Conviction quashed of a ‘flasher’ who was identified via Facebook gossip
A man convicted of indecent exposure has had his conviction quashed following a successful appeal to the Crown Court to have evidence of his identification via social media excluded. The 22 year old butcher’s assistant had been accused of indecently exposing himself and chasing after the two female victims as they walked home from a pub in Wickham, Hampshire. At trial the evidence against him consisted of him being picked out in an identification parade.
However, following conviction it became apparent that there had been discussion on social media as to the identity of the ‘flasher’ and one woman had found the accused’s Facebook profile and taken a screenshot of his face which had been shared electronically around the village which was eventually seen by the two complainants. Comments had been made at the identification procedure by the women that they recognised him instantly due to his ‘creepy eyes’.
At the appeal hearing it was argued that evidence of the identification should have been excluded given that the accused’s photo had been shown to the complainants prior to any identification procedure, thereby thwarting the safeguards of Code D of PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984) and undermining any subsequent identification.
The Crown Court Judge refused to admit the identification evidence at the re-trial whereupon the Prosecution offered no evidence.
This case is one in a long line of recent cases where social media has interfered with trials either by jurors conducting their own research or where widely publicised commentary on a case has been widespread. In 2015 a new indictable-only criminal offence of juror misconduct was created carrying a maximum of two years imprisonment.
The Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC, has launched a public consultation on the issue of social media putting the right to a fair trial at risk. Ironically, commenting on the same day at this appeal was granted he said, “Every defendant in this country is entitled to a fair trial where a verdict is delivered based on the evidence heard in court. Our contempt of court laws are designed to prevent trial by media. However, are they able to protect against trials by social media?”.
Mr Wright QC is asking lawyers and judges to cite cases where social media has interfered with a trial. This call for evidence remains open until 8 December 2017.
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