Lord Denning was, at first sight, expressing his opposition to the principle of transparency, which forms the basis for democracy in all European countries. The right of lay people to question the actions of those responsible for implementing the authority of the state and to draw attention to evidence of corruption is a prerequisite of democracy. However, only an old and eminent lawyer would have dared to blow the whistle so loudly. Only a lawyer in receipt of a fee is allowed to expose collusion between other lawyers, and no journalist can put pen to paper without the endorsement of a paid-up lawyer. The candid former Lord Chief Justice was admitting that judges and lawyers need the legal tools to be able to convict innocent defendants in order – for their high fees – to be able to shield the powerful from the consequences of their own human frailties.
The landlord’s custody extended
- Two detectives from Bristol had been dispatched to Holland to take statements from Vincent Tabak and his girlfriend about their observation that the landlord’s car had been moved during the night of Joanna’s disappearance.
- Police had taken his car away for forensic examination, but would not have had time to obtain a DNA profile from any traces of blood they would claim to have found. The magistrate might, however, be influenced if they told him they had found blood spots with her blood group in the luggage compartment.
- The magistrate may also have been told that blonde hairs resembling Joanna’s had been found in the luggage compartment.
- Having confiscated his computer, police would certainly find evidence that Mr. Jefferies had been following the progress of “Operation Braid” on the internet, since he did not own a TV. The magistrate would easily be persuaded that a computer analyst had found that the landlord had Googled Longwood Lane before Joanna’s body had been found.
- Police may also have claimed a match between black fibres found on Joanna’s body with a coat found in Christopher Jefferies’s flat.
Vincent Tabak’s custody extended
- Analysis of his computers had revealed that the suspect had shown an overly keen interest in reading online reports about the disappearance and murder of Joanna Yeates
- He had even Googled the exact spot where her body was found. The police would claim that Vincent Tabak had done this two hours before she had even been reported missing
- Police alleged that he had researched all sorts of incriminating information from the internet about such matters as extradition, the definitions of manslaughter and sexual offences, and the rate at which bodies decompose
- Police alleged that analysis of Vincent Tabak’s computers revealed frequent viewing of extreme adult pornography around the time of Joanna’s disappearance and up to his arrest
- Police alleged that analysis of his telephone and credit card use revealed that he probably patronised prostitutes at least twice while on a business trip to the USA a few weeks prior to Joanna’s death
- They may have alleged that traces of his DNA had been found in Joanna’s flat, and traces of her blood and DNA had been found in his flat and on his glasses
- The magistrate might have been informed that they had found blood spots with Joanna’s blood group in the luggage compartment of the Renault Megane used by Vincent Tabak
- Police may also have claimed a match between fibres found on Joanna’s body with Vincent Tabak’s black coat
He was charged with murder at 9.30 p.m. on Saturday 22nd January 2011.
Prior to his trial for the murder of his neighbour Joanna Yeates, Vincent Tabak appeared at public hearings before a magistrate and three different judges. The detached conduct of these men who had been appointed to ensure due process of law brought to mind the friendly smiling Roman officer played by Michael Palin in “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” (1979), who politely directed each of a succession of candidates for crucifixion “out of the door, line on the left, one cross each”.
Bristol Magistrate William Summers
|Bristol Magistrates’ Court|
The Bristol magistrate told the defendant to stand up, and then said: “This matter has to go to the Crown Court, and you will appear in the Crown Court tomorrow, where a bail application can be put.” Despite having no authority to issue instructions to a higher court, the Magistrate read out the timetable that Ann Reddrop had given him. “There will be a preliminary hearing on 31st January 2011, and there will be a plea and case management hearing on 29th April 2011. The case papers must be served on the defence by 15th March 2010 at the latest.”
Mr. Summers can hardly have been unaware that Joanna Yeates’s landlord, who had been arrested, questioned and released three weeks earlier, was still mysteriously on bail as a suspect for the same murder. He was now confronted with another trustworthy suspect of irreproachable character, honour and reputation, with no previous convictions, a high education and a well-paid job. Regardless of formalities, he had an absolute obligation to the Magistrates’ bench on which he sat (as well as to the defendant and to society as as whole) to be seen publicly to suspect the police and the CPS of colluding to abuse their powers. In particular, he had an irrefutable obligation to satisfy himself that the CPS could publicly demonstrate that such an unusual defendant had had a particularly strong motive to strangle his neighbour. He did none of these things. By his silence he betrayed the justice system and the very people who had been brought up to believe it was second to none.
|Mr. Justice Treacy|
Judge Colman TraceyVincent Tabak’s first encounter with Mr. Justice Treacy was at an abortive bail hearing on 25th January 2011. The young Dutch engineer and the 61-year-old English judge were able to make eye contact with each other across the courtroom floor in Bristol. They had little to say to each other, owing to something new that the CPS had evidently sprung on Paul Cook since the previous day. This led him to make no application for bail on behalf of his client.
Like the accused, Colman Treacy was an academic. He had read Classics at Jesus College, Cambridge – the very town where Vincent Tabak had been spending Christmas with his girlfriend’s family on the day when Joanna Yeates’s body was recovered. After spending much of his legal career in Birmingham, Mr. Treacy was made a High Court Judge in 2002.
On 31st January 2011, in a hearing at Bristol Crown Court, Vincent Tabak appeared by video link from Long Lartin Prison, again before Mr Justice Colman Treacy. The purpose of this hearing was to agree on a timetable for the case. The date “pencilled in” for the start of the trial was 4th October 2011. Prosecutor Nigel Lickley QC stated that the case papers would be served by the Crown on or before 1st April 2011 (All Fools’ Day). The defence case statement was to be served by 28th April 2011. The judge asked the man on the video screen if he understood that he would then have the opportunity to study the case against him “in detail”. The answer he got was, “Yes, I understand”.
“These is no bail application at this stage, so you will be remanded in custody until the next time you appear in court.”
“OK, thank you”, came the voice of the model prisoner down Her Majesty’s link from Long Lartin.
Nine months may not seem a very great sentence when it is compared to the prison term normally served by a murderer. But it is still a huge chunk out of a man’s life when you remember how vociferous Christopher Jefferies was in his complaint about the two nights and three days that he had spent in police custody. Nine months just waiting for the jury trial proper is a very long sentence for a remand prisoner with no previous convictions who has not had the case against him tested openly in a public court of law. It violates the principles of open justice and transparency, whose main purpose is not the satisfaction of the public’s curiosity, but the protection of the individual against the abuse of power that closed doors make possible.
Judge Treacy failed to ask the defendant for his plea, but it is clear that, at that stage in his arraignment, Vincent Tabak refuted the charge against him, which was built up from nothing at all. The case was based on allegations that traces had been found on Joanna’s body of his DNA – which he had formally refuted as unsound and linked to corruption in the forensic laboratory – fibres from his coat on her body, and specks of her blood in the boot of the car he had been using. The case may also have included a claim that the defendant had Googled Longwood Lane before Joanna’s body was found. Furthermore the accused had no alibi at the time when police were claiming Joanna was killed, and he had also sought to incriminate his landlord. However, had Judge Treacy taken the trouble to read the notes that DC Thomas had taken at Schiphol, on which this allegation was based, and then compared them with Christopher Jefferies’s 2nd witness statement, he would have realised that the Crown had been weaving a web of deception.
|44 Canynge Road|
The worst feature of Judge Treacy’s passive acceptance of the case was the Crown’s complete failure to link a motive to the defendant. The highly educated foreign engineer that Vincent Tabak was, embarked on a very successful career, would need to have had expectations of an enormous benefit to make it worth his while to kill a woman he did not even know, or of a very serious penalty from letting her live, to balance against the risk he incurred of a very long prison sentence. Judge Treacy could at the very least have ordered this very unlikely defendant to report to a police station every day until his trial, while allowing him to continue working in the mean time at Buro Happold, instead of condemning him to remand in a remote high-security prison.
Judge Richard FieldOn Thursday 5 May 2011, at 10 a.m., in a plea hearing in Court Two at the Old Bailey in London, a person claiming to be Vincent Tabak appeared again by video link from Long Lartin Prison before Mr. Justice Field, 64, the Judge who would eventually try him in Bristol. Richard Field had got his LLB from Bristol University and had gone on to do an LLM at the London school of Economics. From the ages of 22 to 30, he had himself taught law at universities in Canada and Hong Kong, before embarking on his legal career in England. So he was no stranger to the cosmopolitan academic environment in which the defendant had moved, and, unlike the general public, he must have understood very well how vulnerable the defendant would have been while in custody.
This was the first hearing at which the question “How do you plead?” was put, after Vincent Tabak had spent more than three months in custody. A video link may be suitable for protecting a vulnerable witness, but an accused prisoner has a right to appear in court personally. Why did the judges fail to insist on the prisoner’s rights under the principle of habeas corpus? Had Vincent Tabak been so badly maltreated in prison that a personal court appearance would reveal his injuries? Was his appearance by video-link intended to discourage his family from travelling from the Netherlands to be in court, to discourage his friends from attending court, and to prevent him from making legitimate visual contact with them?
|Mr. Justice Field|
|The Old Bailey|
The judge failed to ask the person on the TV screen whether he could name the court where the hearing was taking place. It was part of Mr. Justice Field’s job to be suspicious of the reasons why this particular hearing alone was not being held at Bristol Crown Court, but he did not voice these suspicions. He failed to seek an assurance from someone in court under oath that the sign saying “Long Lartin” on the wall behind the person seen on the video screen was a true statement of the geographical location of the room. The public gallery at the Old Bailey was occupied by journalists and the parents of the victim. None of them knew the defendant personally or had ever even met him. The inference is that the unsound plea was entered by a stand-in or even a real-time animation, and that the real defendant would have pleaded Not Guilty if he had been allowed to do so. “Things are seldom what they seem” wrote the Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Bucknill, himself an experienced judge, in his 1953 book “The Nature of Evidence”. “History and literature hold many examples of deception imposed on credulous people by the production of artificial facts posing as circumstantial evidence. We need not go further than the Old Testament for good examples of that kind of deception. Thus Jacob deceived his father Isaac when he was old and his eyes were dim, by wearing his brother’s clothes, putting the skins of the kids upon his hands and upon his neck, and telling his father that he was Esau.” Unlike the general public, Mr. Justice Field knew very well that it is to prevent this kind of trick that the principle of habeas corpus was established.
|“These films show actors, acting out roles.|
None of the women suffer GBH.”
In return for rejecting the “bad character evidence”, did the judge broker an unreported agreement to prevent the jury from hearing any evidence of the highly-qualified defendant’s irreproachably good character? This agreement definitely existed, because the defence called no independent witnesses to testify to the accused’s good character, nor did counsel call the one prosecution witness who would have been expected to confirm Vincent Tabak’s excellent character – his employer.
Why did Mr. Justice Field allow the jury to try to decide between manslaughter and murder when no evidence at all had been presented about the defendant’s intentions or state of mind prior to the alleged time of the killing? The only evidence of this nature presented by the prosecution indicated his state of mind after the killing. Why did the judge prejudice the jury by telling them that Vincent Tabak had “embarked on a life of calculated deception”, when that description was better applied to the lives of the police and the prosecution?
Judge Neil Ford QC
Prior to becoming a judge, Neil Ford QC had been head of Albion Chambers, which would represent Vincent Tabak during his first three appearances in court. He was also a member of the Western Circuit. Judge Ford had been appointed Recorder of Bristol on 4th January 2010.
|Counsel for the Defence|
William Clegg QC
Judge Ford was to play a further role in the tribulations of Vincent Tabak, who appeared before him via video-link in a case management hearing on 23rd April 2014, for allegedly possessing and making indecent images of children. On 26th August 2014, A pre-trial hearing was held. The trial itself was postponed until 2nd March 2015, when Judge Ford found the defendant guilty, without a jury and without hearing any witnesses.
Judge Martin Picton
|Judge Martin Picton|
The absence from the defence’s case papers of the statement that Circuit Judge Martin Picton had been expecting to see would have prompted a more conscientious man to look into the reasons for its non-appearance. But he probably sensed a Pandora’s box that was best left unopened by a judge anxious to make his way further up the career ladder. Had he been less cautious, he would have discovered that the Crown’s case was built on sparse and questionable forensic evidence, without anything that could be called a motive for something so dreadful as murder. He would have realised that this defendant was as different as could be from the usual run of drunken bullies whom he was accustomed to encountering in the dock. The young man before him was one of the most highly qualified people ever to be accused of murder, with no previous convictions and a gentle, retiring temperament. If the judge had questioned the prisoner closely to find why he had not signed his defence statement, he might eventually have elicited the admission that it was not Vincent Tabak himself who had entered the manslaughter plea on which he was to be tried. But alas, Judge Martin Picton had no desire to go down in history by exposing the most meticulously staged miscarriage of British justice since the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie terror bombing.
About a year after this hearing, His Honour Judge Martin Picton was made a member of the Government’s Criminal Procedure Rule Committee at the Ministry of Justice.
The Judge and the evidence of bad characterOn 4th or 5th October 2011, in Bristol Crown Court, Mr. Justice Field found himself face to face with the defendant Vincent Tabak in person for the first time. Five months had passed since the judge had seen and heard someone claiming to be the accused enter his plea via a video-link alleged to be from Long Lartin prison. No matter how sharp an eye he may have had for detail, there was no way he could be sure that the man before him today was the same person.
Before the jury was sworn in, Counsel for the Prosecution made an application to submit unattributed allegations that the defendant viewed adult pornographic videos as evidence of his bad character. Mr Justice Field concluded: “In my judgement, the watching, the possession of porn showing a violence and the threat of violence is reprehensible conduct. But even if there was some sexual motivation, this does not go to prove the defendant had the intention to kill her or cause her serious injury.”
In rejecting an application by Counsel for the Prosecution to cross-examine the defendant about unattributed allegations that he had slept with prostitutes, Mr. Justice Richard Field said, “I question whether paying for the services of escort girls on two occasions made him a ‘sexual sophisticant’”.
Mr. Justice Field addresses the jurors at the trialAfter the jury had been sworn in, the Judge warned its members not to participate in social networking sites relating to the trial. Although there were many online fora devoted to discussing this particular case, the Judge’s instruction was presumably a reference to the moderated Facebook forum “Joanna Yeates - discussion of the case” which had been set up on the internet by an anonymous administrator eight months earlier at Christmas 2010. Noel O’Gara and Debra C. were among those who contributed many valuable knowledge and insights, without which this analysis of Vincent Tabak’s scapegoating would not have been possible. This forum was systematically infiltrated by one or more undercover agents, using a variety of fake profiles, at the instigation of some unidentified judicial authority, presumably the CPS, A & S Constabulary, 3PB Barristers Chambers and 2 Bedford Row. These internet trolls bullied and scared off ordinary participants and used their detailed knowledge of the published facts of the case to manipulate the discussion so as to reinforce the appearance of legitimacy of the actions of the police and the judiciary. The forum was shut down at short notice on 23rd April 2012. This intriguing aspect of the police’s and lawyer’s working to undermine the legitimate exercise of free speech by concerned citizens anxious to uncover the truth about the judiciary’s misuse of power has not hitherto been discussed in public.
In his summing up, Mr. Justice Field would tell the jury that their verdict must be based on the evidence they had heard, and nothing else. However, it is very clear from his own failures during the trial and from their subsequent verdict that he failed to explain to them that nothing the barristers say counts as evidence unless they are repeating what a witness under oath has said. He failed to emphasise to the jurors that only a witness under oath can furnish evidence. He had agreed to allow the trial to include a “digital display”, but failed to explain to them that nothing they saw or heard on this display counted as evidence unless a witness under oath confirmed its integrity, especially with regard to dates and times on CCTV clips.
- “Great care should be exercised to prevent an undue importance being given to circumstances not necessarily irreconcileable with innocence although they may create suspicions. Circumstances of such a character are mere make-weights, and nothing can be more dangerous than to eke out a weak case by attributing to them importance which they ought not to possess.” (Taken from Wills & Wills, “An Essay on the Principles of Circumstantial Evidence”) The Judge should have impressed this on the jury before they had to sit through a long succession of prosecution witness statements and testimony that shed no light whatsoever on the defendant’s intentions prior to the death of Joanna.
- “Things are seldom what they seem. History and literature hold many examples of deception imposed on credulous people by the production of artificial facts posing as circumstantial evidence.” This would have been particularly pertinent to DC Karen Thomas’s testimony about her expensive daytrip to Holland to interview the defendant about the landlord who moved his car in the night, the “confession” testified by the prison chaplain, the contents of Joanna’s stomach omitted from Dr. Jennifer Miller’s testimony, and the so-called IT-expert’s account of the “Longwood Lane Google”.
- “In such a case the Court does not consider the probable conduct of any reasonable man or woman in the known circumstances, but the probable conduct of the particular persons concerned. It is clear that when one is considering the probabilities with regard to the alleged conduct of a particular man, the test to apply is the probability with regard to that particular man in the particular circumstances of the case.” Even allowing for the lack of independent character evidence, the Judge ought to have impressed this on the jury in his summing up.
Mr. Justice Field as death tourist
|44 Canynge Road|
body was found, along the route that she allegedly took on her last journey, and to the flat where she lived? They were treated to the contrast between its cosy interior and the sight of dirty black chemical residues (testifying to the intense but fruitless forensic investigation there) that had been left in place to reinforce the deceit that it had been the scene of her death. The absence of a “scream test” shows that Mr. Justice Field was a party to this deceit.
girlfriend about their allegation that the landlord had turned his car round during the night when Joanna was supposed to have disappeared. If the Judge had not already decided to let Counsel for the Prosecution roll mercilessly over the hapless defendant, with Counsel for the Defence in tow, he could have asked the witness himself about the answers that had filled forty pages of her Schiphol notebook. Had he done so, she would have revealed a can of worms the size of rattlesnakes. The Judge should have asked this witness why she had not cautioned the defendant as the law requires, once as she began to “suspect” him. Mr. Field should have got the witness to satisfy him that the interview had not violated Netherlands sovereignty.
|Prison chaplain Peter Brotherton.|
The jury was not told that he was
actually a senior officer from another
prison, Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire
|Dr. Jennifer Miller|
Law journalist Sally Ramage (Criminal Law News, Issue 39, January 2012) reported that Mr. Justice Field dismissed the jury shortly after noon, because he forgot that Mr. William Clegg QC was due to make his speech for the Defence. Giving the court a five minute break, the judge recalled the jury.
The judge sums upSumming up on 26th October 2011, Mr. Justice Field said it was a tragedy that 25-year-old Joanna Yeates, a “lovely young woman with a promising future”, had been “robbed of her life”. He said her death continued to have a devastating effect on her family and boyfriend. He instructed the jurors not to let feelings cloud their judgment. But he failed to point out to them that their purpose as a jury was to bring the commonsense of ordinary men and women into the fantasy world depicted by manipulative barristers. Above all, he failed to instruct them to consider how they would expect this particular defendant to have acted, in the light of what they knew about his character – because he had permitted those same manipulative lawyers to agree to conceal from them the evidence of his good character.
The judge told the jury that the task of deciding on a verdict was a heavy responsibility. Manslaughter was a serious offence, but murder a “much graver one”. Mr Justice Field told jurors: “You must decide if the defendant intended to kill her or cause her serious harm. What was his intention at the time he used unlawful violence against Joanna Yeates? In defining what the intention was, you must examine the attack – the duration, the injuries, what was done and said. If, after examining the attack, you’re sure he intended to kill her or cause really serious harm, you must find him guilty. If you are not sure he intended to kill or cause her really serious harm, you must find him not guilty.”
|The kitchen in Joanna Yeates’s flat at 44 Canynge Road,|
where Vincent Tabak told the court he tried to kiss her
Mr. Justice Field reminded the jurors of Vincent Tabak’s claim that he tried to kiss Ms Yeates after she supposedly made a flirty remark to him. Vincent Tabak claimed that she screamed and he put one hand over her mouth and another around her neck.
The judge said an “important issue” was the duration of strangulation. Vincent Tabak said it was around 20 seconds before Ms Yeates fell lifeless to the floor. Mr. Justice Field pointed out that both pathologists who gave evidence during the trial, Dr. Russell Delaney and Dr. Nat Cary, would have expected Ms Yeates to have struggled. The defendant claimed she did not struggle.
The judge said that of the 43 injuries on Joanna Yeates’s body, some could have been caused from the same impact. He also said that the jury should put to one side the injuries classed as abrasions, as they could have been caused after death. Instead, they should focus on the bruises to Joanna Yeates’s body, as they could only have been caused in life. He also highlighted the finding that she had injuries to both sides of her head. The judge said that jurors should carefully weigh up the evidence of the two pathologists as to the time it took for Miss Yeates to die and the degree of force used.
|53 Canynge Road, the scene of the|
party attended by the Lehmans
The judge also spoke of Vincent Tabak’s conduct after he had killed Joanna Yeates, alleging that the defendant had carried out online research on topics such as manslaughter, sexual assaults and body decomposition. Mr. Justice Field ought to have had enough experience of the ways of lawyers to spot that Counsel for the Prosecution had put on a deceitful double act with the police’s so-called IT-expert to turn the defendant’s legitimate and unsurprising internet use into deeply and unbelievably self-incriminating “evidence”.
He accepted that he told a series of “calculated lies” to the police. Faced with the prospect of a lifetime in prison for a crime he had not committed, he would accept it, wouldn’t he?
Reminding the jury about Vincent Tabak’s testimony in the witness box he asked the members to make allowances for the “stress” he was under and the fact that English is not his first language. Actually the defendant’s command of English was superior to that of most Englishmen, nor did he need an interpreter. Mr. Justice Field failed, on the other hand, to draw the jury’s attention to the vast gulf between the defendant’s own perception of himself as a talented hard-working expert head-hunted to the UK for his expertise, and their perception of him after Avon & Somerset Constabulary, Her Majesty, the Salvation Army and the lawyers had got him into their clutches. Mr. Justice Field must be well aware that even being a witness in a criminal court is a frightening experience. Yet he failed to remind the jury that the shy academic defendant with no criminal history and a totally unsympathetic defence QC must have found the entire trial an absolutely terrifying nightmare.
Mr. Justice Field said that the fact that the defendant had lied after the killing could help the jury assess whether he were a “truthful witness”. However, the fact that he lied did not mean that he murdered Joanna Yeates. Mr. Justice Field spelled out how crucial parts of Vincent Tabak’s story had emerged only when his defence began in court. He reminded the panel that the prosecution alleged he had “tailored” or “invented” his case.
The judge concluded by telling the jury: “You may think the neck is a very vulnerable area and the defendant must have appreciated this.” Vincent Tabak had said Joanna Yeates did not struggle. Was this “what one would expect?” the judge asked.
He said the defendant had accepted he could have left the flat during the attack but had not done so, and that he did not try to resuscitate her.
“It is your task to decide whether you are sure that, when he strangled Joanna, he intended to kill her, or, at the very least, to cause her really serious harm,” said the judge. “If you are sure, then your verdict will be Guilty. If you are not sure, then your verdict must be Not Guilty.”
As he sent them out, the judge told the jury panel to begin by electing a foreman, if they had not yet done so, and then to try to reach a unanimous verdict.
The jury deliberatedMr. Justice Field’s summing up of the case against Vincent Tabak would have been satisfactory if it had been prepared by one of the journalists who had not been at the plea hearing. However, even before the trial began, the judge knew very well that the manslaughter plea was unsound. If he had taken it upon himself to question the Detective Constable about the full extent of the answers obtained by her prolonged questioning of the defendant at Schiphol, he would have been able to force her to reveal the astonishing truth about why the landlord was never called to testify. He ought to have noticed that Counsel for the Defence himself had led the prison chaplain’s testimony such that there was talk not so much of a “religious confession” but no confession of any kind. Judge Field can hardly have failed to notice that the defendant’s seemingly incriminating “research” on the internet had all been in the mind of Counsel for the Prosecution. He ought to have noticed that the gastroarcheologist who had travelled all the way from Glasgow to testify was so strikingly reticent about her own “research” into the victim’s stomach contents that she contributed nothing to the case.
The judge can be forgiven for accepting the Prosecution’s arguments that the signs of violence found on Joanna’s body showed that she had probably been beaten up, and if whoever had done that were also her killer, then she was the victim of murder rather than manslaughter. Dumping her body reinforced this verdict. However, by this stage in the trial, Mr. Justice Field must have been able to see that the evidence against the defendant, far from being “sound and substantial”, as he would subsequently assert while sentencing, was so sparse that it suggested only that the defendant had moved the body in his car. There was nothing to show he had entered Joanna’s flat, and none to show that it was he who was her killer. Why had the defendant’s lawyer allowed his client to claim he had done these dreadful things, when he could successfully have protested his innocence, or at worst admitted to having chosen the Basil Blake solution? With his 34 years’ experience of the bar, Mr. Justice Field ought to have asked this question.
It is apparently easy to persuade the gullible general public, most of whom have no personal experience of murder, that most murders are senseless acts – but a judge needs to recognise the human right of a defendant in a murder trial to have the evidence for his motive tested. According to the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the law is obliged to recognise everyone as a person (Art. 6) endowed with reason and conscience (Art. 1). Every human being is capable of anticipating the consequence of his actions, except when they are under the heavy influence of alcohol, drugs or mental unbalance – but no evidence had been presented during the trial to suggest that the highly motivated defendant had been subject to any of these influences. No evidence had been heard that suggested Joanna could have represented a threat so serious to the defendant that he decided to risk a long prison sentence and override his conscience by killing her. Yet the Judge must have realised that even the relatively modest benefit that the sex-obsessed Counsel for the Prosecution tried to cajole the defendant into acknowledging that he had hoped to obtain by his assault on Joanna would be far outweighed by the misery to which he could look forward during his 20 years in prison –.especially without the consolation of regular visits by his family.
Mr. Justice Field’s failure to notice this particular elephant in the court room gave a whole new meaning to the sentence “Justice is blind”. The judge evidently felt no need to instruct the jury to ask themselves why this highly intelligent defendant, who had never been in a police station before, and who (like Richard Field himself) had invested many years in his own high education, could have acted so insanely – not just in killing Joanna, but also, allegedly, in returning to steal her pizza and her loose sock, and then leaving incriminating trails on his computer while taking no steps to eliminate traces of her blood from the car boot. The judge showed no curiosity about what had motivated the prisoner to remove from the flat anything besides the body itself, and why his choice fell on the pizza and the sock, unless it was to fulfill the need to explain the absence of just those items whose absence from the flat and the body would become so well known.
28th October 2011: Earlier on Friday (according to The Guardian), the jury had passed a handwritten note scribbled on a page of a torn-out notebook to Mr. Justice Field. In response to the note, the judge repeated parts of his summing up relating to the intention of Tabak, a Dutch engineer. Mr. Justice Field told the six men and six women on the jury that the issue to be decided was the defendant’s intention when he used “unlawful violence” against Yeates. The question they had to address was: “Did he intend to kill her or cause her really serious bodily harm?” Mr. Justice Field told them they had to examine the evidence they had heard. “I emphasise it is the evidence you heard and nothing else.” The judge said if the jury was sure that, when he strangled Yeates, Tabak had intended to kill her or cause her really serious harm, the verdict would be guilty. If they were not sure, it had to be not guilty.
After a total of 13 hours and 56 minutes’ deliberation, they returned a verdict of Guilty by a majority of 10 to 2.
Judge Field passes sentenceDelivering sentence, the judge told Vincent Tabak that he had not even known Joanna Yeates’s name when he entered her flat in Clifton, Bristol, on 17th December 2010. “You have been convicted of the murder of Joanna Yeates on sound and substantial evidence.” (Really?)
Mr. Justice Field said that his murderous attack was “a dreadful, evil act against a vulnerable young woman in her own home”. He continued: “That wicked act ended the life of a young woman who was entitled to expect a life of happiness and fulfilment.” He said Joanna Yeates had died in pain, “beset with fear and struggling desperately for her life”. The judge said he thought Vincent Tabak was a “very dangerous” man, as well as being “thoroughly deceitful, dishonest and manipulative”. He had caused “devastating heartache” to Joanna Yeates’s family and to her boyfriend, Greg Reardon. After killing Joanna Yeates, Vincent Tabak had put her body in his car boot and dumped it on the verge of a country lane. By doing so, the judge said, he had forced Joanna Yeates’s loved ones to endure “seven days of agony” before her body was found on Christmas day. It was a “terribly cruel thing to do”.
“The sentence for murder is the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment and that is the sentence I must pass on you. There are no mitigating features in this case, only aggravating factors. These are:
- “There is a sexual element to the killing of Joanna Yeates. On your own evidence and after an acquaintanceship lasting just a few minutes you moved to kiss Joanna, and I’m quite sure you did not intend to stop there and wanted to go much further. It was because of her screams that your sexual purpose was frustrated.”
- “You killed Joanna when she was alone in her own home where she was entitled to think she was safe and secure.”
- “Joanna died a dreadful death at your hands. She died in pain, beset with fear, struggling desperately for her life.”
- “Your handling and secretion of Joanna’s body is a gravely aggravating factor. You went to Asda as cool as may be with her body in the boot of your car, before hiding it under leaves in a country lane, hoping it would decompose before it was discovered. That was a terribly cruel thing to do. As I said, it inflicted seven days of agonising uncertainty on Joanna’s family and her partner Greg Reardon.”
- “In an attempt to divert attention from yourself, you cynically implicated your landlord Christopher Jefferies in her murder in statements you made to the police, with the result that Mr Jefferies had to endure the stress and humiliation of being arrested and questioned in custody on suspicion of Joanna’s murder.”
Mr. Justice Field should never have told the prisoner that he had “been convicted of the murder of Joanna Yeates on sound and substantial evidence”, since none of the evidence (even if it had been sound) linked him to the murder at all. The evidence that did point to Vincent Tabak related only to the dumping of her body – nothing at all about her injuries pointed to any specific person, and most of these could have been caused by someone other than her killer. The evidence that was produced was in fact both unsound and insubstantial. The non-forensic evidence heard in court rested very heavily on a witness who had a strong personal interest in seeing the defendant convicted.
Mr. Justice Field seems to have deliberately reversed the sequence of events testified by Detective Constable Karen Thomas so as to justify an aggravated sentence. According to this witness, the statement about the landlord’s car was submitted only after Christopher Jefferies had already been arrested – not before, as the judge declared. The judge’s tinkering with the chronology suggests that that the police or the CPS may have used the same device to cause Paul Cook to change his mind about applying for bail after Vincent Tabak’s appearance before the Magistrate.
Material seized by the police in connection with the investigation of crime (usually under the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984) must not be disclosed to a third party unless the owner has consented to the disclosure.
The orgy of the public humiliation of Dr. Tabak as an alleged sexual pervert with a strangulation fetish after the trial was deliberately instigated by the judge in collaboration with the prosecution. It had the effect of giving the media a very strong incentive never to reveal this obvious miscarriage of justice. If Dr. Tabak ever lifts his head again, the media all risk libel settlements that would make the landlord’s look like pin money by comparison.
From Law Society Gazette, Thursday 03 November 2011 – by Catherine Baksi:
According to Ian Kelcey, “The judge conducted the case impeccably. Tabak can have no complaints about the fairness of the process.”
The reason why Mr. Justice Field should have compromised himself so seriously in this case is not apparent, except to please good friends in Bristol, where he evidently has his geographical roots, and where he had become Presiding Judge for the Western Circuit 18 months before he became the judge who would try Vincent Tabak. Counsel for the Prosecution at the trial, Nigel Lickley QC, was at that time leader of the Western Circuit. One possible explanation that presents itself for Judge Field’s behaviour is that he may be a member of some secret brotherhood to which police officers, lawyers and architects may belong. Another possibility is that he had skeletons in his cupboard which someone threatened to reveal unless he turned a blind eye to the holes in the Prosecution’s case.