Jailed contempt juror Joanne Fraill 'devastated'
Thursday 16 June 2011
The first juror to be prosecuted for contempt of court for using the internet was today left "totally devastated" as she was jailed for eight months.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, and two other senior judges used the case of Joanne Fraill, 40, who admitted chatting with an acquitted defendant on Facebook, to warn jurors generally not to undermine the country's "precious jury system" by discussing or researching their cases online.
When Lord Judge announced her sentence, Fraill, from Blackley, Manchester, cried "Eight months!" and put her head on the table in front of her at London's High Court and sobbed.
She is expected to serve four months before becoming eligible for early release. The maximum she could have received was two years.
Her solicitor Damian Wall said she was totally devastated at what had happened and regretted the impact on her family.
Earlier the court had been told that Fraill, who was "terrified" at the prospect of prison, faced additional anguish as one of her daughters, who was due to give birth next month, had gone into labour this morning.
Mr Wall said: "Mrs Fraill does not seek, in any way, to diminish the seriousness of her actions, rather she hopes that the example that has been set in this case will help prevent any other person undertaking jury service from behaving in the way that she did."
Fraill, a mother of three with three stepchildren, admitted using Facebook to exchange messages with Jamie Sewart, 34, a defendant already acquitted in a complex multi-million pound drug trial last year.
The jury was still deliberating in the cases of three other defendants.
It was the third of four trials at Manchester Crown Court estimated to have cost £6 million, with Fraill's actions triggering the final retrial.
Fraill contacted Sewart, a mother of two from Bolton, Greater Manchester, after Sewart was cleared of conspiracy to supply drugs to express sympathy and wish her well.
Using the "sender name" of "Jo Smilie", she told Sewart: "You should know me, I've cried with you enough."
During their exchanges, Sewart asked about an outstanding charge.
Fraill replied: "cant get anywaone to go either no one budging pleeeeeese dont say anyhting cause jamie they could call mmiss trial and i will get 4cked to0".
Attorney General Dominic Grieve brought proceedings for contempt of court against both women.
Fraill admitted breaching the Contempt of Court Act 1981 by using Facebook and also conducting an internet search into Sewart's boyfriend, Gary Knox, a co-defendant, while the jury was still deliberating in his case.
Sewart denied contempt but was found guilty. Her two-month sentence was suspended for two years after the judges took into account she had been separated from her baby girl for 14 months while on trial.
The court also took into account that Sewart told her solicitor about her Facebook contact, triggering the contempt of court action.
The High Court judges said Fraill's conduct in visiting the internet repeatedly was "directly contrary to her oath as a juror".
Her contact with Sewart, as well as her repeated searches on the internet, constituted "flagrant breaches" of orders made by Judge Lakin, the trial judge.
He had given the jury "an unequivocal direction that they must not use the internet" but base their decision only on the evidence they heard in court.
The judges acknowledged that Fraill was "a woman of good character" and was not involved in an attempt to pervert the course of justice.
But "misuse of the internet by a juror" was always "a most serious irregularity and contempt".
In a warning to jurors present and future up and down the country, he declared that a custodial sentence for a juror committing similar contempts "is virtually inevitable".
He added: "The sentence is intended to ensure the continuing integrity of trial by jury."
He said of Fraill: "Without in any way condoning her actions in contacting Sewart after Sewart's acquittal, we carried out an examination of the psychiatric evidence to understand how her own background may have led her to wish to commiserate with Sewart's personal problems arising from the fact that a 14-month period in custody had separated her from her baby."
But the text of the communications between them "went much further than the expression of a compassionate concern".
When the question of her Facebook contact was raised with her in the Crown Court, "this woman of good character immediately and unhesitatingly admitted what she had done and apologised for it".
She then went on to provide evidence against herself of her misuse of the internet throughout the trial.
Referring to how Fraill was shaking and crying throughout the contempt hearing, the judges said the "stresses and strains" the case has caused her were "virtually palpable here in court".
After the hearing Solicitor General Edward Garnier QC, who presented the case in person, said: "The Lord Chief Justice could not have been clearer.
"Joanne Fraill and Jamie Sewart's conduct was a clear contempt of court.
"Jurors should take careful note and know that the law officers will prosecute those who commit contempt."
He said: "The jury system is a cornerstone of our society and confidence in this vital part of our criminal justice system will crumble if jurors do not take their responsibilities seriously."
Sewart, who has a son aged 15 and a daughter aged three, said after the hearing: "I really feel for the woman (Fraill). She's got kids. She's apologised and she's not a bad lady.
"At the end of the day she is a mother. I do feel really sorry. She was being nice to me.
"I'm relieved and feel awful at the same time."
Sewart said she still used Facebook - "You just have to be careful who you speak to".
Sewart's boyfriend Knox, 35, was jailed for six years at the Manchester trial for conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.
Today Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Holroyde, rejected Knox's claim that his conviction was unsafe in the light of Fraill's misconduct, saying that it had not "undermined" his defence.
The judges also threw out his appeal against sentence.
As Knox had entered the dock, Sewart blew kisses to him from the public gallery.
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