Runaway juror: I had to be locked in my cell for my own protection

Fellow inmates found out I was gay, says student who skipped trial to see West End show

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The Independent Online

A teenage juror jailed for skipping court to go and see a West End musical with his mum has said it was a "very stupid thing to do" and revealed how he was locked in his cell for his own safety after his fellow inmates found out that he was gay.

Matthew Banks, 19, a student from Manchester, was jailed on Monday for contempt of court, after he phoned in sick for a day of jury service and instead went to London to watch the musical Chicago. Banks was released yesterday morning after serving four days of a 14-day sentence. He feared spending Christmas in jail.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, he admitted he had been "stupid", but said he had no idea his absence would lead to the trial being halted.

Last Friday, the judge sent the 11 other jurors home because the case could not continue without all members being present. Banks said he was happy to have been released before Christmas and that he had been subject to considerable hostility after inmates found out about his sexuality.

"People were just negative from then on," he said. "Before that people were quite OK to me, they just let me be, really. But as soon as they found that out I started to get a lot of trouble."

Banks, who is studying French at Manchester University, said he really had not expected to end up in jail. He said: "When I was told to go to court I was just told that the judge might want to speak to me before the case restarted, then I was taken straight up to the dock and remanded in custody.

"I spoke to a barrister who said he was probably just flexing his legal muscles and I should get a fine. When I found out I was going to prison I just felt numb." His mother, Debbie Ennis, 49, said the decision to jail her son was "sick" and she had no idea her son was meant to be sitting on the jury the day they went to the show. "He's a naïve 19-year-old and when he told me what happened, we told him to hold his hands up and apologise, because we trusted the British justice system," she said. "It stinks. He wanted a career in the government but he's got a criminal record now. We thought he'd get a slap on the wrist."

Ms Ennis said the family was now investigating the possibility of appealing against the conviction. The week-long trial that Banks had been sitting on later continued in his absence with the remaining 11 jurors reaching a verdict.

Judge Martin Rudland, who presided over the trial and sentenced Banks, labelled him "frivolous". When sentencing Banks, he said: "It's a huge sadness and disappointment for me to see you sitting in the dock when for the last week I have seen you sitting in the jury box. It's with a heavy heart I come to the conclusion that custody it must be."