Juror faces jail over contempt of court

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The Independent Online

The first juror ever to be prosecuted for contempt of court involving the internet sobbed inconsolably today as she faced the "terrifying" prospect of jail.

Previously a woman of "unblemished good character", Joanne Fraill, 40, was told by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, he did not think it would be possible to avoid her immediate committal to prison.

Also described by her QC as "hard-working, respectable, honest", she now faces an agonising wait until Thursday to learn her fate.

London's High Court heard that Fraill, from Manchester, had admitted using Facebook to contact Jamie Sewart, 34, a defendant already acquitted in a drugs trial in Manchester last year, while the jury's deliberations were continuing.

She also admitted conducting an internet search into the defendants whose case she was trying, also a breach of the 1981 Contempt of Court Act.

Peter Wright QC, appearing for Fraill, said she was "inconsolable" and "distraught" over what she had done, and the consequences of it, and "terrified at the prospect of imprisonment".

She was a mother-of-three, with three stepchildren, who had not intended to do wrong while carrying out her civic duty as a juror.

The problem was that as the trial "gathered in momentum and intensity, she began to feel considerable empathy towards the female defendant, Miss Sewart".

What she had done had left her "depressed, isolated and in complete despair" and a psychiatric report was being prepared.

Sewart, from Bolton, was also accused of contempt by chatting on Facebook with Fraill.

She denied the charge and said she had not been attempting to learn the secrets of the juryroom, but only wanted to know when the long trial was going to end.

Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Holroyde, said the case against Sewart was "proved", but indicated any committal order against her would be suspended because there were "some very powerful reasons" why she should not be jailed.

The judge said Sewart's own trial had led to her separation from her baby for 14 months, until she was acquitted, and it would not be in anybody's interest to "remove the mother from her child again".

She had also reported her online chat to her solicitor the following morning.

The exact penalties both Fraill and Sewart will face are expected to be announced on Thursday.

Lord Judge indicated the view the court took of the seriousness of Fraill's contempt could be affected by an appeal they also heard today brought by one of the defendants from the Manchester trial, convicted drug dealer Gary Knox.

Knox, 35, who is Sewart's boyfriend, was jailed for six years for conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.

His lawyers argued his conviction was "unsafe" in the light of the internet contempt.

The judges said they would give their ruling on Knox's appeal at the same time as they formally sentence Fraill and Sewart.

Knox was jailed after jurors were told that he bought sensitive information on drug dealers from police in return for a £20,000 BMW and Premier League match tickets.

A police officer, Phil Berry, 44, who received the gifts and admitted the same charge, was jailed for four years.

After today's hearing, Fraill said nothing to journalists as she left court.

Sewart, who had "Gary" tattooed on her right shin and said she was "still with" Knox, told journalists that she was "happy".

"I'm happy with a suspended sentence and just want to get home," said Sewart outside court.

"I regret everything. She (Fraill) contacted me. My mind was in a whirlwind. I had just been acquitted. When I sat back and thought about it, I realised I should report it and I did."