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Sun columnist who became foreman of jury in murder case was "faithful to his oath"

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30 November 2009

The Court of Appeal has found no evidence that Sun columnist Fergus Shanahan, who once described Lord Phillips as “the mugger’s mate”, was not “entirely faithful” to the oath he swore to deliver a true verdict in his role as foreman of the jury in a murder case.

Kenny Cornwall was convicted of murder by the jury at Chelmsford Crown Court this summer and sentenced to life imprisonment. Cornwall was a drug dealer who stabbed another man to death in a row over crack cocaine.

Christopher Sallon QC, representing Cornwall, described Shanahan as “an outspoken polemicist who holds strong and well-publicised views on issues such as law and order, soft judges, knife crime, drugs and immigration, which could be characterised as populist and tendentious”.

As a result, Sallon said his presence on the jury gave rise to the “real possibility or danger” of bias which rendered the trial unfair and the conviction unsafe.

He presented the court with a bundle of articles written by Shanahan over a period of three and a half years.

Delivering judgment on behalf of the court in Cornwall v R [2009] EWCA Crim 2458, Lord Justice Leveson said a large number of the articles had absolutely no bearing on the case.

“He is certainly critical of judges whom he describes as liberal, but expresses himself on topics as diverse as Osama bin Laden, the death of the Princess of Wales, secret identities for those convicted of crime, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, politicians, the humans rights legislation, capital punishment and the slaughter of a ship’s cat.”

Leveson LJ said defence counsel focused on four articles written by Shanahan, the first describing Lord Phillips as the “mugger’s mate” and Lord Woolf as “the burglar’s buddy”.

The second article accused the Lord Chancellor of downgrading the law on “so-called mercy killings”, while the third claimed “some magistrates and judges are so drippingly liberal that they can hardly bring themselves to jail murderers let alone muggers”. The fourth argued that the public had been betrayed by the police and the courts.

“The difference between Mr Shanahan and the juror about whom nothing is known is not that Mr Shanahan has views which others do not necessarily have,” Lord Justice Levenson said.

“It is that he has expressed those views publicly. Few would disagree with the proposition that knife-related killings and the sale of Class A drugs are of serious social concern; many are critical of the process of criminal justice and the sentences imposed by the court.

“None of that disqualifies or necessarily gives rise to a possibility or risk of bias in relation to the determination of the facts in a knife-related killing in which the sale of drugs plays a part.

“The question for the jury was not what should happen to a knife-related murderer or anyone concerned in dealing or using drugs. It was whether, in this case, this defendant was proved beyond reasonable doubt not to have been acting in self-defence or, alternatively, not to have been provoked.

“The judge gave the jury entirely proper directions and there is nothing, save for Mr Sallon’s speculative assertion, to suggest that this particular juror was not entirely faithful to the oath that he swore.”

Levenson LJ said that following the trial Shanahan had written an article about his “eye-opening” experience as a juror, but there was nothing in it that implied that he had applied his mind to the case other than appropriately.

Lord Justice Levenson dismissed the appeal. Mr Justice Penry-Davey and the Recorder of Norwich, sitting as an appeal court judge, agreed.

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