On the day after my 58th birthday, I received a letter with "Her Majesty's Court Service" on the back. When I opened it, it was a pink coloured "Jury Service Summons".
I had thought that the possibility of Jury Service had passed me by, so was very surprised and actually quite excited at the prospect at serving at the court for two weeks in June.
I filled out the forms and told my employer, and after two weeks the confirmation was returned to me.
Start date was scheduled for Monday 13 June.
Slightly archaically, at a time when "right-on" employers actively encourage staff to "do their bit" to help their local community, volunteer and perform their Civic Duty, there are forms to be filled in related to loss of earnings claims. Long and short of it is that the juror has to claim from the court, who make a payment to them. The juror then advises their employer what dates and how long they served and then a deduction is made from their next pay packet.
I thought little of what was coming up until a couple of weeks before the due date and wondered what sort of cases might be heard at Croydon Crown Court. Most likely, or so I thought would be theft and minor violence cases - anything more sinister would probably go up to the London courts.
A little later, I got a little anxious at the thought of violent or physical abuse cases, as I just find that hard sort of thing hard to take.
In the week before the start date, I got impatient to get things started.
The day came around, so I got to the station early - 07:57 train would get me to East Croydon in plenty of time for my required attendance at 08:45. Needless to say, Southern Railways were having a bad morning with 133 cancellations or delays that morning - I arrived at the court at 09:30.
The Jury Meeting Room was empty so I had to wait until other late comers arrived, then we were escorted to a court where an induction film and discussion had taken place.
Then the waiting started.
The Jury Liaison staff do their best to keep the jurors in waiting informed as to when jury panels may be called or what cases are expected to start and so on.
If they tell you they will be calling things soon, it will be at least an hour and a half.
Just one jury panel was called. 15 jurors were on the panel, and 12 selected.
Monday came and went, but at least I managed to get a couple of Scouting magazines read and a blog update written.
We were told to go home at 16:00 and to report back to the curt at 10:00.
Tuesday arrived, and the morning proceeded with the same waiting game with promises of news.
One panel was called at about 11:30, and my name was in it. 15 potential jurors were taken to Court Number One.
12 names were randomly selected, and I was sat in Juror # 8's seat.
We were individually sworn in either on the Bible or Affirmed to try the defendant fairly on the evidence given.
Then we were told what the case was:
R v TP
who was charged with Murder
The defendant had stabbed and killed a 35 female victim with a single knife blow to her neck.
She had admitted the stabbing, but the Prosecution felt that there was enough evidence to convict on a murder charge, whereas the Defence was trying to prove Manslaughter based on Diminished Responsiblity.
Before lunch, the Prosecution outline the facts of their case.
Alcoholism and drug use came into play. Possible theft from the defendant's son by the victim.
Bullying of the victim, and finally the stabbing with a 12 cm serrated kitchen knife.
As much as we were able to say while going to lunch was really just "Wow! Murder! We did not expect that in Croydon".
The prosecution continued with a witness called in the afternoon session, but at 15:45 we were told that was as far as we could go for the day, so we should leave the court and discuss the case with no one, not search on the internet about it, and report on Wednesday at 10:00.
The jury left the court buzzing with anticipation.
On Wednesday, we arrived expectant.
At 10:20 we were called in, but were asked to leave again for an extended coffee break while "Legal Technicalities" were resolved.
The jury left the court and we went to our Jury Room. We started to talk about what the legal definition of "Diminished Responsibility" might be. That was going to be a very interesting point.
At 11:30, we were called in again but were told that the "Legal Technicalities" had not been resolved so we should go home for the day and report back at 10:00 on Thursday prompt.
This suited me fine as my car was in the garage for it's MoT test, so I could pick it up early. As it happened, I was also able to meet up with a friend and give them a lift to Crawley.
On Thursday, we arrived on time but were not called into the court until 10:20.
The judge explained that the tardy start was partly due to transport delays for the defendant, and partly because the "Legal Technicalities" had not yet been resolved.
This unfortunately meant that the case would be postponed until a future date, but the jury would now be dismissed.
The jury left the court a little dejected, but went to the Jury Waiting Room.
The first thing most of us did was search the case stories on the internet!
We then waited, and were told at 13:00 that we could leave for the day and would not be required in court again until Monday at 10:00.
I went into work on the Friday, but received a call asking if I wished to attend court on Monday or not. I replied "Of course".
I was slightly disappointed by a few comments made to me : "why would you go back?", "but they have said you don't have to go back", "you could have got out of it". I wondered if my sense of civic duty was misplaced in the modern day.
On Monday of the second week, I was actually surprised that 10 of the 12 jurors from the case from the previous week had agreed to attend again.
After a couple of hours waiting around, the jurors in waiting were dismissed for lunch, but shortly after 14:00 all of the second weekers, together with 3 first timers were called onto a jury panel.
This time, we were taken to Court Three.
The name cards were shuffled very deliberately by the Clerk of the Court and one by one the juror's seats were filled from 1 to 12. This time I was Juror # 7.
Only a nice guy called Adrian from the second weekers was not chosen, but he and the other 2 unchosen jurors left the room.
The jury was sworn in.
This time it was a sexual assault case - the defendant (EE) was a 42 year old Nigerian who had allegedly assaulted an 18 year old girl (SB) who was working as a child minder for him and his wife in December 2014.
I was not looking forward to it, but you don't get a choice in what case you get.
The defendant, EE, was a trainee solicitor.
We were given the broad case details before being dismissed for the day at 15:30.
Tuesday's travelling was bad - there was RMT strike action leading to many cancellations on the trains. I was forced to shift my allegiance to the 405 bus. Although it took a while to get up to Croydon, I have to admit that the £3 return fare was a bargain!
We were into the Prosecution case (the burden is on them to prove the case to the jury rather than for the defendant to prove their innocence).
Police video of a statement by the victim, SB, was shown and very distressing 999 call recordings played. Then the victim was called to the stand as a witness, and appeared quite plausible.
She had obviously been coached, but kept to her line even when pressured by the Defence.
Why would she make these allegations if they weren't genuine?
There were some major gaps in her memory but the incident took place along time ago.
The victim's mother and sister also gave evidence.
We noted that some key elements of remembrance were different than the victim's story.
On Wednesday, the Prosecution completed their case by calling the police officers and a friend of the defendant called Ken.
The Defence obviously cross examined all the witnesses.
We made notes and listened.
The afternoon saw the start of the Defence and the defendant took the stand.
On advice, the defendant had given a "No Comment" interview at the Police Station (even to his name).
This seemed to suggest that he was being less than open and honest.
But his statements were plausible, even if his actions were naive.
There were storms in the South East on Wednesday night and Thursday early morning.
This led to a myriad train cancellations and transport problems. I ended upon the 405 bus again.
The jurors all arrived on time (10:00), but sadly the judge was caught by flooding on the M25, so he was late by about 90 minutes.
The court action finished the Defence case and the defendant's wife and mother were called.
During some body camera footage which the defendant had not seen before, he broke down.
The judge asked the Defence Lawyer if they might want to look to the defendant as they appeared to be so distressed. This led to over-the-top uncontrolled sobbing and wailing which we (as a jury) felt was completely stage managed.
Again there had obviously been coaching in how to reply.
This evidence also suggested that the victim had tried to blackmail the defendant and threatened "to ruin his career"
The Prosecution's cross examination of the defendant was quite vicious (but of course, that is his job).
The Prosecution and then the Defence summing up ended the day.
The jury was ordered to return at 09:30 on Friday, we would expect the Judge's summing up and direction of the jury.
We arrived bright and early at the Crown Court, all feeling a little nervy.
It was our 'Big Day'.
The Judge summed up and directed the jury on the legal matters. Effectively, he re-addressed all the evidence from the start of the case in two hours.
At 11:45, the jury then retired to their room to consider the case.
Throughout the trial, we had obviously discussed some matters as they had arisen.
The evidence had been extensive, but there were omissions - no phone records of calls or texts, some obvious questions not asked, some important forensic evidence (clothing) was just not produced.
There were contradictions between versions of events from the witnesses who should, in theory have corroborated the victims story.
We had to establish just how important the discrepancies were to the credibility of the case.
Both parties had acted naively, the defendant had acted foolishly and to a degree vainly.
Had the victim been acting during the 999 calls.
Initial discussions confirmed that all 12 jurors felt that the Prosecution had just not proved it's case against the defendant.
We had been given a decision flow chart so we were able to reach a correct verdict for both of the items on the Indictment.
There was a little confusion regarding the timings of the 999 calls so we asked if they could be played back for us.
Not only did this help clarify the times but also revealed a change in the victim's voice tone (from a very matter of fact "Someone has tried to rape me" to absolutely hysterical in 10 seconds.)
After replaying this call a couple more times, any doubt we may have had vanished.
The 'victim' was acting - very well.
We had first heard these recordings on Tuesday, and since then we have had preconceptions skewed and questioned by other elements in the evidence.
The Foreman asked for a show of hands regarding both indictments.
A unanimous "Not Guilty" verdict had been reached within one hour of our retiring.
The great thing about the UK judicial system is that verdicts can not be taken by the judge between 13:00 and 14:00 - the court's lunch time.
After lunch we returned to the Court Room and confirmed our verdict.
The defendant broke down again and threw himself to the floor of the dock.
We were dismissed.
And that, as stories normally go should be the end.
------ ------------- ------
Considering the evidence and realising the weaknesses had been fairly straight forward.
We were talking as we left and I realised that what we had done was to give the defendant and his family their lives back after what must have been 18 months of hell.
As we left the Court Building the Defence Counsel called over to us and thanked us for what for him had been about the hardest case he had taken in his 25 years.
He had been unable to get permission for evidence to be allowed in court which would have meant that the "No Comment" interview would not have mattered.
He told us that when the Jury had returned with a verdict so quickly, the Judge and Prosecution had apparently assumed it was one of "Guilty", so a guideline of sentence was passed between them.
I feel that we did a good thing seeing through the lies and untruths.
Yes, although the defendant had been naive and foolish and made a bad judgement he was not guilty of the alleged crimes.
The so called victim was apparently a chancer, from a family of chancers after a blackmail payout.
I am pleased to say that for me, Jury Service was a privilege, a great thing and a genuine "Life Experience".
And I would love to do it again.