Friday, November 19, 2010

Jury Service - Part Two

Everyone i talk to about my recent jury service mention they'd love to do it. Let me tell how boring it is though. If you're not called on a case, and there are always a few people unlucky enough, you have to sit there in a silent room all day. No TV. You are sat down for a long time. You can try and strike up conversations with people, but you know what London is like. Many people like to keep themselves to themselves. But i found most are quite nice on jury service as its random members of the population, not the wanker-banker types you see on a tube or train during rush hour.

Even when you do get on a case, you are sat down for 3 hours listening to lawyers giving evidence in a language where many sentences start "Might I suggest..." or "I put it to you...".  They speak very slowly too, with a lot of gaps in between their sentences. This is intentional so that the stenographer (the person who types up a script of every word said in court) can keep up, as well as the jurors and judge who may be writing notes.

It's all veerrryyy slow. I have no problem keeping concentration in this type of environment. What i do struggle with is sitting still. As I do at work, long car journeys, or in the cinema, i slipped my shoes off and put my feet up, occasionally sitting cross-legged.

Of the people i spoke to, I noticed that the ones who found it most difficult were the types who had physically active jobs. One was a football coach. Another was a mechanic. They looked reaaalllyy fed up and stressed. As for Mr RightAngle Hunchback, he's retired. He was regularly nodding off. It's easier for the likes of me who work in I.T. and sit down most of the day anyway. I've not had to write so much for years though! My hand-writing is proper fucked now.

Anyway, back to the case. The judge mentions the charge in question with brief details as soon as the full 15 entered the courtroom. The charge is 'Conspiracy to Defraud' involving William Hill. If any members of the jury are currently employed or have shares in William Hill, or if you knew any of the three defendants, you will not be able to serve in this case due to conflicts of interest. It applied to none of us.

The prosecution started with the details. It is a complex case so bare with me while i try to explain it in the least boring way.

Three young ladies, Tania, Jessica and Evelyn, aged between 19 and 24, were on charges of conspiracy to defraud William Hill. We were given a massive pile of documents which would be referred to during the course of the trial.

He explained what William Hill was, and the different ways you could place a bet. You could do it all in store. Or online. If you do it online, you can either transfer funds in to your online WH (William Hill) account by credit/debit card or bank wire. There is another method not used so much nowadays where you go in store with cash and they will hand you a QuickCash voucher for the equivalent sum of money which you can then apply to your online WH account to place the funds in there. There is apparently no limit to the amount that a QuickCash voucher can be issued for.

Once you have applied the voucher code to your account, the funds have been transferred. You can then use this to gamble or print out a withdrawal receipt of a chosen amount and take this to a WH store and exchange it for cash.

The prosecution explained that in this particular case, the evidence can be classed in to two main groups. Direct evidence (facts, documents, CCTV, DNA, fingerprints, items found during property searches, etc) and Testimonial Evidence (evidence from witnesses, victims or the defendants themselves).

He started with the direct evidence. Tania used to work for William Hill but was sacked for gross misconduct involving falsifying documents. Apparently she issued incorrect amounts of winnings on three occasions. During her time there, she had a set of keys which she used to open up the branch on occasions of staff shortages. The prosecution states she had cut the keys for a copy of them which were for the robbery. When she was sacked she had to hand her keys back.

Three weeks after she was sacked, the store she worked at was robbed. There was no forced entry. The burglars had keys and had the alarm codes. CCTV wasn't active in the store for a number of weeks or possibly months due to some problems they were experiencing with it.

Another branch was also robbed within a few days. Another defendant named Victoria had already pleaded guilty and therefore wasn't part of this trial. She had worked at this other branch and had also been sacked for gross misconduct (details unknown). It was burgled in the same way although CCTV was available in that branch. Crucially, Victoria, Tania and Evelyn knew each other.

Other direct evidence. Tania, Victoria and Evelyn shared a flat during that time (a tenancy agreement was shown). Jessica lived about a mile away.

WH weren't aware those branches had been robbed, due to the stealth nature of the robbery, til a number of weeks later when their accounts didn't add up. Police then did a surprise search of the house many weeks later and a few of the stolen QuickCash vouchers were found in the hallway and in Victoria's handbag, identified by serial numbers on the voucher itself. The online accounts were created in Evelyn's and Jessica's name. They had to be legitimate accounts because when you withdraw money as mentioned above, you need to take identification.

CCTV footage of Evelyn and Jessica on different occasions withdrawing money from WH

I don't want all this to get too boring so I'll sum it up for what I've mentioned so far.

Defendants: Tania, Jessica, Evelyn. (Victoria already pleaded guilty).
Flat shared by: Tania, Evelyn, Victoria.
Sacked WH staff: Tania and Victoria. Tania had a set of keys to open up branch.
WH accounts that laundered money: Jessica and Evelyn.
Stolen QuickCash vouchers found in the flat.

The direct evidence was damning. 

He then spent three of the longest hours of my life going through a timeline of all the transactions and events IN A LOT OF DETAIL. Making special point of the time of each one. I'm not even ashamed to say i fell asleep on many occasions. Later i heard a few others did too, including Mr RightAngle which didn't surprise me one bit. Poor old guy. He nodded off on many occasions, often with his pen still in his hands and then it dropping as he fell asleep along with his head rocking to one side. One time he dropped a whole bunch of papers as he fell asleep and slid across his desk. 

They really ought to use some kind of software so that the information can be read out in an interesting voice like Morgan Freeman rather than the drone-like Prince Charles we were stuck with. 

Occasionally the judge would grant a short break if she felt it was needed. One on occasion, one guy fell asleep and snored. She then asked one of us to prod him awake then told the guy she was okay to give a short break to everyone if he needed one, but he said it was okay. I'm sure the sheer embarrassment of being sounded out in the whole court woke him up just fine.

We were at the end of day two and it looked a straight forward case to me. From what i'd heard so far, i was thinking all three guilty.

Now the testimonial evidence. And this made all the difference. Let's start with the police statements of each of the three. We were given HUGE piles of documents for this. Their police statements, the interview at the police station after being arrested. It was read out by the prosecution lawyer. I'll only mention the important parts.

Tania obviously denies any knowledge of any fraud. She mentions she knew nothing of Evelyn's or Victoria's involvement and that she had no idea who Jessica was. She says she was wrongly dismissed from her job.

Jessica stated an ex-boyfriend asked her to make an account as a favour and she didn't know why and that she was not aware of any illegal activities. She says she doesn't know a Tania. The police then let her know about phone records at which point she crumbled a little and admitted she does know Tania, who is a sort of friend of hers and that she had asked her to make an account for her as she had won some money but couldn't withdraw it as she is a previous employee of WH. She says she doesn't know Evelyn.

Evelyn said a similar story to Jessica. Tania had asked her to make an account. She said she doesn't know Jessica. 

I was pretty confused by now. I couldn't work out who was telling the truth. Jessica and Evelyn were either very very stupid girls getting themselves caught on CCTV and opening accounts in their own names. Or they were less stupid for helping someone launder money with Tania being slightly clever here.

Continues tomorrow. The boring parts are over and I'll have a few more interesting stories including finding a fly in the milk. The roof in the jury room leaking when it rained. And bumping in to the defendants in a nearby pub. 

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