Juror spared jail after Google gaffe ends trial

Preston Crown Court
Preston Crown Court
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A juror who wrecked an expensive Crown Court trial by looking up the accused on Google has been given a suspended prison sentence.

Charlotte Potts, 34, was summoned to appear before the Lord Chief Justice accused of contempt of court.

Criminal trials that have to be abandoned because of misconduct by a juror cause substantial inconvenience and distress to those involved

The single mother-of-three admitted researching the defendant in a Lancashire sex assault case while she and other jurors were at home overnight considering their verdict. The four-day trial had to be abandoned at a cost of thousands of pounds.

Potts was jailed for six months, suspended for a year.

Solicitor General Robert Buckland, on behalf of the Atttorney General, said: “Criminal trials that have to be abandoned because of misconduct by a juror cause substantial inconvenience and distress to those involved.

“It also results in the wasting of precious public funds, as well as disruption to the administration of justice.

“This was an important case to bring in order to protect the integrity of the jury system.

“Judges direct juries not to undertake internet research because it is vital that juries reach verdicts based upon the evidence they hear and see in court.”

Potts admitted that she had Googled the accused in the case at Preston Crown Court in November when the jury had been sent home for the night after failing to reach a verdict.

The following day she told her fellow jurors what she had done and announced she would be changing her mind as a result.

The matter was referred to His Honour Judge Baker, who then called a halt to the proceedings, discharging the jury and ordering a retrial.

The High Court hearing in London heard Potts and her fellow jurors had been warned several times before the trial about not using the internet to research a case or a defendant. Judge Baker repeated the warning in his summing up of the trial.

But after a night at home she returned to court and told the other 11 she had looked up the defendant online and as a result of material which was prejudicial to the accused she would be changing her verdict.

She told jury bailiffs: “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I did it.”

In her defence Potts, from New Longton, near Preston, told the hearing she remembered what the judge had warned about the internet and understood it.

But during the night she could not sleep due to family worries and began playing with her phone in bed.

She described her mind as being “all over the place.” She than “just went on Google and put the defendant’s name in.” She was aware at the time she should not be doing it.

When she went back to court the following day she had to confess what she had done. “I just couldn’t not say anything, I felt so guilty and so bad. It was just eating away at me.”

It is believed the defendant, referred to in court only as ‘M,’ was later discharged after the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to pursue a retrial.