The Lapland trial threatened to derail after a juror received a text of "guilty" from her fiance, it can now be reported.
The woman was discharged from the jury for discussing the case by text message with her boyfriend, who had watched much of the two-month trial from the public gallery at Bristol Crown Court.
The fact they had been regularly exchanging text messages only came to light by chance during Judge Mark Horton's summing up.
Victor Mears Junior - the son of defendant Victor Mears - spotted the pair talking outside court and reported it.
When Judge Horton questioned the middle-aged woman about it, she admitted the man was her fiance and said they had been regularly exchanging text messages during the trial.
The juror's phone was seized and a police officer produced a record of the text messages.
The juror's fiance had sent her dozens of text messages since the trial started in December but only eight were regarded as "relevant".
At 11.31am on February 11 - while Judge Horton was summing up - the man texted "guilty" to his fiancee.
Other texts referred to the comings and goings inside the courtroom while jurors were absent from the jury box.
When questioned by Judge Horton she admitted she had spoken to one juror about the text messages up to five times and two others might have overheard the conversations.
The juror, who cannot be named for legal reasons, added: "I am finding this quite stressful."
In her absence, the other jurors were asked by the judge whether they had discussed - including by text - anything that may have been passed to them by a third party. All said no.
Rossano Scamardella, representing Henry Mears, described the text messages as the "tip of the iceberg".
"If its right that she had conversations, it is fanciful, in my submission, that none of them can remember if she is getting information from someone in the public gallery," he said.
"We know having looked at the texts there were matters of evidence. We know now there is much more to it than she was telling you about.
"She received a text message from a man in the public gallery that the defendants were guilty - it was the last text message she received in respect of these proceedings."
The lawyer added: "To suggest that the only time they discussed this is through texts is fanciful.
"They must have discussed this at home. It is abundantly clear to me that these comments are the tip of the iceberg."
Judge Horton discharged the juror from the trial - leaving a panel of 11 - and said he would consider whether she could now face criminal prosecution under the Contempt of Court Act.
He told her: "It would be extremely serious were you to have any contact of any kind with any juror who will remain in this case.
"I am also bound to tell you this: one of the matters I will consider at a later stage is whether in fact your conduct will amount to contempt of court."
After the juror was discharged, Mr Scamardella made an application, supported by Victor Mears, for the remainder of the jury to be discharged.
In a written judgment, Judge Horton rejected the application.
"I can find no evidence that the jury did discuss matters and in my judgment are not prejudiced," he said.Reuse content