Murder trial collapse: Court chiefs admit blunders

Livingston Sheriff Court saw the trial collapse after the blunder. Picture: Comp
Livingston Sheriff Court saw the trial collapse after the blunder. Picture: Comp
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COURT bosses have admitted a catalogue of blunders led to a murder trial at Livingston collapsing after a member of the public took a seat in the jury box.

An investigation in the incident, the first of its kind in Scottish legal history, has found a police officer and a court official wrongly led an unwitting man to take a place on the jury.

The man then listened to evidence in the case of Shaniece Dobson, who was accused of murdering her boyfriend Sean Martin of Coatbridge by stabbing him at her flat.

When the real juror arrived, the mistake was discovered and the trial at the High Court in Livingston had to be abandoned.

The Scottish Court Service have now issued an official apology to the family of Sean, 21, and changed their procedures in light of the error.

Dobson was found guilty of culpable homicide by a second jury and jailed for 10 years.

But Sean’s family are furious that the blunder meant Sean’s sister Ann, 17, and brother Paul, 15, who witnessed the killing, had to give evidence twice.

Mum Angela, 47, said: “Our family have been through enough.

“And what is just totally unacceptable is because of an avoidable mistake my teenage kids were told that what they had given in evidence didn’t matter the first time round.

“I think it is ridiculous this was allowed to happen.”

In a letter to Sean’s parents, Joe Moyes, the deputy principal clerk of Justiciary at the Scottish Court Service, blamed the mix up on “an extremely unfortunate set of circumstances.”

The trial began on January 22 this year and a jury of 15 was selected at random to hear Dobson’s case.

However, on the second morning of the trial only 14 jurors turned up at a police reception area where they had been told to gather.

As a court official was taking them to the jury room, a potential juror for another trial wrongly turned at the court and was told by a female police officer to “join the rest of the jurors in the police reception area”.

When the court official returned to the reception he wrongly assumed that the person was missing juror and escorted them into the courtroom.

The trial had been running for 15 minutes before the real juror turned up and the trial was abandoned later that morning.

Police and court staff launched probes and interviewed both the bogus and the real juror. However, they have now concluded that there was “no deliberate intent” to disrupt the trial.

In the letter, Mr Moyes added: “It must be accepted that this was an incident that should never have occurred and steps have been taken to ensure this situation does not happen again.

“Please accept my humblest apologies for this incident.”

Name checks for all jurors in attendance will now be carried at all future trials at the court.

A Scottish Court Service spokesman confirmed they had apologised to the Martin family.