Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bodybuilder 'who beat girlfriend black and blue' walks free from court when she fails to give evidence (because blundering British prosecutors told her wrong time to appear)

A young woman whose boyfriend allegedly beat her 'black and blue' says she has been denied justice after he walked free from court because of a Crown Prosecution Service blunder.

Harriet Atkinson, 22, was wrongly told to attend court in the afternoon for the trial of fitness trainer Lewis Rookyard who denied a charge of assault by beating.

But unknown to her, the trial where she was due to give evidence against her former lover had been fixed to start in the morning at South East Suffolk magistrates court in Ipswich.

Officials realised she had been given the wrong time when she did not appear at 10am and a police car was sent to pick her up.

The prosecutor applied for the case to be postponed for 30 minutes, pointing out that Miss Atkinson was on her way and was in no way to blame. But magistrates rejected the application and dismissed the case due to her non-attendance.

Miss Atkinson, who works in the fashion industry, said: 'It was the fault of the CPS that I was given the wrong time for the trial to start - but it was just a case of human error which I can understand.

'What I am really angry about is that the magistrates threw the case out even when they were told that I was not at fault for being given the wrong time and I was on my way.

'My ex-boyfriend should have stood trial so that the magistrates could have decided whether he was guilty or not after hearing all the evidence.

'The authorities are constantly saying that they take domestic violence seriously and I knew that I had to do the right thing by going to the police. 'I had all the trauma of waiting eight months to get justice while I was constantly going over it all in my head, and it was all for nothing.'

Magistrates decided there might not be enough time to complete the trial on the day if they waited for her and it would be unfair on Rookyard, 22, to wait for a new date.

The CPS has apologised for the error and is considering seeking a Judicial Review to try and get the High Court to rule that the magistrates acted incorrectly. The unusual move could set a new legal precedent for future cases if it goes ahead, although the magistrates' decision in Miss Atkinson's case cannot be overturned.

Miss Atkinson claimed she was attacked and pinned to the floor by Rookyard after they argued early on New Year's Day at his family home in Ipswich. She said she was left with a black eye, a cut to her face and bruises to her arms and chest caused by him grabbing and hitting her.

Miss Atkinson went back to a friend's house and telephoned police to make a complaint of assault at 11am and was interviewed by a woman police officer at 3pm the same day.

Miss Atkinson who lives near Ipswich also posed for photographs showing her injuries, and was told in a call and an email from a Witness Care assistant to attend court at 1.45pm on September 5, in time for a 2.15pm start. Other prosecution witnesses including the police officer in the case were told to attend at the same wrong time.

Miss Atkinson said:'I first realised something was wrong when I got a call from my dad at 10.10am on the day of the trial, saying a man from Witness Care had rung to ask where I was as I was supposed to be in court.

'We had to rush around and the police came round to pick me up along with my mum and my sister. We were only a ten minute drive away and we met our dad at court just before 11am. 'But when we got into the building we were told that the case had been dismissed. The prosecutor was really angry when he explained what had happened. I was left in a complete mess and in tears. I didn't know what to do. 'A lot of the ushers and the security staff were disgusted. I was left feeling like I had been kicked in the teeth. It has completely destroyed my faith in British justice.

'If it happened to me again, I don't know if I would bother going to the police.'

After complaining to the court, Miss Atkinson and her father David were sent letters from Deputy Justices clerk David Carson who was the Legal Adviser in the case. He told them that the magistrates had taken note of case law where cases had been dismissed due to the non-attendance of witnesses. The clerk also claimed the magistrates had taken into account the nature of the offence, the earlier adjournment and the likely further delay caused by a further adjournment.

Mr Carson insisted the court was not at fault for her being given the wrong date, saying: 'The court's procedures did not fall down. The current trial date and time was notified to the parties who were also present when it was fixed.'

He stated that the case had had now 'concluded' due to the dismissal of the charge, and added: 'I appreciate this not the reply you have been looking for.'

Miss Atkinson cannot face the prospect of seeking a private prosecution as it could cost her thousands of pounds and she already feels so badly let down by the courts

Grace Ononiwu, the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the East of England Crown Prosecution Service, described it as 'a very serious matter'. She said: 'This case was listed for trial at 10 am on the 5th September, 2012, at South East Suffolk Magistrates Court.

'The prosecutor was made aware that witnesses had been warned for 2.15pm rather than 10am and applied to adjourn the case to later in the morning to give them an opportunity to attend. This application was refused by the court and therefore the case could not proceed any further.'

A CPS spokeswoman added: 'We are looking into whether a Judicial Review of the case at the High Court is appropriate and are seeking counsel's view on the matter. 'The High Court cannot overturn the decision of the magistrates, but it can rule on whether the correct procedures were followed. It is certainly an unusual situation.'

Mr Rookyard refused to comment at his family's semi-detached home.

Original report here

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