Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

First-Ever Internet Contempt Case Held; Juror Chatted on Facebook with Defendant

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

First-Ever Internet Contempt Case Held; Juror Chatted on Facebook with Defendant

Article excerpt

Byline: John Aston and Cathy Gordon

THE first juror ever to be prosecuted for contempt of court involving the internet sobbed inconsolably as she faced the "terrifying" prospect of jail.

Previously a woman of "unblemished good character", Joanne Fraill was told by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, he did not think it would be possible to avoid her immediate committal to prison.

Also described by her QC as "hard-working, respectable, honest", the 40-year-old now faces an agonising wait until Thursday to learn her fate.

London's High Court heard that Fraill, from Manchester, had admitted using Facebook to contact Jamie Sewart, 34, a defendant already acquitted in a drugs trial in Manchester last year, while the jury's deliberations were being held into her co-defendants' fate.

She also admitted conducting an internet search into the defendants whose case she was trying, also a breach of the 1981 Contempt of Court Act.

Peter Wright QC, appearing for Fraill, said she was "inconsolable" and "distraught" over what she had done, and the consequences of it, and "terrified at the prospect of imprisonment".

She was a mother-of-three, with three stepchildren, who had not intended to do wrong while carrying out her civic duty as a juror.

The problem was that as the trial "gathered in momentum and intensity, she began to feel considerable empathy towards the female defendant, Miss Sewart".

What she had done had left her "depressed, isolated and in complete despair" and a psychiatric report was being prepared.

Sewart, from Bolton, was also accused of contempt by chatting on Facebook with Fraill. She denied the charge and said she had not been attempting to learn the secrets of the juryroom, but only wanted to know when the long trial was going to end.

Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Holroyde, said the case against Sewart was "proved", but indicated any committal order against her would be suspended because there were "some very powerful reasons" why she should not be jailed. …

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