Yesterday we heard the first half of the defence’s closing speech; Tana Adkin QC opened this morning’s proceedings with the second instalment.
However, before we get into what happened today, we would like to say a little bit about an event which occurred yesterday, which is making the rounds in the conspiracy-lovers’ community.
Yesterday morning after the public was admitted into the court, but prior to the jury being brought in, HHJ Sally Cahill QC asked Belinda McKenzie to step into the dock.
Judge Cahill said that there had been an allegation that Belinda was in breach of the publication order placed upon this case in December 2017 by Judge Beddoe.
At the time, we could see something which looked like Belinda’s Facebook page projected on the monitor visible from the dock, so we assume that the alleged breach was committed on Facebook.
Judge Cahill told Belinda that she could avail herself of legal representation from any available counsel at Southwark Crown Court. Belinda asked whether she might be able to use Sabine’s legal team, but was told that this could constitute a conflict of interest.
Judge Cahill instructed her clerk to tannoy the building to find someone who could see Belinda immediately. While she awaited arrival of counsel, the judge told Belinda she could leave the dock, but not the building.
Following this, Belinda left the courtroom to await the arrival of counsel. During this period, the jury was allowed in, and the judge gave them standard legal directions, as we reported yesterday. The jury was sent back out, and Belinda came in again with her new counsel, Stephen Earnshaw.
Judge Cahill said that this matter had been drawn to her attention by the Crown, who believed that it might constitute contempt of court. There is a restriction on identifying witnesses in this case, she said. However, over the weekend it is claimed that Belinda McKenzie made a post which identified witnesses.
Earnshaw said that Belinda accepted that she made the post, and had said that she was very sorry and that it wouldn’t happen again. Further, he said, she had agreed to absent herself from court to ensure no possibility of repeating the error, and had asked whether she could remove the post.
Belinda said that she had someone at her home at that time who was in the process of removing the post.
Judge Cahill pointed out that she had already reinforced the importance of the reporting restriction when a similar incident occurred last week.
However, Judge Cahill said, she did not plan to address this issue today; she would adjourn the case until after the verdict is reached in this trial. She added that Belinda’s pulling down the post might have some mitigating value, and agreed that it would be sensible for Belinda to stay away from the court for the duration of Sabine’s trial.
Why didn’t we post about this yesterday, you might ask? In reporting on trials, one of the guidelines is that one should only report on what occurs while the jury is in the room. Yesterday we decided that although Belinda’s arrest would be of great interest to our readers, we would leave reporting on it until this trial was done.
However, there’s a great deal of gossip—much of it entirely fictional and designed to stir up feelings of paranoia—going round at the moment about the particulars of Belinda’s arrest, and so we decided that it would be best to report exactly what happened rather than leave it to the likes of Angela Power-Disney, who will no doubt be reporting that Belinda has been tried and sentenced in a “secret court” and will be hanged at dawn. Or something.
And now, back to today’s events in court.
Defence closing speech, part 2
Adkin said that Sabine McNeill’s behaviour could be divided into two segments: the time prior to the July 2016 restraining order, and the time subsequent to that.
“Following her arrest in August 2016”, Adkin said, “things changed”.
She said that after the restraining order was put in place, the complainants in this case became “alert, watching, and reporting” Sabine’s every move. However, Adkin said, the decision as to whether any given behaviour truly constitutes a breach of the restraining order is for the jury, not the complainants, to determine.
Following the restraining order, Adkin said, “all roads lead back to the Whistleblower Kids blog”. Assuming it were true that every alleged breach involved a link to that blog, “from the moment she stepped out of the court she would have been in breach of the order, because Whistleblower Kids was still online”.
Adkin said that the Crown case is that from early 2015 until her August arrest was declared NFA (‘no further action’) by the police, it was seeing material on the Whistleblower Kids site which caused anxiety and distress amongst the complainants.
Given that the blog was the source of so much upset, and that Sabine was continuing to post material on it, why was Sabine not arrested? Adkin asked.
“You have been given a lot of information regarding what was happening in her head”, Adkin said. “You are being told all of what the judges and police said. But no one said ‘that material on the website is the problem—take it down'”.
Following the restraining order, Sabine’s counsel at Blackfriars Crown Court asked for clarification of the order, and said, “If you post anything that leads back to material on the site, that is a breach”.
However, Adkin said, the witnesses in this trial contend that Sabine was in breach for posting a link which led to a link which led to a link.
She said that following Sabine’s return to the UK from Germany in 2015, she was arrested and spoken to, but by December of that year the police decided on no further action.
“What matters is what is in her mind”, Adkin said. “NFA means ‘you can carry on with your life, continue with your beliefs'”.
Looking at the material which led to Sabine’s 2016 arrest for witness intimidation, arising from Neelu Berry’s charges around the 2015 demonstration at the church, Adkin said that Sabine had posted a link within a blog article to case papers and details of the witnesses in Neelu’s trial.
“These should have been edited out”, Adkin said. However, they were published whole. “She was acquitted because there was no evidence of conspiracy with Neelu Berry….What was going on in her mind?”
In that trial, Judge Worsley said that the witnesses had certainly suffered from intimidation, and they had been intimidated further when they learned from the police that their personal details had been published on the Whistleblower Kids blog. This was pointed out to them by a police officer, Adkin said.
“In order to make clear what she should or should not do, her barrister sought clarification that the restraining order sought further publication, but did not apply to previous publications”, Adkin said.
Her barrister at the time said that publication of new articles were one thing, but she was not allowed to publish old articles from today onward, as well.
“He wanted this on the record”, Adkin said. “Nowhere did it say that an old publication could be a breach of the restraining order”.
“What happened, you may think, is that any time she published a link that led to old material, that was a breach”. However, when an article was republished, if the link to the material was an old link, that was not a breach.
“The content of the Whistleblower Kids website was not caught by the restraining order”, Adkin said. “You cannot make something which is public, public—because it is already public”.
For two years, Sabine was not arrested for harassment or stalking, Adkin said. The judge could not order her to take down her website as part of the restraining order. All he had to do was say that she must not refer back to the material on Whistleblower Kids or she would be in breach…but he didn’t.
Adkin asked the jury to consider the alleged breach involving a post on Facebook. “If she posted on Facebook, Facebook would make a link and send the reader back to the link on Whistleblower Kids. However, you have to consider the question of whether she knew the parents were watching her at the time. Did she calculatedly post an innocuous article to send them back to a link which was in breach?” Adkin asked. “You must think that there are easier ways of causing hurt to the parents”.
Similarly, she said, a link on Twitter led to Whistleblower Kids. “The link was put on Twitter as a result of its automated settings. You heard from Mr Scott about the algorithms used to do this. She posted to Twitter, and the link was put on automatically by Twitter, that led somewhere else”.
Noting that the Crown had asked them to consider “connectivity”, Adkin asked the jury to think about this: if Sabine wanted to stalk or harass the complainants, “all she had to do was post directly on Whistleblower Kids“.
On 26 October 2016, Adkin said, Sabine posted a poem on her blog. This was not an attempt to target the parents, she said. However, in the sidebar of that post were a number of links said to offend the restraining order. However, to reach the offending material one must look down the list.
“The first leads to the Hampstead Cover-up blog, which contains two large images of P and Q, and an invitation to visit Free the Hampstead 2” Adkin said. She pointed out that these sites had nothing to do with Sabine, but belonged to Ella Draper.
“The prosecution say that Ella Draper didn’t want her material published”, Adkin continued. “But she’s pushing it all out there”. She called this “old fake news”.
Similarly, Adkin said, the “Case in 30 Paragraphs” is “old fake news”: it predated the making of the restraining order.
“If the defendant were determined that people only see one side of the story, she’d have linked only parts of the Pauffley judgment”, Adkin said, “but she put up the whole thing”.
Referring to Count 7 on the indictment, which involves Sabine’s Tumblr page, Adkin said that the Vid.me video was stored in the “archive” section. “Again, old fake news”, she said. “Does that breach the order? We say no. This is not because of the effect it had on the parents, but because it doesn’t breach the order”.
Adkin noted that a link on the “Case in 30 Paragraphs” article on Whistleblower Kids led to new material in Sabine’s Google Drive. She had posted her charge sheet, containing details of her defence strategy.
“If she was trying to breach her restraining order, it was an odd thing to post her own charge sheet plus her defence strategy”, Adkin said. The “parents were watching out for it, as they had become hyper-vigilant”, which was understandable in the circumstances.
However, Adkin asked, “Was it that she put them there to get to the parents, or was it meant to be private? If it is an old link to an old link to an old link, that is for you, but you may consider it not to be a breach”.
Adkin said that Sabine’s brain works in a different way to most, “maybe in an odd way”.
Referring to the National Inquiry site, Adkin said the Crown had asked Sabine during cross-examination, “Why, if you’re not wanting to draw attention to Whistleblower Kids, why post material leading there?” However, Adkin said, there is no logic in how Sabine did this.
For example, she said, in an article on We Who Oppose Deception on the subject of digital accountability, “in the sidebar there is a link to a petition; in the petition you find a link to Whistleblower Kids, and there you are, back again”.
The point is what’s going on in Sabine’s mind, she said. “in December 2017, there were no more posts”, she said. “She had no internet link. As far as you may think, it’s over”.
Referring to Count 20 on the indictment, Adkin said, “What is troubling is that a man named Chris Alexander, aka Chris Hernandez, who told her about the survivors’ meeting at Synod…then reported her for going”. The unusual fact is that this is the same person who told her that Interpol was after her when she had fled to Germany in February 2015.
Sabine went there to look for the lawyers David Greenwood and Richard Scorer, Adkin said. She thought she would be able to get some sort of protection as a whistle-blower.
“However, after Synod, Alexander calls and says, ‘They’ve got you'”, Adkin said. “It’s a sad thing when people start interfering with misguided, vulnerable people”.
Sabine went to see the Bishop of Bath and Wells for a particular reason, Adkin said: she saw herself as a whistle-blower, and wanted to bring attention to what she had gone through. “She spoke to two lawyers, the Bishop, and Julian Whiting”, Adkin said. “Does what she did there violate her restraining order? That is purely a matter for you. This was not public; these were conversations with people that are confidential.
Referring to Sabine’s contact with the helpline, Adkin said that by this time Sabine had become isolated, in the absence of her internet connection. Julian Whiting felt that she needed help in the form of pastoral care.
“She told Ms Stevens that the matter had already been reported to the police”, Adkin said, adding that it seems odd to suggest that calling a confidential helpline would be making information public. “She agreed to have her details passed on; she says that is all she agreed to”.
Adkin focused on Sabine herself, noting that she had given evidence in this trial although she didn’t have to do so. “She didn’t have to explain why she believes what she does”. Adkin said.
“What did you make of her? She may be criticised for not getting straight to the answers all the time, but was she just remembering and trying to go back to understand?”
Adkin said the jury might wish to take account of Sabine’s age: she was 70 years old when she met Ella Draper. At that time, Adkin said, “she was blameless, not having come to police attention”.
“She came to find the story that Abraham Christie and Ella Draper were peddling”, Adkin said. “The prosecution said Ella didn’t want her peddling that material, but is that true? She was expected to take Ella’s side, she was required to assist her”.
For three months, Sabine saw Ella every day, and she fell for the pack of lies made up by Ella and Abraham, Adkin said. “Have you ever been lied to? A real, proper nasty lie?” she asked. “For someone to tell such an extreme lie—how would any mother do this?”
Sabine was taken in by Ella Draper and Abraham Christie, Adkin said. “She was peddling a story made up by them. And when Ella Draper realises that she’s in trouble, she pulls away from Sabine McNeill”.
“She was not only taking Ella’s side, but was accepting life on the run”, Adkin said. “She was being watched like a hawk online. How does that impact on somebody’s mind?”
The only people who gained from any of this were Ella Draper and Abraham Christie, Adkin said. “If Sabine got money from PayPal, then where is the evidence? If there was evidence to back this up, you would have had it”.
Sabine is not on trial for holding mistaken, ill-judged or wrong beliefs, Adkin noted. “We are all entitled to be wrong. We don’t have mind control. We are free to believe in aliens, or even in conspiracy theories”.
“This is not about that. This is about actions, about what happens to people, about interfering with people. That’s what this case is about”. Adkin said. “You will have to decide if she was calculating to hurt the parents”.
As for P and Q, Adkin said the jury must bear in mind why Sabine believed the story about them. She was concerned that children were being taken through the secret family court; she was thinking about a “proper police investigation”. “Definitely, this has to persuade you that she did want to prevent crime”, Adkin said.
Sabine explained to the court why she believed the story about P and Q: “What the two children said fitted together; she looked at the videos and that’s what she took on board”, Adkin said. “The thing’s playing on her mind, so she puts the videos out there to see if others believe the children too”.
“Sabine didn’t know that Ella Draper and Abraham Christie would go as far as accusing other parents of other children”, Adkin said. “Who would think that somebody would be that vindictive?”
“You heard her say, ‘I will believe the children until I die'”, Adkin said. “She has been criticised for not listening to Pauffley, but she was thinking of other things, perhaps. As far she she’s concerned, this is over”.
Adkin said two factors helped Sabine to understand what she’d done: seeing real people—”maybe people online need to see and hear other people”—plus her rational understanding that the list was actually a class list adopted by Ella Draper.
“Mathematicians are used to data”, Adkin said, “not perhaps people so much. That is not an excuse, but it’s important to understand her mind”.
Sabine has “come to the conclusion now, which others might have known earlier”, Adkin said. “She completely believed that P and Q should be returned to their Russian family; her aim was to force the return of the children to their mother.
“But does she target people?” Adkin asked. “In my submission, no, What is said by her, what is done by her…while getting at the parents may have been the outcome, it was not the intent”.
“The whole business, as far as she is concerned, is over”.
Judge’s summing up
Following a break for lunch, Judge Cahill summed up the facts of the case, as well as directions on points of law.
“It is my responsibility to decide issues of law”, she told the jury. “You must accept and follow my direction. However, you 12 are here to decide whether the Crown has proved its case”.
She said the jury must decide who they believe and who they do not believe. They must treat all witnesses the same, and decide whether they are telling the truth.
“You can accept or reject what they say”, said Judge Cahill, “but it must be on the evidence”. This means that the jury may draw inferences based on the evidence; however, they must not speculate.
“You may wish to accept or reject what counsel says”, she said. “Don’t adopt what they say unless you agree with it. If I comment on something which you think is irrelevant, that is all right. You, and you alone, are the judges of the facts”.
She told the jury that while there is a range of things they might think—”possible”, “highly likely”, “suspicious”—to determine whether the prosecution’s case is proved, they must be sure.
“It is for the defence to show that the defendant was trying to detect or prevent a crime”, Judge Cahill said. “If you are not so satisfied, then you may ignore it”.
“The prosecution says the defendant is dishonest, untrustworthy, and manipulative”, she said. “The defence says she is misguided, suggestible, and misled”.
“The defendant said she was ‘giving a voice’ to children. What does that mean? Was she actually targeting a group of people?”
Judge Cahill said that not all the documents in this case were put online in 2015; she suggested that the jury might want to look at the “Case in 30 Paragraphs” document which was published in late July/early August 2015.
The prosecution’s case is that each time the defendant put a post up, she was making it public, Judge Cahill said. “The defence says that the posts were already in the public domain”.
Looking at the issue of harassment, she said, the jury must remember that if it’s only one comment, it’s not harassment.
“The Crown asserts that the defendant knows her way around the internet and understands how to link things to one another”, said Judge Cahill, advising that the jury look at the evidence supplied by the expert witness’s testimony on this point. “She had to change settings to enable publication; she would have known that when it links, it’s republished”.
The defence says that this isn’t making public or republishing material.
“Ms Moore said that there was a time when yesterday’s news was used to wrap fish and chips”, said Judge Cahill. “But what about when that news is kept in an archive? What if you reprint it? What if it’s online…if it’s just there, and not re-shared?”
“What if someone puts up a post which enables readers to reach old material,, or which leads to information already in the public domain, which has been republished?”
“As someone who knows nothing and goes online”, she said, “and finds an article like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, are they likely to go down the sidebar and see what’s there? That is a matter for you. If they were to find an article about the wisdom of Anastasia, would this new person follow the links, or do nothing?”
Judge Cahill suggested that the jury might wish to consider the document made by Ella Draper and edited by Sabine McNeill, which went through at least three incarnations.
She said they might wish to look at Sabine’s interactions at Synod: what was her motivation? Did she want help, or was she there to promulgate the Hampstead matter?
“The prosecution states that she was behaving irrationally at this time”, Judge Cahill said. “She believed that 175 adults danced with 20 baby skulls apiece around their necks—no one could find the rooms where this allegedly occurred”.
“The defence says she was completely rational, but was duped by Ella Draper. She wanted to see the matter investigated, and was upset that a suspect was not arrested; others agreed with her that this was true”. According to the defence, Sabine was behaving rationally.
The jury might also wish to consider the evidence of Mr Scott, a forensic computer analyst with 20 years’ experience, Judge Cahill said. He found that all the information on Sabine’s website was coming from her computer, and that the site had been live up till February 2018. Many links on the site were directed to Sabine’s Google Drive, for which no password was needed.
Judge Cahill said the jury would also wish to consider material created or modified after the restraining order was made. She mentioned the spreadsheet containing the names and personal details of the complainants.
The jury might also wish to review Scott’s testimony regarding the way a Google Drive account works, including the fact that privacy settings can range from completely private to completely open to anyone on the internet.
Judge Cahill suggested that the jury look at Scott’s testimony regarding setting up embedded templates on a Twitter account, as well as the ease with which one can remove such templates. He also said that a link embedded in Twitter could enable the sharing of all one’s files.
Judge Cahill then reviewed the evidence seen by the jury in this trial, summarising the material which we have described here over the past three and a half weeks.
Court adjourned at 4:15 today, and will resume at 10:30 tomorrow morning, when Judge Cahill has said she plans to finish summarising the evidence. She said she expects to send the jury to deliberate once her summary is complete.