A piece by David Brown and Frances Gibb in today’s Times, emphases ours:
The trial of a man accused of rape collapsed yesterday after it was revealed that police had failed to investigate messages which showed that the encounter was a consensual one-night stand.
Christopher Penniall spent 16 months on bail before the prosecution case was dropped on what would have been the opening day of his trial.
Judge Christopher Kinch said that the case highlighted the importance of police pursuing lines of inquiry raised by those who have been accused of crimes.
Some of Britain’s leading criminal solicitors and barristers are calling today for Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, to extend the present review into failings by police and prosecutors to disclose evidence. In a letter to The Times, they question why an inquiry by the Crown Prosecution Service and Metropolitan Police into live rape and sexual assault cases, “is not being extended to other kinds of cases that might be equally affected by non-disclosure of material”.
In the letter the lawyers say that “the system of disclosure, particularly as it relates to electronic media, has long been unfit for purpose”. They also question whether the inquiry will examine all electronic evidence held by the police.
The Met is reviewing 600 cases of rape and sexual assault that are awaiting trial in London while the CPS is reviewing thousands of cases nationally after the collapse of several trials when evidence crucial to the defence came to light at the last minute.
Richard Foster, chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, said that one in five cases it referred back to the Court of Appeal as suspected wrongful convictions involved failings in disclosure — this amounted to hundreds of cases over the years.
Woolwich crown court was told that Mr Penniall, 43, from southeast London, co-operated fully with police when he was arrested after the allegations in September 2016. He gave officers his mobile telephone and login details for his Facebook account, which he said contained messages that proved he had consensual sex with the complainant.
However, messages deleted by the alleged victim, which supported his account, were downloaded by police from her phone only after requests by defence lawyers two weeks ago, the court was told.
Hugh French, for the prosecution, said that after a review of the downloads, and a fresh interview with the alleged victim, it had been decided to drop the case because there was no longer a realistic prospect of a conviction. Judge Kinch said that the problems with disclosing evidence useful to defendants was “a big issue that has been thrown sharply into focus”.
He praised the prosecutors for dropping the case after the new evidence emerged but questioned why police had not obtained the deleted messages earlier.
“This case just highlights the importance of the police pursuing full telephone downloads where they are clearly central to the allegations being made and the defence being made,” he said. He added that the decision to drop the case was an “entirely appropriate and a proper decision . . . made with a diligent assessment of the evidence”.
Chetna Patel, the defence barrister, said outside court: “This case highlights the importance of police pursuing full telephone downloads which are central to the allegations being made.”
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