A juror who contacted a defendant via
Facebook, causing a £6m drugs trial to collapse, has been jailed for eight
months for contempt of court.
Joanne Fraill had admitted the charge, in the first UK case of its kind.
London’s High Court heard that Fraill, 40, of Blackley, Greater Manchester,
had contacted Jamie Sewart, 34, who had already been cleared in the drugs case.
Solicitor General Edward Garnier QC said Fraill’s case had been taken to
court to protect jury integrity.
Sewart, of Bolton, was given a two-month sentence suspended for two years
after she was found guilty of contempt.
Because other defendants were still on trial at the time of the contact
between Fraill and Sewart, the judge decided to discharge the jury and the drugs
case in Manchester, which cost £6m, collapsed.
Fraill cried uncontrollably in court, and gasped “eight months” – as did her
family – as her sentence was handed down on Thursday.
Today’s prison term sends a very strong signal to all serving jurors who are
tempted to research their trial online, or communicate with other people about
But will it be enough to stop those serving on juries from using the
Research published 18 months ago showed for the first time that jurors were
going to the internet to do research.
In standard trials 5% of jurors admitted doing this. In high profile trials
the number was nearly three times that.
If today’s sentence fails to stop jurors researching cases and communicating
about them online, then it may be time to look again at our strict contempt of
It may be that the cherished principle of the sanctity of the jury room
cannot be maintained in the face of modern communications, the internet and
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who heard the case,
then announced a short adjournment “for everyone to calm down”.
Sentencing Fraill, Lord Judge said in a written ruling: “Her conduct in
visiting the internet repeatedly was directly contrary to her oath as a juror,
and her contact with the acquitted defendant, as well as her repeated searches
on the internet, constituted flagrant breaches of the orders made by the judge
for the proper conduct of the trial.”
Later Sewart said: “I really feel for the woman [Fraill]. She’s got kids. She
apologised and she’s not a bad lady.”
BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw says Fraill is likely to spend four
months in jail, at which point she’ll be eligible for early release.
Mr Garnier said any form of communication by jurors was subject to the same
rules as those laid down in the court.
“One doesn’t need to get too hung up about the magic of the internet,” he
“Jurors have been able to gossip with their neighbours, be influenced by
their friends and go to the public library to look up things. What is important
is that the integrity of the jury system should be preserved and protected,” he
said outside court.
“Whether you communicate by Facebook, whether you research on the internet,
whether you talk over your garden fence and are influenced by others, you must
understand when you take an oath as a member of a jury, when you disobey that
oath or when you disobey the instructions of the judge, and it is discovered,
you may very well be held in contempt.”
The case, brought by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC, was heard by
Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Holroyde.
Lord Judge had previously told Sewart that any prison sentence on her would
be suspended because she has a three-year-old child from whom she had already
been separated during the crown court trial.
Solicitor General Edward Garnier said it was important that
“the integrity of the jury system was maintained and preserved”.
At the High Court hearing, mother-of-three Fraill admitted she had made
online contact with Sewart and discussed the case with her while the jury’s
deliberations were continuing.
She also admitted revealing details of the jury’s deliberations during that
online conversation – contrary to the Contempt of Court Act 1981 – and
conducting internet research into a defendant whose case she was trying as a
juror during the trial.
That was despite the judge reminding all the jurors that they must decide the
case solely on the evidence given in court.
Fraill was a juror in a case which had already been halted twice.
On 3 August last year, the judge in the third trial of the alleged drugs gang
gave jurors the option of deciding the verdict by a majority rather than
But the High Court was told the trial was stopped the following day when
Sewart’s solicitor informed the court that his client and Fraill had been in
contact via Facebook.
The court heard the initial contact came after Fraill went on the social
networking website and tracked down Sewart, saying: “You should know me – I’ve
cried with you enough.”
Fraill was said by her lawyer to have felt “considerable empathy” for Sewart
as the trial “gathered in momentum and intensity”.
“Can’t believe they had u on remand,” she said in another one of their
conversations, a transcript, which contained the pair’s misspellings, released
by the court shows.
Fraill had added that she thought she had recognised one of the other
defendants and, when asked by Sewart how the jury was dealing with one of the
outstanding charges, said: “Cant get anywaone to go either no one budging…
don’t say anything cause jamie they could cause miss trial”.
The two continued to talk about the case and used expressions such as “lol”
and other internet slang.
Frail also said: “At least then yer all home n dry.”
And Sewart responded: “Ha ha, ur mad. I really appreciate everythin. If i cud
of kissed u all i would of done ha ha.”
She went on to say: “Keep in touch and I’ll get u a nice pressie…”
The pair agreed to become Facebook friends after the trial.
Fraill also described her role on the jury in their conversations. “All that
note-taking was just killing time. lol. drew more than i wrote lol,” she
Mr Garnier had told the High Court that the contact and discussion had been
in direct breach of the judge’s repeated directions to the jury – and it
constituted a contempt of court.
Peter Wright QC, for Fraill, said his client was terrified at the prospect of
prison and was distraught and inconsolable about what she had done.
He described her as a woman of completely unblemished character before she
“lost her senses” in the Facebook exchanges.
He said she had contacted Sewart only because she saw her own life in the
“Her conduct, though reprehensible, was not calculated or designed by her to
subvert the trial process, although it is conceded that that was an inevitable
consequence of it,” he added.
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9