This week we have been covering the trial of Neelu Berry and Sabine McNeill, who have been charged with conspiracy to commit witness intimidation. We have been compiling our daily posts based on contributions from various people who’ve been attending the trial.
As we mentioned yesterday, the plan for today was for admissions to be presented to the court. Admissions consist of facts in evidence that are agreed to by both prosecution and defence—they represent common ground, as it were.
Mr Attridge, who’d been ill yesterday, was back in court this morning, though not feeling 100%. He told the judge that the admissions were not ready to be presented yet, as the officer in charge had just handed him further information, and that Ms Zentler-Munro and Mr Byrne objected to several aspects of the admission in its current form. There was a break to allow the barristers to work out the admission.
When court and jury reconvened at 11:30 a.m., Mr Attridge read out the agreed-to facts for the record. There was some disagreement concerning which parts of Exhibit D, Sabine’s Whistleblower Kids blog, would be shown to the jury; this would need adjudication.
Statement from PC Black
A statement from PC Jennifer Black was read out, in which she described her arrest of Neelu on 24 April 2014 on a charge of witness intimidation. During the arrest, PC Black was unable to carry on cautioning Neelu, as Neelu began speaking over her, repeating that she was being kidnapped, that the police were endangering her life, that they were trying to murder her, that PC Black and her colleagues had no authority, that they would be removed from office, and so forth.
Statement from PC Williams
Another statement was read from PC Charlie Williams, who had visited Sophie Dix’s home to get her witness statement about the events of 22 March 2015, during the protest at Christ Church. Mr Williams said he included the location of Ms Dix’s home at the top of the witness statement sheet, since he wished to show the court how unsafe Ms Dix felt, due to her proximity to the church. The rationale was that the CPS would redact any information that ought not to be shown in court; there was no expectation that the statement would be published on the internet.
Adjudication of Exhibit D
The jury was dismissed during adjudication of parts of Exhibit D, which consisted of screenshots of Sabine’s blog.
Following a break for lunch, the jury was recalled, and Mr Attridge noted although he’d undertaken to redact the agreed-upon parts of Exhibit D, he’d been unable to do so effectively. It was decided to proceed to PC Betsy Davey’s testimony, excluding Exhibit D.
Witness: PC Davey
PC Davey described the 11 January 2016 arrest of Sabine McNeill, noting that Sabine had read a prepared statement in which she said she believed she’d published the witness statements but didn’t remember any details; that she was surprised it had taken the victims 10 months to tell her of any intimidation she had caused; that she was very sorry; that she was surprised to have been arrested past midnight; and that she had closed the Whistleblower Kids blog. (Apparently she had a change of heart shortly afterward, however, as that blog is still going strong.)
The jury and witness were asked to leave while both defence barristers presented submissions to the court. As it was late in the day, they were asked to return Monday morning at 10 a.m.
Both defence barristers made submissions asking the court to find ‘no case to answer’. Ms Zentler-Munro said there was no evidence that Neelu had published on Sabine’s blog, nor was there any evidence of an agreement that Sabine would publish Neelu’s witness statements. She noted that “foresight that she may publish was not sufficient for the offence of conspiracy”.
She characterised Sabine’s blog as “informational” rather than “condemnatory”, and said its purpose was to publicise their campaign as a whole, rather than to intimidate. In addition, she said, all the personal information revealed by the publications of the witness statements was already in the public domain, with the exception of the vicar’s route to church and Ms Dix’s address. The question was not whether the material was intimidating, but whether it was intended to be intimidating.
Mr Byrne agreed, adding that those involved in this campaign had a long history of publication of court documents when they were not allowed. He characterised the campaign as “obsessive”, and said that if the defendants were normal people who behaved rationally, their actions might be more easily interpreted as intimidating. However, this was not the case.
“In the absence of any explanatory motive,” he asked, “could the jury infer that the women who had done this had been trying to intimidate?” Rather, he said, their actions were part of a campaign, albeit an irrational and obsessive one.
Mr Attridge responded, “Yes, this is a campaign—one of the most oddball campaigns I’ve ever seen”. He noted that those involved seem unable to accept that they could be wrong in any way, and that anyone who opposes them is either involved in SRA, or is part of a cover-up. He urged that the jury be allowed to decide whether the defendants’ putting witness statements online would increase pressure on the campaigners’ targets and frighten them.
For example, he said, there were posts on Sabine’s site prior to the publication of the witness statements, saying things like, “Father Paul Conrad escapes after Sunday service”. This in itself is confirmation of the intention to intimidate the vicar: why else would they frame it as “escaping”? Intimidation first took place at the church, and then online.
“In what way are you advancing your campaign by publishing the vicar’s route from the church to his home?” Mr Attridge asked. “This was intimidatory. It goes hand in hand with the attitude of intimidation”.
Ruling on submissions
Despite Mr Attridge’s arguments, HH Judge Worsley ruled that there was no case to answer.
He said he was minded toward making restraining orders, but said that when the jury reconvenes on Monday he would direct them to a verdict of Not Guilty.
He did suggest that the CPS consider what terms they would like to see included in any potential restraining orders, and adjourned for the day.