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Facebook 'contempt' juror faces jail

Drugs trial abandoned after social media debacle

A juror who allegedly contacted a trial defendant via Facebook faces jail for contempt of court in a legal first for the UK.

Joanne Fraill, of Blackley, Manchester, is accused of contacting Jamie Sewart, of Bolton, who was a defendant in a drugs trial that subsequently collapsed.

Although Fraill allegedly contacted Ms Sewart via Facebook after she had already been acquitted, she faces contempt of court charges as the alleged Facebook conversation took place as she and the rest of the jury were still considering verdicts on others involved in the trial.

Fraill is also said to have wrongly conducted internet research on trial defendants.

Jurors - under orders of the judge - are only supposed to base their judgements on evidence heard in the court, and not through other sources outside the court, including newspapers, web searches, social networking contacts and other media.

The Facebook contact Fraill was allegedly involved in led to the judge discharging the whole jury in an expensive 10-week drugs trial in Manchester last year.

Both Fraill and Sewart face up to two years in prison for their alleged contempt, if found guilty at a hearing at the High Court in London.

Another man who was convicted and jailed in the case is appealing his conviction, claiming "jury misconduct" in the aborted trial.

Angus McCullough QC, acting for the attorney general, told the High Court, "Ms Fraill contacted Ms Sewart via the internet and conducted an online conversation with her. The discussion took place at a time when the jury still had outstanding verdicts to return on the case."

McCullough added, "That contact and discussion were in direct breach of the judge's repeated directions to the jury that they should not discuss the case with anyone outside their number, and constituted a contempt of court.

"Ms Fraill also conducted internet searches on the defendants she was trying."

Facebook reportedly lost 100,000 users in the UK last month, but it is still used by 58 percent of the UK online population - equivalent to 29.8 million users.

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