Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Heart of Justice

We heard it often during the trial. Perjury was one of the worst crimes of all, "Striking at the Heart of Justice." was how the Advocate Depute liked to put it to the jury. The Judge gave Tommy Sheridan three years imprisonment. 

Two years on the mood music has changed.
Andy Coulson is detained for alleged perjury at the perjury trial and, suddenly, lying in court is less of a big deal. Any idea that the guilty verdict and subsequent jail sentence suffered by Tommy Sheridan may have been influenced by two days of allegedly false testimony given to the jury by Mr Coulson is being laughed off.

The argument that phone hacking is irrelevant to the Sheridan trial is not a new one, it was extensively discussed in 2010 as the case proceeded. Indeed the Crown objected to evidence about the issue being presented to the jury a number of times.

The presiding judge, Lord Bracadale ruled on this issue. He decided that, as a part of the accused's defence rested on the idea that persons employed by News International had conspired to “do him in” , it was perfectly legitimate for the defence to lead evidence about News Group’s practices, hence Andrew Coulson giving evidence at all.

We can also note that the police’s decision to charge Mr Coulson must have included consideration of this legal definition of perjury in Scottish Law:

All that is required is that it should be clearly understood that a charge of perjury will not lie unless the evidence alleged to be false was both competent and relevant at the earlier trial, either in proof of the libel or in relation to the credibility of the witness.”

It is important to stress that no-one, least of all Mr Coulson, has been convicted of anything yet and as far as I am aware there is no active appeal from Tommy Sheridan against his conviction. What strikes me though is the dismissal of the simple concept that any guilty verdict is in question when a witness is charged with lying in court.

James Doleman.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Joan McAlpine, Hacking and the News of the World

Joan McAlpine MSP

The Scottish Daily Record reported today that the contact details of Joan McAlpine MSP were found in the notebooks of convicted phone hacker Glen Mulcaire.  Ms McAlpine also devoted her regular column in the paper to her reaction to this news.  

I spent much of 2010 covering Tommy Sheridan's trial for perjury and the news that Ms McAlpine was a potential victim of phone hacking  rang a bell. It turned out her name had been mentioned during the trial, and after some searching of my notebooks I've managed to locate the reference.

It came from  Crown Witness Anvar Khan, who in 2006 was employed by the Scottish News of the World as a columnist. Ms Khan was asked by the Advocate Depute about a series of  meetings she had with the newspaper's Scottish editor, Bob Bird. One discussion mentioned was at the newspaper's Christmas party. At this event, Ms Khan testified, she had asked Mr Bird 'what stories the paper was working on' ? According to Ms Khan he replied "We have information on Joan McAlpine."

At the time, no-one followed up on that  statement, it was irrelevant to the case in hand so received no attention from the assembled press corps (myself included) . However given today's revelations it raises an interesting question. The focus so far of the phone hacking enquiry has been on the national edition of the News of the World.  However it is difficult to see why the News of the World nationally would be interested in the the goings on of SNP candidates and Scottish ministers.  If phone hacking of prominent Scottish people  did take place, would the instructions not ne  more likely to come from Kinning Park than Wapping?

Strathclyde police are currently engaged in a major investigation on these matters, Operation Rubicon   We cannot, pre-judge that enquiry but surely now the position of the Scottish Government, that phone hacking is an exclusively  "English" problem is becoming untenable. 

Friday, 27 April 2012

Muirhead and McKenzie Sentenced to Five Years

The High Court in Glasgow
""It is immediately obvious that we were not dealing with what would properly be thought of as acts of terrorism in any sense at all." Lord Turnbull 

At the High Court in Glasgow today Neil McKenzie and Trevor Muirhead received prison sentences after being found guilty of "Conspiracy to assault" by sending improvised explosive devices to Celtic Manager Neil Lennon, The late Paul McBride QC, Trish Godman MSP and the offices of Cairde Na hEireann in Glasgow.

Lord Turnbull handed down sentences of five years imprisonment for the above charge, with an additional sentence of 18 months for Muirhead for sending the first package to Neil Lennon (the jury acquitted McKenzie of that charge) Given time served they will both be eligible for parole in two to three years.

Both men were originally charged with conspiracy to murder aggravated by religious hatred. However the religious hatred element was dropped by the Crown just before the trial commenced and the murder charge was removed by Lord Turnbull towards the end of the case. Unsurprisingly members of the defence team were pleased with the sentence with one senior member telling me "No-one can argue with that." Reaction from other quarters has been less approving, with many people taking to Twitter to express dismay at what they consider the leniency  of the sentences.

Neil McKenzie and Trevor Muirhead

In his sentencing statement Lord Turnbull made reference to the previous good character of the two men,saying  it was "incomprehensible that two such family men would engage in such serious criminal and reckless conduct" and "I can't fathom what was in your minds at the time when you did this."

As the men offered no evidence in their defence, and did not speak in court, their motives have never been properly explored, other than a police interview with Neil McKenzie who said his co-accused had a " "pure hatred and it seems to be aimed at Neil Lennon and anything to do with Celtic Football Club." 

Police have never located where Mckenzie and Muirhead assembled the potentially explosive packages nor did they retrieve any "useful forensic material" from them. In the trial it was argued that the devices they were sending were becoming more sophisticated as time went on,  If they had not been caught, detectives are convinced they "could have killed"

Muirhead/McKenzie sentencing live blog

Outside court defence team "happy" with sentence but announce intention to appeal verdict. court now clearing, family members of accused leaving and making comments to press that this is "not justice" Lord Turbulll now addresses court. "incomprehensible two family men would take such actions" Convicted of sending improvised explosive devices. Could result in "double figure sentence" Judge has duty to act in a "discriminating manner"'these were not " acts of terrorism in the traditional sense" Devices could not have exploded, no detonator" gives sentence of 5 years Findlay 'nothing to be said that was not said at trial" Donald Findlay QC. "I can say nothing about the facts" commends Jackson's position. His client has "worked all his life" MrJackson QC begins his mitigation speech. Points out no-one injured by his client. Accepts intent to injure but argues devices 'non viable' on lower end of seriousness. court rises for Lord Turbull and the sentencing diet begins. Families of Muirhead and McKenzie now being seated in court.Convicted men dock flanked by security guards. Previous case now over, awaiting Lord Turnbull Welcome to our live blog of the sentencing of Trevor Muirhead and Neil McKenzie who wer convicted last month of sending improvised explosive devices to figures associated with Celtic Football club The High Court will be hearing speeches in mitigation from the men's lawyers before sentence is passed. The court is now dealing with another case.sentencing expected to begin at 10.30

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Hoaxes and Bombs

This is the second of a series of articles about the trial Neil McKenzie and Trevor Muirhead The first can be found Here
Neil McKenzie and Trevor Muirhead

During the trial in Glasgow of Neil McKenzie and Trevor Muirhead much of the debate in court revolved around  the precise nature of the devices they sent to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and others. Defence advocates Gordon Jackson and Donald Findlay claimed they were "hoax" devices, designed to frighten and intimidate but not to explode. The Crown agreed that the devices could not have exploded but contended the accused believed they could have, and were therefore guilty of an attempt to assault. The jury found this proved and found both men guilty. 

Now that the trial is over we can report some of what was revealed in court about the devices. 

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Intent and Murder

Gordon Jackson QC
Lord Turnbull 

One of the most interesting, and controversial rulings during the trial of Neil McKenzie and Trevor Muirhead was the decision taken by the presiding judge, Lord Turnbull to direct the Crown to remove the charge of conspiracy to murder from the indictment. As the decision in court happened without the jury present we could not report the reasoning behind that decision, however now that the jury has delivered a Guilty verdict we can.

On Wednesday, at the conclusion of the Advocate Depute's closing speech, Gordon Jackson QC, defending Mr Muirhead, asked the judge if he could discuss a legal matter in the absence of the jury. Jury members left the court and Mr Jackson then put forward his argument that the Crown had put forward no proper evidence of intent to commit murder in it's closing argument.

Mr Jackson pointed out that in Scottish law Murder is defined as to "wickedly kill" which means that the act must be intentional, adding that intent to kill  had to consist of more than a "pious hope" that someone would lose their life.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A day in court - real life drama

By Joanna Matwiejczyk, @jo_mat14

On Thursday 1 March, instead of sitting in what should have been my university lecture, I was eagerly perched on the edge of my seat watching my first court case; a fine substitute I’d admit. It was as though an episode of ‘Law and Order’ was being re-enacted before my very eyes.

Waiting for the case to commence, I attempted to act as professional as possible. Cue: pen behind the ear, notebook in hand and reading glasses out. Admittedly the most cliché image of a journalism student.

As the solicitors filed in and took their places, the case began; the matter in hand being attempted rape. With the accused sitting a mere few metres from me, I subconsciously couldn’t help but feel perturbed.

An abrasion was sustained to the left knee, the left fore-arm sustained bruising, superficial abrasions on the right shoulder…” – the solicitor talk shook me hard and the seriousness of the case was beginning to sink in. I was not here merely to review first-hand the structure of a court case, but also to review the likes of the justice system.

Having had 3 witnesses called to the stand, the typical ex-wife, neighbour and girlfriend of the accused, the drama of it all was an aspect I wouldn’t have predicted before-hand.

Amid the sophisticatedly robed solicitors and stoic facial expressions around the room, it was easy to feel out of place, says the girl with her loud red hair and shabby vintage outfit.

Nevertheless, I had attracted interest from the solicitors during the break, all of whom were extremely welcoming and willing to strike up a conversation.

Throughout the case, as I was observing the court room, it was evident that a trend of receding hairlines was a popular one. What I once believed to be a court room myth has in fact been confirmed.

A further bemusing aspect was the confusion of when or whether to stand, or not to stand? To bow, or not to bow? To openly drink a can of fanta, or to silently suffer in dehydration? The many complications of a court room.

Furthermore, what struck me was how normal the jury looked. I was expecting burly business men and top hats (or perhaps wishing they’d wear top hats). In reality, it was as though they’d picked up a group of people from the local bus stop.

I had also come to realise that court cases are not as straightforward as I had previously presumed due to the amount of evidence to sift through, including phone recordings and doctor’s statements.

The atmosphere was tense and the approach, professional till the end. Day 1 of court was completed, and I felt exhilarated from the experience. No doubt I’ll be back for more.

Copyright remains with the author.