the Lord Chief Justice, said that a second retrial should only be sought in a small number of cases involving a crime of extreme gravity which had undoubtedly occurred and in which the evidence that the defendant committed it on any fair minded objective judgement remained powerful.

CPS Guidance reflects the authorities listed above and lists examples of witness interference and additional evidence not available at earlier trials as exceptional circumstances.

Repercussions?

Returning to Pryce, whilst it may be possible to argue that there are exceptional circumstances, it is hardly an easy case to make and it may be that the prosecution decide it is an inappropriate course to take.

With that in mind, was it an error of judgement to discharge the jury for failing to reach a verdict as opposed to acceding to Andrew Edis QC’s submission that as the questions posed by the jury showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the role and function of a jury, no verdict could be said to be a proper one?

Time will tell.