Jury foreman handed suspended prison sentence after carrying out internet research

A foreman of a jury who carried out internet research that led to the conviction of a defendant has been given a suspended sentence.

Friday, 14th January 2022, 2:45 pm

Timothy Chapman, 62, caused other members of the split jury at Huntingdon crown court to change their mind after using a search engine to ask the question: “How hard is it to break bones?”

Prosecutor Hugh Vass told St Albans crown court today (January 14) that he failed to heed a warning by Judge (Caroline) Wigin about carrying out internet research.

He said: “Mr Chapman was the foreman of the jury at Huntingdon crown court. The case involved a punch that caused a broken cheek bone.

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“The jury were sent out to deliberate on Thursday January 28 2021. At the close of business the jury were evenly spilt five to seven. They were sent home.

“That night he used a search engine and asked: ‘How hard is it to break bones?’

“The jury returned the next day and were still split. The defendant told the jury that he had worked with Crash Test Dummies and the impact would have to be very forceful. He did not mention he used an internet search engine. He said he had looked over notes from work.

“Some jurors changed their mind. One challenged him, but a unanimous guilty verdict was returned. The defendant was sentenced to 18 months suspended for two years and was ordered to pay £1,500 compensation.”

In May last year, a member of the jury complained and Chapman was arrested.

He told the police when he went home he said he used a tablet to search the internet.

Mr Vass said Chapman gave no explanation as to why he did not send a note to the judge via an usher. He said he believed he was doing the right thing.

The Huntingdon conviction was quashed and there is to be a retrial at “considerable cost” to the tax payer, said the prosecutor.

Chapman of Highfield Avenue, Alconbury Weston, Huntingdon appeared for sentence, having pleaded guilty to carrying out research and sharing research while a jurer. He was of previous good character.

Defending, Mark Shelley said Chapman had never been in trouble. He said he worked as a welder and looks after his wife, who has multiple schlerosis. The judge was sent character references.

Mr Shelly said that on the night he did the research Chapman was coping with the stress of his father-in-law being taken to hospital.

He said: “This is a desperately sad case. He is a 62-year-old man who has never been in trouble. He had never done anything stupid like this before.

“In my submission it is not at the top end of juror problems - he did not contact anybody. He thought he was trying to help. He has worked with crash test dummies and wanted to be sure in his own mind despite the warnings from the judge.

“He was not thinking straight because of his father-in-law being in hospital.”

Judge Richard Foster told him: “Members of jury were swayed by your input from your internet research. The quashing of the conviction caused a significant public cost and witnesses will have to go through it all again.“

The judge said normally an immediate custodial sentence is imposed, but he was able to suspend the sentence because of the strong mitigation.

He passed an eight month sentence suspended for 12 months, pay £1,000 costs and a £500 fine.