Judge releases full transcript of excoriating comments about prosecutor in murder case
By Alex Varley-Winter | 11 July 2013
Prosecution chiefs have met a judge to explain why a series of foul-ups by a prosecutor led to the halting of a murder trial.
The judge, Richard Griffith-Jones, has released to Exaro a transcript of his full comments that he made at the end of a retrial at Warwick Crown Court in which he launched a blistering attack on the prosecution of the original case.
Exaro revealed last month how the judge made a formal complaint to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which has launched an investigation.
The judge asked for the transcript of his comments also to be sent to the director of public prosecutions and the chief crown prosecutor for the West Midlands, Harry Ireland.
His astonishing attack came after a barrister who was “patently out of his depth” was appointed to prosecute a bouncer who had strangled a mother of four and driven around for two days with her body in the boot of his car. At the retrial, Aaron Mann, 33, of Hartshill near Nuneaton in Warwickshire, was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Claire O’Connor.
The first trial was at Coventry Crown Court in November 2012, but came to a dramatic halt in the second week after descending into farce. A retrial started before the same judge at Warwick Crown Court in May. Mann was jailed for life, and was told that he would serve a minimum of 16 years.
The judge apologised to the victim’s family, in particular, to Daniel O’Connor, the victim’s son, about the need for a retrial.
A spokesman for the CPS confirmed previously that it had received a complaint from the judge.
CPS chiefs in the West Midlands have since had a meeting with the judge at Warwick Crown Court, the spokesman also confirmed.
The spokesman added: “We have noted the judge’s comments and we are looking into the handling of this case.”
Exaro is publishing the full transcript of the judge’s scathing comments about the prosecution of the first trial:
Judge Griffith-Jones: “I have seen the victim-impact statements. I really cannot conceive anything more terrible than being a parent to outlive your child.
“Mr and Mrs Griffiths have had to endure the terrible shock – terrible shock – of the circumstances of their daughter’s death. But Daniel O’Connor has had to be involved in the very case. He has stood there in the witness box, or sat there having to give evidence in his own mother’s murder trial. My sympathy goes to those close members of the family and to Clare O’Connor’s many friends. She was quite obviously a very popular, kind, outgoing character who attracted many friends and who, I must appreciate, will have felt a very sad loss.
“That is all I feel I can properly feel at this stage before sentence.
“But I am now going to turn to another topic which has caused me great concern. This case was the subject of a trial which resulted in the jury having to be discharged. The prosecution were represented by someone who I will not name, but, frankly, the prosecution representation was totally inadequate. I appreciate that in these days where public money is short, there is an understandable imperative to try to save money. But instead of the usual deployment of two advocates, one of which at least ought to be of senior standing and great experience in this sort of grave case, the prosecution deployed one advocate who was patently out of his depth. He opened the law in the case to the jury, something that is not welcome, but it is even less welcome when he opened the law wrongly, opening the old law on diminished responsibility. He was reminded by me that he was so opening it. He appeared to understand what I was saying but then he opened it wrongly again. He mismanaged the case in particular with the attendance of witnesses, which resulted in delays, which are expensive delays. He tried to read evidence in the case which he should never have tried to read: that is, the evidence of the pathologist. In a case like this, juries must be helped by having the pathologist present to explain the injuries, and explain what can be inferred from the circumstances from the injuries. It was quite wrong to seek to read it. Worse than that, as he sought to read it, he did not understand what he was reading. It is a fundamental discourtesy to the jury to be reading terms that the advocate, him or herself does not understand. Worse than that, when I asked him what the meaning was, he started making guesses, and, even with my limited knowledge, I realised that he was guessing wrongly. It was a terrible display by an advocate in any case let alone one of this gravity.
“He then proceeded to fall out with other members of the prosecution team. I want to be careful what I say here because I am not suggesting that it is necessarily appropriate to instruct an independent member of the bar if an in house prosecutor has the requisite expertise and experience then it is quite appropriate they should prosecute a case like this. But where he falls out with the prosecution, it leaves the court in a very difficult situation. He made an application to withdraw from the case for reasons which he described as professional embarrassment. When I asked him what was the embarrassment, he said that he had fallen out with the reviewing lawyer about whether to call a particular witness. If I had acceded to his application, I wonder what the consequence would have been. As he was the only person here representing the prosecution, if they leave the field, what is the court to do? Fortunately, because I did not allow the application, I asked the senior people to come here, and eventually he withdrew his application. But it has left me concerned about what happens when an in-house prosecutor falls out with the reviewing lawyer. There has to be an order of authority. Either the reviewing lawyer has the say or the advocate has the say. We cannot have a situation where they simply fall out. The case proceeded but it was pretty obvious that the advocate knew now he was completely out of his depth, and exhibited signs of great stress.
“I arrived on a Monday morning to find that he was no longer at court. Someone else from the CPS who had had no connection with the case turned up to tell me that he was ill, that he had some stress-related condition. I have never had any sort of medical report. I have never had a note from him. I have never had an explanation as to what happened. I do not know whether he had to go to hospital for half a day or whether he is still there.
“I was then forced to discharge the jury in a case like this with people like Daniel O’Connor who had had to give evidence in his own mother’s murder trial. It is not just the money. It is the terrible emotion and cost not only to the defendant, but all the witnesses and all the family who are concerned. It is a terrible example of an attempt to make a false economy, or, rather, an attempt to make an economy which proves to be a false economy.
“I am going to ask that a transcript of my remarks are sent to Mr Ireland, who is head of the CPS in Birmingham – the director of public prosecutions also. I think that it has been a disgrace, but fortunately one which has been retrieved because, eventually, the right thing was done, and proper advocates were deployed to prosecute the case.
“All I can say is, I hope nothing like this ever happens again. It is a terrible example, and in the current climate of seeking to save money, one which is a temptation which must be resisted.”
Prosecuting counsel: “Can I just say that I did make arrangements for someone from the Crown Prosecution Service to attend. Your concerns will be relayed to the senior management at the Crown Prosecution Service, and it is only appropriate for those individuals to look into what has happened and to give an appropriate response. But, obviously, they need to have a chance to look into all the issues that have been raised. From… my leader’s perspective and my perspective, clearly we know not what has happened before, but, certainly, we will pass on the concerns.”
Judge Griffith-Jones: “The reason I have raised it publicly – because, you can imagine, I intend to raise it also by having a meeting with senior people in the CPS, is that I think the public at large, and in particular those people who have been in the public gallery and who have been concerned with the case, understand what is going on, and understand that I do take the matter very seriously indeed. It was perfectly obvious to me (because the trial took place at Coventry, where I had a better view of people in the public gallery than I do here) that there was tremendous discomfort at the performance of the advocate from the public gallery. There we are.
“Members of the jury, I thought you would be interested to know why this matter was being tried again, six months later. Anyway, you go with the thanks of the court. Thank you.”