6 April 1995.
A police officer, who had closely studied a video recording of a brief and confused incident of violent disorder involving football supporters and had compared it with other photographs and film of the supporters, is permitted to give evidence to assist the jury viewing the video as to what was happening and to identify the individuals on the video recording.
The Court of Appeal dismissed appeals by the appellants against convictions of violent disorder.
After a football match between Bolton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion where the supporters were filmed and photographed as they arrived at the stadium, the appellants and others, all West Bromwich supporters, went near two public houses frequented by Bolton supporters. A fracas flared up and was recorded by video cameras permanently fixed to the buildings.
The recording of the brief incident showed a confused scene with many supporters and other members of the public. It was less clear than the recordings at the match. A police constable studied the black and white video film closely and analytically, together with colour film and photographs of supporters at the match. He viewed the recording of the incident 40 times and examined it in slow motion, frame by frame, rewinding and playing frequently.
The Crown, relying on the video recording, alleged that the appellant Peach raised his arms signalling an advance and threw a missile and Clare kicked out at a Bolton fan and also waved West Bromwich fans forward.
At the trial, the constable was allowed to give evidence as the video recording was played to the jury to indicate where acts of violence were taking place and to identify those committing the violent acts as persons, including the appellants, who were clearly shown on the colour film and still photographs. The appellants' case was that the identifications were mistaken.
They appealed against conviction on the ground that the jury should have seen the video without assistance from the constable as to the identity of those involved as he did not know the appellants and could not be regarded as an expert witness.
Roger JB Green (Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for the appellants; Nicholas Simmonds (CPS) for the Crown.
LORD TAYLOR CJ, giving the court's judgment, said that it was conceded that it was legitimate for the officer to point out to the jury whereabouts on the frame they should look for specific acts relied upon and if a witness knew a person it would be permissible to identify that person from a video.
The police constable had special knowledge that the court did not possess. He had acquired the knowledge by lengthy and studious application to material which was itself admissible evidence. To afford the jury the time and facilities to conduct the same research would be utterly impracticable.
Therefore, it was legitimate to allow the officer to assist the jury by pointing to what he asserted was happening in the crowded scenes on the film. He was open to cross-examination and the jury, after proper direction and warnings, were free either to accept or reject his assertions.
Although the constable did not know either appellant, he had taken high- quality colour film and photographs of the supporters at the stadium. There was no issue that the appellants were clearly shown on the colour film and photographs. By repeated study of those likenesses, the constable was well qualified to say he knew what A looked like and could identify him on the black-and-white video film.
As technology developed, evidential practice would need to be evolved to accommodate it. While the courts must be vigilant to ensure no unfairness resulted, they would not block steps which enabled the jury to gain full assistance from the technology. The appeals failed.
Ying Hui Tan, Barrister