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Facebook juror sentenced to eight months for contempt


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Facebook juror sentenced to eight months for contempt


A juror who contacted a defendant via Facebook, causing a trial to collapse, has been jailed for eight months for contempt of court. Joanne Fraill had admitted the charge, in the first UK case of its kind.


London's High Court heard that Fraill, 40, of Blackley, Greater Manchester, had contacted Jamie Sewart, 34, who had already been cleared in a drugs trial. Sewart, of Bolton, was given a two-month sentence suspended for two years after she was found guilty of contempt.


Because other defendants were still on trial at the time of the contact between Fraill and Sewart, the judge decided to discharge the jury and the £6m drugs case in Manchester collapsed. Fraill cried uncontrollably in court, and gasped "eight months" - as did her family - as her sentence was handed down on Thursday. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who heard the case, then announced a short adjournment "for everyone to calm down".


Sentencing Fraill, Lord Judge said in a written ruling: "Her conduct in visiting the internet repeatedly was directly contrary to her oath as a juror, and her contact with the acquitted defendant, as well as her repeated searches on the internet, constituted flagrant breaches of the orders made by the judge for the proper conduct of the trial."



Later Sewart said: "I really feel for the woman [Fraill]. She's got kids. She apologised and she's not a bad lady. I really feel for her."


BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw says Fraill is actually likely to spend two months in jail, because she will be eligible for early release on an electronic tag after she has served one-quarter of her sentence. The case, brought by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC, was heard by Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Holroyde.


Lord Judge had previously told Sewart that any prison sentence on her would be suspended because she has a three-year-old child from whom she had already been separated during the crown court trial. At the High Court hearing, mother-of-three Fraill admitted she had made online contact with Sewart and discussed the case with her while the jury's deliberations were continuing.


She also admitted revealing details of the jury's deliberations during that online conversation - contrary to the Contempt of Court Act 1981 - and conducting internet research into a defendant whose case she was trying as a juror during the trial.


That was despite the judge reminding all the jurors that they must decide the case solely on the evidence given in court.

Fraill was a juror in a case which had already been halted twice.on 3 August last year, the judge in the third trial of the alleged drugs gang gave jurors the option of deciding the verdict by a majority rather than unanimously.


But the High Court was told the trial was stopped the following day when Sewart's solicitor informed the court that his client and Fraill had been in contact via Facebook. The court heard the initial contact came after Fraill went on the social networking website and tracked down Sewart, saying: "You should know me - I've cried with you enough."


Fraill was said by her lawyer to have felt "considerable empathy" for Sewart as the trial "gathered in momentum and intensity".


"Can't believe they had u on remand," she said in another one of their conversations, a transcript, which contained the pair's misspellings, released by the court shows. Fraill had added that she thought she had recognised one of the other defendants and, when asked by Sewart how the jury was dealing with one of the outstanding charges, said: "Cant get anywaone to go either no one budging... don't say anything cause jamie they could cause miss trial".


The two continued to talk about the case and used expressions such as "lol" and other internet slang. Frail also said: "At least then yer all home n dry."


And Sewart responded: "Ha ha, ur mad. I really appreciate everythin. If i cud of kissed u all i would of done ha ha."


She went on to say: "Keep in touch and I'll get u a nice pressie..."



Jamie Sewart was given a suspended sentence by the judge


The pair agreed to become Facebook friends after the trial. Fraill also described her role on the jury in their conversations. "All that note-taking was just killing time. lol. drew more than i wrote lol," she said.


Solicitor General Edward Garnier QC told the High Court that the contact and discussion had been in direct breach of the judge's repeated directions to the jury - and it constituted a contempt of court.


Peter Wright QC, for Fraill, said his client was terrified at the prospect of prison and was distraught and inconsolable about what she had done. He described her as a woman of completely unblemished character before she "lost her senses" in the Facebook exchanges. He said she had contacted Sewart only because she saw in the younger woman's life her own.


"Her conduct, though reprehensible, was not calculated or designed by her to subvert the trial process, although it is conceded that that was an inevitable consequence of it," he added.



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I can't wait to have jury duty and then nullify whatever law it is they're using to prosecute the case. Actually I would love to get elected as solicitor for a county here so I can throw out every drug-related charge the police send to my desk.

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