Acquittal – CPS Disclosure Failings
25 March 2022
Mel Kelemework from ABV Solicitors has secured another acquittal in a 10-handed sexual grooming case which was heard before Canterbury Crown Court and later moved to Southwark Crown Court.
There were 10 Defendants in this case and ABV Solicitors represented MT who was number 7 on the indictment.
One of the main reasons for the collapse of this trial was due to disclosure failings by the Prosecution which was highlighted by Defence Counsel for all Defendants. All Defence Counsel made a joint application for disclosure pursuant to Section 8 under Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996. However, despite orders from the Judge for material to be disclosed, there were continued failings in providing all disclosure material sought. As a result, the Defence made a joint application to stay proceedings for an abuse of process highlighting that the Court could have no faith that the investigative and disclosure process had been undertaken in accordance with the Disclosure Guidelines and the duty to investigate in an impartial manner and that it was now impossible for the Defendant to have a fair trial. The Prosecution sought time to respond to our application. The Prosecution did not, in fact, provide a written response to the application to stay but instead sought further time to review the case against all Defendants.
The allegations in this case stem from complaints made in 2018 concerning rape and other serious assaults which alleged to have been committed against SB a young female aged between 12 and 15 years of age at the time, between 2016 and 2018. The defendants were mostly aged 17 or 18 at the time of the alleged offences, save for two who were in their 20s. The offences are said to have taken place at various locations in Folkestone and Canterbury.
Our client faced a two-count indictment of rape and abduction, and he maintained his innocence throughout the process.
The trial was originally listed on the 31st January 2022 for a period of 6 weeks due to its complexity however due to a number of disclosure failings by the Prosecution, all defendants prepared an application to stay these proceedings as an abuse of process. It was submitted on behalf of all defendants that the failings in this case were so serious and so substantial that it was now impossible for them to receive a fair trial. Furthermore, the defence argued that there were systemic failures by the Disclosure Officers and Prosecution team in the way the case was investigated and bought to trial.
In particular it was submitted that:
- The investigation into these allegations was fatally flawed. It proceeded on the basis that SB and MW were victims, the investigators lost independence and as a result failed to either pursue reasonable lines of enquiry or consider material that pointed away from ‘guilt’. The flaws in the investigation have been compounded by flaws in the prosecution of this case;
- The disclosure process that flowed from this investigation is fundamentally and fatally flawed. It was abundantly clear that disclosable material had regularly been withheld by the Prosecution. The basis of Prosecution decisions appeared to have been based on a complete misunderstanding of CPIA obligations placed upon the Prosecution.
- The failings were so widespread within the investigation which affected both the Disclosure Officers and the officer primarily responsible for electronic evidence. Social media evidence was no longer available despite the fact it was raised in their police interviews.
- That remedies short of a stay were not sufficient and that there was no evidence that can be excluded pursuant to s.78 PACE to cure the defects in the disclosure exercise.
The Prosecution did not provide a written response to the application to stay nor was this application argued at Court but instead, on 1st March, the Prosecution concluded upon full review and consideration, that they would not pursue this case against the Defendants. This they said was due to the nature of the material provided by Defence and the consequences it had upon the issue of whether the complainant was a witness of truth and that they had concerns as to her credibility.
Whilst the issues raised in the application to stay for abuse were never fully litigated nor decided upon by the Judge, the Crown offered no evidence as a result of pressure put on by Defence Counsel as to the fact that the investigative and disclosure process had not been undertaken in accordance with the Disclosure Guidelines.
Accordingly, no evidence was offered against our client, enabling him to walk free of all charges.
Counsel, Sarah Ellis of Foundry Chambers was instructed in this matter.
If you or anyone you know is facing serious criminal charges, then please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team on 0344 587 9996.