Posted by: John Brace | 14th January 2019

Letter from the Wirral – audio podcast – episode #1 New Ferry Trial 13th January 2019

Letter from the Wirral – audio podcast – episode #1 New Ferry Trial 13th January 2019

                                 

Queen Elizabeth II Law Courts (Liverpool Crown Court), Derby Square, Liverpool, L2 1XA (5th January 2019)

Queen Elizabeth II Law Courts (Liverpool Crown Court), Derby Square, Liverpool, L2 1XA (5th January 2019)

Below is a transcript of a new audio series I’m starting this year, the topic of our first one is a conversation between myself and our criminal justice correspondent about the trial last week.

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Letter from the Wirral – audio podcast – episode #1 New Ferry Trial 13th January 2019

The focus on a criminal justice case (the first two days of the trial of what happened in New Ferry) came about as a result of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Bureau Local project and specifically the open newsroom last year on “What are the challenges with accessing court information and reporting on them?” as I realised that there needed to be a field test to understand things better.

I did as a journalist challenge one of the restricted reporting orders on this listing for this case (one of which has now been removed as it didn’t exist and was a clerical error). The official and extremely polite response back was I quote, “it was a clerical error, the reporting restrictions in the case are as per the order handed to you yesterday. Thank you for taking the time to point out this error to the Court.”



Hello, I’m John Brace and it’s 13th January 2019. I’m an Editor, I’m here with Leonora Brace and we’re going to report about a trial we reported on last week on the Monday and Tuesday at the Liverpool Crown Court.

Err, Leonora would just like to introduce herself.

Hello, I’m Leonora. Nice to speak to you.

Well that was a strange introduction, but err we were both at the Liverpool Crown Court on Monday and Tuesday of last week and the trial started on the Monday didn’t it?

Yes.

And err one of the things err we found when we got there, was that err there ’s two ways to go in isn’t there? There’s a revolving door, which people have to go in one at a time and beside it, there’s a side entrance and of course a lot of these err legal professionals they drag suitcases behind them.

But the thing about the side entrance I noticed and I think we both noticed both times we were there, is that it’s like a double door isn’t it right? But only the right hand side was open, which made it quite narrow, did you have difficulties going through there?

Yes I am disabled.

Yeah and you have a walking stick so you need a slightly wider way to go through than most people.

And of course when you go through there, then you get to the bit where you have, where you’re searched. And of course there were some issues there as well which I’m probably not going to go into now because I want to get on to the actual topic of the conversation.

OK, well the first day was a lot shorter than the second day, but I think it’s best to start at the beginning isn’t it? And of course I’ve already published a piece about the first day and err it was a full public gallery and of course we’re not used to seeing many people at the things we report on and an awful lot of journalists there as well weren’t there, about a dozen journalists would you say?

Yes.

And err you commented to me that you were the only woman in the press gallery as well? That’s correct, yes. Anyway, the jury wasn’t present the first day and they were talking about the jury questionnaires because it’s important that none of the jurors have a connection with either the person who’s the Defendant…

Actually have we mentioned the Defendant yet or not?

No, not yet.

I’d better mention who the Defendant is. The Defendant’s a Mr Pascal G Blasio. I hope I’ve pronounced that correctly and he’s pled not guilty to two counts.

I’ll basically summarise the counts, the first one is of causing an explosion in New Ferry and the second one is after the explosion submitting an insurance claim which the Crown Prosecution Service’s case is if he caused the explosion and then made an insurance claim the insurance claim was fraudulent. But the Crown Prosecution Service kind of explained that he’s either guilty of both of them or innocent in a err nutshell.

Correct.

Yes, and of course he’s also got someone there defending him as well and err they’re all err dressed up in err kind of QC attire, perhaps I’d better explain they wear wigs and these outfits and of course there’s a Judge presiding over the case and his name is err, he’s also a QC HHJ Menary. Do you know what the HHJ stands for?

No, I’m afraid not.

OK, but anyway, the Liverpool Crown Court in Liverpool is quite an imposing looking building isn’t it? I know it was previously built on the site of Liverpool Castle I think which I found out last week?

Don’t know anything about that I’m sorry.

Err well, I just thought as you have an interest in local history, you might know, but the nearest err train station to there is James Street, it’s only a very short walk up the road isn’t it? But back to the actual trial itself, err on the was it is the first day?

Yeah.

I think it was the first day, yes, err the Judge in the case decided on a reporting restrictions order and we can’t actually tell you at the moment what’s in the reporting restrictions order, err but we’ve got it in front of us so we’re very errm, aware of the fact that there are things we can’t mention about the first day but the jury came in on the second day and there was a big pool of around err it must have been about three dozen people, thirty people or so?

Correct.

And in fact there were so many people they ran out of seats, didn’t they and people had to stand and of course that was also a problem for the errm in the public gallery because that was quite full as well wasn’t it?

Correct.

And in the first day, they were asking if people could sit who weren’t err press in the press gallery. Was that right?

Correct. Yes.

But the once the jury were there, they had to be strict and there was to be no one apart from police officers obviously because there were a few police officers at the back, but just the press and police officers in the press gallery, because of course the jurors can see the press gallery but they can’t see the public gallery because there’s like this kind of mirrored system there isn’t there?

That’s correct.

Yeah, it’s errm it’s like errm, it’s difficult to describe really isn’t it? It’s like a screen almost that that kind of means whatever people do in the public gallery.

You can’t see out.

They can’t see out and the jurors on the other side of the room can ’t see them and I presume that’s to stop people say staring at a juror or intimidating them or to do something they shouldn’t?

Correct.

Because of course a lot of these criminal cases, the family of the accused turn up and you don’t want them kind of staring out a juror and putting them off do you?

So anyway, this is obviously a jury trial and on the second day one of the things I can report on is errm what happened after about quarter past three and of course all these potential jurors come in and the Judge had to explain to them that it would be longer than the normal jury service of about a fortnight. Didn’t he? It had to be.

That’s correct.

It will probably go on for about err four weeks and he apologised for the fact that they ran out of chairs and some of them had to stand.

Now err he explained to them, that errm it wasn’t going to be a really long trial, just four weeks, a month or so but if there was any reason why a juror couldn’t serve that long, they had to fill out a questionnaire and then he’d have a look at all the questionnaires but it would all be kept confidential and of course one of the things about reporting on jury trials is that err there are legal restrictions on actually about what you can say about jurors because certain things need to be kept secret like for instance their names. I know their names weren’t announced, but you couldn’t for instance report on a juror’s name and things like that.

Err, but the jurors are selected from people in the local community based on the fact that they’re registered to vote. So of course that means there’s a minimum age of eighteen and I think there’s a maximum age, I don’t know exactly what it is, I think there used to be a maximum age but you’re shaking your head now ok. But we’ll look into that, but anyway, the second day basically asked all the jurors to fill out a questionnaire saying it was important they didn’t have a connection with the Defendant and he also explained that just because the Defendant was in the dock, that that was just because of where the Defendant sits in a criminal trial and they weren’t to read anything into that because of course if you see a Defendant in the dock it brings into peoples’ minds all these TV programmes and so on doesn’t it, do you know what I mean?

Correct.

Because an actual case, they have to decide just on what the jurors have heard err rather than anything else. So he explained to them that just because err they may have driven through New Ferry, that wasn’t a reason to rule them out and that they may have heard already some newspaper or media reporting of the whole err what happened and he gave them a summary of what had actually happened in that he said there’d been an explosion in New Ferry and he gave them a brief summary of what the case was about but of course it’s important that the jurors know that so if they’ve got any connection to either the Defendant, or.

They say no.

Yeah they say no and then they’d get assigned to another case, because it’s important also that judges don’t have any conflicts of interest, isn’t it? Because of course.

Correct.

If a judge had a conflict of interest, they’d have to recuse themselves and have somebody else preside over it. But it’s not the actual Judge that decides on whether they’re guilty or innocent in this, it’ll be the jury won’t it?

Correct.

Yes, whereas in a lot of the civil reporting I do, there’s no jury, there’s just the Judge or judiciary that decide on the outcome of cases.

So anyway, the trial’s expected to be another three weeks isn’t it I think?

Correct.

Yeah, also at the Liverpool Crown Court, now one thing I did notice about this one is that it was the same court we were in on the Monday and the Tuesday which was on the fifth floor.

Yes.

And of course a lot of the civil reporting I do it bounces round from room to room but they seem to have block booked this one courtroom for the trial.

So of course if you turn up on the first day, you know it’s going to be there on the second day and so on and so on but they didn’t actually sit last Friday, because there was something on, I think the Judge mentioned a Regional Sentencing Seminar?

I don’t know.

Well that’s what I have in my notes. But anyway on the day we weren’t there the err prosecution opened their case and there was video published and in fact it’s been published on the news and newspaper websites from the time the explosion actually happened.

But I think because the trial is ongoing, I just want to state that the person is innocent until proven guilty, that they have pled not guilty and that err because the trial is ongoing that we need to let err justice run its course.

And of course in err a month or so time, a few weeks time this err reporting, call it a reporting, restricted reporting order err will lapse and we’ll be freer to say about the things that have happened so far in this that we can’t state at the moment.

But thank you very much for your time Leonora and I think I’ll wrap it up there.

OK, thank you. Thank you everybody.

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