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Gloucestershire Business News

Gloucester Crown Court clearing backlog of trials

A revolutionary solution to clearing the backlog of scores of trials that have built up at Gloucester Crown Court during the Covid-19 crisis was found yesterday when nine cases were dealt with in one sitting.

James Ward, a reviewing prosecuting lawyer on the Western Circuit, arrived at the court with a pragmatic plan to clear the decks of potential trials by either offering no evidence in weak and problematic cases or accepting guilty pleas to less serious charges.

Yesterday's unprecedented sitting was described as a 'resolution court' after Mr Ward had reconsidered the merits of each case at his offices in Bristol.

During the first pandemic lockdown Gloucester was a closed court, conducting all hearings via Zoom and not being able to hold any jury trials at all for five months between mid-March and August 14th. Since then, social distancing regulations have meant that only one of the two courtrooms can be used for trials.

Yesterday (Nov 23) Mr Ward said that the 'resolution court' would be the first of many in an initiative designed to get all advocates and defendants together in each case to see if an alternative solution to a trial could be found.

Among those coming under the spotlight yesterday was Nigel Rees, 58 of Barnwood Road, Gloucester, who was found not guilty of harassing a woman but accepted a five year restraining order not to contact her or to make any reference to her on social media.

Kean Cunningham, 41, of Windfall Way in Gloucester was found not guilty of burglary and robbery in the city on September 26 last year. Mr Ward said that the evidence was 'not what it should be' and therefore the prospect of securing a conviction at trial was not realistic. Mr Cunningham was released with no further action being taken.

Ian Grant 32, of Dymboro Gardens, Midsomer Norton, Radstock was accused of causing actual bodily harm by breaking the jaw of his alleged victim outside a Gloucester nightclub on October 28, 2018.

Mr Ward said: "The victim and a witness have since disappeared. There have been discussions about holding a victimless prosecution, but in reality this is not practical. We have since made contact with the victim in the Netherlands and he has no intention of returning to the UK."

Grant pleaded guilty to an algternative public order offence and was fined £250 and ordered to pay court costs of £85 and £30 victim surcharge.

Judge Ian Lawrie QC said to Grant: "You all drank too much and it ended up in an affray outside a nightclub. There is no excuse for your behaviour."

Alan Johnson, 52, of Trinity Way, Cinderford, had already pleaded guilty to stalking a woman between April 3 and April 20 this year. The resolution court offered no evidence on additional charges that Johnson had denied and was due to be tried on.

Judge Lawrie said that in sentencing Johnson a lot of options needed exploring and he adjourned the hearing for pre-sentence reports to be prepared. Johnson was released on conditional bail to return to the court on December 15, 2020.

The court decided that the evidence against Mark Mitchell, a 41-year-old man who is alleged to have taken part in a burglary at a cottage at Hazleton, nr Northleach was not strong enough and Judge Lawrie recorded a verdict of not guilty and Mr Mitchell walked free from court.

Jason Sparrow 42, of George Avenue, Blackpool pleaded guilty to breaking into the Eastcombe Stores in Stroud on March 7 with intent to steal. He also admitted handling a stolen Audi car owned by Glyn Weeks on the same date and driving the car in South Cerney without insurance. Other charges against Sparrow were withdrawn.

The court adjourned the hearing for pre-sentence and medical reports to be compiled. Sparrow was released on conditional bail until he is sentenced at the court on January 13, 2021.

Owais Hassanjee, 28 of Woodlea Road, Blackburn, Lancashire pleaded guilty to being concerned with the supply of Class A drugs cocaine and diamorphine between July 7 and 11, 2019.

Zacharias Miah, defending, said: "Hassanjee was working as a dealer to pay for his own drug habit. He is suffering from a number of health and mental issues. He has had to have his stomach pumped out on two occasions after overdosing on a cocktail of drugs and alcohol."

Judge Lawrie said the case crosses the custody threshold and he adjourned sentencing Hassanjee until January 15. Hassanjee was remanded in custody until that date.

Matthew Martell 27, of Stratton Corner, Barton Street, Gloucester pleaded guilty to two counts of an assault by beating of Kayleigh Muncaster on July 18 and 19.

Judge Lawrie ordered that the trial date of February 3 be vacated and told Martell that he would be sentenced on November 30. Martell was made subject to an indefinite restraining order not to contact his victim.

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