Judge in spy trial revokes two guilty verdicts: Jury given leave to reconsider findings

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GUILTY VERDICTS on two of four charges against the man accused of spying for the Russians were returned by the jury and revoked by the judge at the Old Bailey yesterday.

Mr Justice Blofeld took the highly unusual legal step of ordering that the 11-person jury be allowed to reconsider its earlier guilty verdicts on two of four counts in the indictment against Michael Smith. Mr Smith, 45, from Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, is accused of spying for the Russians and handing over information prejudicial to the security of the United Kingdom. He was an electronics engineer employed at GEC's Hirst Research Centre, a leading weapons development complex. He pleaded not guilty, claiming he was involved only in industrial espionage.

Confusion over the jury's decision lasted for an hour. Returning after being out for more than 10 hours in a trial now in its ninth week, the jury, by unanimous verdict, found Mr Smith guilty on two counts. They related to 'documents or information' handed over between 1 January 1991 and 1 May 1992; and material 'obtained or collected' between 30 April 1992, and 8 August 1992 (the day of arrest).

There had earlier been legal debate among counsel and Mr Justice Blofeld on procedure should the jury be unable to come to unanimous verdicts on all four counts.

In the event of no agreement members were then to be instructed that majority verdicts of 10 to 1 would be accepted by the court.

The decision was taken to allow the jury's foreman to announce whether unanious verdicts had been reached on any of the counts.

Two counts of guilty were announced, with no return on the counts relating to the period between 1 January 1990 and 1 January 1991, and sketched or notes 'made' between 30 April 1992 and Mr Smith's arrest.

The jury subsequently expressed written concern about its foreman's announcement, indicating the guilty verdicts could have influence over its decisions on the oustanding counts. Mr Justice Blofeld then announced the verdicts were 'revoked' and that the jury was 'free to reconsider all four counts'again.

Although the judge initially ordered reporting restrictions on events in court, John Nutting QC, counsel for the prosecution, informed him that the Press Association national news agency had already made public the jury's decision. The judge then lifted the restrictions, stating that 'the information is already in the public eye'.

A ban on the jury reading any newspapers, listening to radio or watching television until they returned today was imposed. There was however a 'silver lining', the judge said. He would allow 'supervised' viewing of the football match between England and San Marino. He said: 'Do not feel you have to watch.'