Defence in Ashdown case 'insult to jury'

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The Independent Online
BOTH SIDES in the Paddy Ashdown theft case accused each other yesterday of 'insulting the intelligence' of the jury.

David Bate, for the prosecution, told the Old Bailey that claims by Simon Berkowitz that a man in a pub had given him a document outlining the Liberal Democrat leader's affair with his former secretary 'defied common sense'. He asked why the man, whose identity Mr Berkowitz did not know, had not asked for money and why Mr Berkowitz had checked into a hotel with a false name as police closed in.

Mr Bate said that on the one hand the defence wanted the jury to believe that the man in the pub was a dense burglar who did not realise the value of what he had, and on the other that he was an intelligent burglar capable of setting up Mr Berkowitz.

The prosecution alleges that Mr Berkowitz stole the papers from Mr Ashdown's solicitors - Bates, Wells and Braithwaite - between 9 and 13 January. Mr Berkowitz denies the accusation and an alternative charge that he handled the original document knowing it to be stolen.

He has admitted showing a copy of the document to the News of the World and asking for pounds 30,000. He explained that he may have been given the papers because he was a Tory supporter and the thief might have wanted to use him to discredit the Conservative Party.

Judge Michael Coombe asked him whether he held office in the party. Mr Berkowitz said no. 'I have only ever sold raffle tickets for the Conservative Party. During the Gulf war, I hung the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes outside my window.'

Neil Bullock, for the defence, closed his case by throwing the claim that Mr Berkowitz's case was an insult to the jury's intelligence back at the prosecution.

The prosecution had produced no evidence to show that Mr Berkowitz was at the solicitors' office at the time of the break-in, he said. The document could have been stolen at any point since it was put in the firm's safe on 31 May 1992.

The case continues today.