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Court of Appeal allows identification by Facebook in criminal prosecution

The Court of Appeal has given guidance on how the courts and prosecution service should deal with identifications made through Facebook in the appeal of Daniel McGill and Gordon Alexander.  McGill and Alexander were convicted on 19 December 2011 at Middlesbrough Crown Court for robbery.  Their victim, Daniel Kaye, had been mugged at knife point in a residential area in Darlington, County Durham by three men.  He subsequently used Facebook as a means of identifying his attackers with the help of his sister.  He identified both McGill and Alexander from the social media site and relayed this information to the police.  Both men were arrested and the victim picked them out from a video ID parade.   The third man was never identified or found by police.

The Defendants appealed their convictions to the Court of Appeal citing that the identification via Facebook had been unfair and that the Crown had failed to make proper disclosure.   At the original trial, the prosecution had failed to disclose the photographs that the victim had perused via Facebook before picking out McGill and Alexander as his assailants.  The police questioned the victim and his sister about their investigation over Facebook but they made no record of this conversation.  The Defendants representatives argued that, without this material, the identification could not be fairly and properly tried.

The Court of Appeal, criticised the police for negligence, but concluded that there was no inherent prejudice in the identification from Facebook.  Although the police should have provided greater disclosure and obtained a comprehensive account of the investigations carried out over Facebook, this did not render the convictions unsafe.  Going forward, sir John Thomas, President of the Queens Bench Division, commented that the DPP and ACPO should issue guidance on what processes should be followed in this type of case.  This would in his view ensure that police and prosecuting bodies did not repeat the same errors in the future.


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