Thames and Chiltern CPS staff recognised in Successes of the Month - May


James Cable's persistence secures a change in the country's leading legal textbook. Bindi Athwal, Michelle Price and Shahreena Coker help lead the way to a modern Criminal Justice System.

James Cable, Senior Crown Prosecutor, Thames and Chiltern CPS, and Lucy Barker, policy adviser, CPS Strategy and Policy Directorate

James secures an important change to Blackstone's

Guidance was recently circulated to CPS prosecutors in Thames and Chiltern, highlighting the need to prosecute appropriate offences against travellers as racially aggravated offences. On seeing this, James Cable was reminded of a case a year previously concerning a public order incident in which members of the travelling community were abused was racially aggravated.

At the time, he had relied on the guidance contained in Blackstone's, the leading criminal law textbook. This stated that "Jews, Sikhs and Romany gypsies are recognised ethnic racial groups . but travellers and Rastafarians are not" and he had advised accordingly, with the offence being charged as a straightforward public order offence.

He looked more closely at the documentation that supported the more recent guidance and found that the only relevant case not mentioned in Blackstone's was that of O'Leary v Allied Domecq, the judgment of which states that Irish Travellers are, in fact, an ethnic racial group.

Following representations from CPS Thames and Chiltern, Blackstone's located a copy of the OLeary judgment and agreed to email an amendment to all their readers and include it in their next supplement.

An article clarifying this issue is being prepared for the next edition of Law and Policy Digest together with a short piece for the Hate Crime Co-ordinators (HCCs) Newsletter that the Crown Prosecution Service Equality and Diversity Unit is preparing for circulation to HCCs around the country.

James said: "I am pleased to see Blackstone's will be amending next year's edition to reflect the true position. This will assist us in prosecuting these cases in the future and ensure that offences committed against the traveller community are appropriately prosecuted."

Helen Draycott, Senior District Crown Prosecutor for CPS Thames and Chiltern said: "Well done to James for drawing this issue to the attention of the Area hate crime lead and for pressing for an amendment as soon as possible.

"My thanks also go to Lucy Barker, policy adviser in the Strategy and Policy Directorate, who took this up with Blackstone's on our behalf.

"It shows that individuals can make a difference when they take the time and trouble to raise something that isn't right."

Bindi Athwal and Michelle Price, Senior Crown Prosecutors, CPS West Midlands, and Shahreena Coker, Associate Prosecutor, CPS Thames and Chiltern

Helping lead the way to a modern Criminal Justice System

The CPS is in the process of moving to digital working, replacing paper files with electronic ones across the criminal justice system, saving time and money. Here are some examples of CPS employees leading the way:

Irene Flynn, Sector Business Manager from West Midlands CPS said: "Since January, the Birmingham Magistrates Court team has been developing a 'digital pod' team. Bindi Athwal was asked to create a training package for use Area-wide. To do this she prepared a manual, desk-top instructions and a training programme which she will send on to lawyers throughout the Area. Her work has come to the attention of the national project board.

"Michelle Price, in the meantime, has taken over the day-to-day training of the Birmingham staff. She has trained the 'pod' staff to prepare files electronically, the trial lawyers to present cases on tablet PCs and the Associate Prosecutors to review and check the Initial Details of the Prosecution Case (IDPC) electronically. She has taken on a supervisory role and has been very successful in driving the team forward. Both Bindi and Michelle have gone above and beyond what would normally be expected of them."

Shahreena Coker was the first of the Buckinghamshire team to prosecute an electronic file and managed to do so well, and return a good endorsement electronically to the administration team. She has designed a one-page guide to the 'bundling' of a case (pulling together all of the electronic documents needed into one place), which she has shared with her colleagues across the Buckinghamshire office and which has now also been shared with the Oxford branch.

Christopher Thompson, District Crown Prosecutor for Buckinghamshire within Thames and Chiltern CPS, said: "Shahreena has shown a willingness to embrace change and recognise the benefits of the Digital Working project for us all. She has shared her learning and knowledge with her colleagues, recognising that this will help them as they learn. This demonstrates a real understanding of the need to work as a team to drive up performance across the Area."

Sue Matthews, Crown Advocate, Dawn Pritchard, Senior Crown Advocate and Gaye Holland, Paralegal Officer, CPS East Midlands

Success in battling a rapist's 'sleepwalking' defence

Zack Thompson, from Nottinghamshire, raped his victim while on holiday in Portugal. The victim returned home immediately and reported the matter to the police. Although the offence had taken place abroad, Crown Advocate Sue Matthews advised that, because the victim was under 18 at the time of the offence, Thompson could be prosecuted in this country. Sue immediately contacted the Portuguese authorities to secure crucial evidence from the scene.

Zack Thompson was arrested on his return and, while he accepted that he had committed the act, his defence was that it was caused by non-insane automatism, or sleepwalking. The case became the longest-running case at Nottingham Crown Court - over two years - with a series of adjournments from the defence in their attempts to prove the sleepwalking defence.

An expert was found to counter the defence of sleepwalking - Professor Mark Pressman from Pennsylvania, USA. Sue assessed his suitability and instructed him, including a pre-arranged dawn telephone call to the USA.

Thanks to Gaye Holland working hard to secure a further expert, the defence finally abandoned their claim of sleepwalking, and a further defence of insanity.

Dawn Pritchard, Senior Crown Advocate, prosecuted the case at Nottingham Crown Court and was successful in her legal arguments. The Judge ruled in the prosecutions favour, resulting in the defendant pleading guilty and being sentenced to six years' imprisonment.

Lisa Morris, Temporary Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor said: "We are aware that others have been unsuccessful in pursuing prosecutions in similar circumstances with the same defence and expert, so this is a significant success which is down to the hard work put in to the preparation of the case and the tenacity in tracking down our expert."

Judith Walker, Chief Crown Prosecutor said: "The issues raised in this case were quite complex and as fast as one avenue of defence was addressed, they opened up another. There was some excellent teamwork which ended the prospect of the victim having to give evidence and brought the whole court case to a close for her."

Iain Farrimond, Senior Crown Prosecutor, Graham Reeds QC, Patrizia Parsonage, Paralegal Officer, Vicky Luke and Bev Lalsheta, Paralegal Assistants, CPS West Midlands

Securing the conviction of a gang member, despite a 'terminating ruling'

Nathan Hamilton was accused of manslaughter after a fellow gang member was fatally shot in the bedroom of a house in Wolverhampton. The prosecution case was that the gang gathered to discuss their response to an incident in which the defendant's brother had been beaten up. Hamilton, interviewed by the police, said that he had reached into a holdall out of curiosity and picked up a wrapped sawn-off shotgun which then went off in his hands, fatally wounding his friend.

The prosecution case relied on those admissions and also upon the evidence reluctantly given by the victim's twin brother who was also present at the time. The victim's twin was arrested, having failed to answer a summons to give evidence, and was brought to court, where he refused to answer questions from prosecution counsel. He was sent to the cells for contempt of court, but later returned and was dealt with as a hostile witness.

At the close of the prosecution case, the judge agreed to a defence application that the jury should not be allowed to consider his account and that there was no case to answer - a 'Terminating Ruling' which would have halted the trial and led to a not guilty verdict.

The prosecution team immediately gave notice of an appeal against the Terminating Ruling. They successfully argued in the Appeal Court that, from earlier evidence, the jury were entitled to conclude that the purpose of the gathering had been a gang conference to discuss reprisals for the earlier attack.

Irene Flynn, District Business Manager, said: "The power to use the Terminating Rulings process is relatively new. In this case, we asked the Court of Appeal to expedite the matter and it was heard within 48 hours. As we succeeded we were able to continue with the case with the same jury and our reluctant or hostile witnesses were therefore not required to attend again.

"The defendant was then convicted and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. Had we not used this process, he would have been released as the case would have been dismissed. Such proactive and robust decision-making resulted in an excellent outcome in this prosecution."