Letter: Mysteries of the jury

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The recent tragic derailment of a German high-speed train raises at least one important side-issue: the reliability of eyewitness accounts. The media made extensive use of a Briton who claimed to have seen the accident and gave a graphic account of its being caused by a car falling on to the railway line, with which the train collided. The accident investigation however suggests that this was a fantasy (as seems likely from the state of the locomotive, which clearly had not hit anything), and that the probable cause was the earlier failure of a carriage wheel.

The extent to which the emotional shock of witnessing a tragedy can distort and fix memories is well established (as with the appalling crash of the DH-110 at Farnborough in 1952, in front of a crowd of thousands, where only about two of the witnesses had any useful or reliable evidence to give). Should we not be considering seriously just how much of the evidence solemnly and sincerely given in our courts arises from distorted memories of this kind?