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Juror must wait for judgement on contempt charge

The fate of a juror accused of contempt of court after causing a trial to collapse by carrying out internet research at home hangs in the balance after the High Court reserved its judgement yesterday.

Dr Theodora Dallas's actions led to the trial of Barry Medlock, accused of causing grievous bodily harm, to be abandoned in July last year after she revealed to fellow jurors he had previously been tried for rape but acquitted.

That information had not been disclosed to the jury at Luton Crown Court, who had been told to base their judgement solely on the evidence presented to them in the course of the trial. Three judges are deciding if Dr Dallas "deliberately" disobeyed the trial judge's directions, thereby creating a "risk of prejudice to the due administration of justice".

The 34-year-old psychology lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire denies the charge. Claiming that she "misunderstood" the judge's instructions and had "no intention" to "influence" the jury, she said that she had been checking the definition of grievous bodily harm online. It was after adding the word "Luton" to the search that she saw a newspaper report discussing Mr Medlock and the previous allegation against him.

Appearing before Lord Judge, Lady Justice Hallett and Mr Justice Openshaw, she apologised and said she "never thought it would cause such disruption".

"I did not understand that I could make no search on the internet," said Dr Dallas in a written witness statement, adding that "sometimes my grasp of English is not that good". However, Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC told the hearing at the High Court that she had impeded the administration of justice and was in contempt.

Lord Judge said it was "very difficult to see how it can be contempt unless it is deliberate," adding that he had "not the slightest doubt" that Dr Dallas was a woman of "good character".

Mr Medlock was subsequently re-tried in October, when he was convicted and jailed. The hearing ended yesterday and the judges reserved their decision to a later but thus far unspecified date.

Last June, 40-year-old Joanne Fraill was given an eight-month jail term after becoming the first juror to be prosecuted for contempt of court for wrongfully using the internet during a trial.