Today is for obvious reasons a dark day, and I don’t wish to dim the light further by dwelling unnecessarily on tragedy. But, while it’s still doing the rounds in news cycles, just a brief word, if I may, on the “revelations” that have been published in the wake of the conviction of Clayton Williams for the manslaughter of Pc Dave Phillips yesterday.
The basic facts are well rehearsed – in the course of a police chase, Williams drove a stolen vehicle towards Pc Phillips, causing his death. Williams, denying murder, maintained that he had not seen the officer, and had not intended to cause serious harm or death (the legal test for murder). After Williams was acquitted by the jury of murder, the jurors seemingly not satisfied that Williams drove deliberately at the officer, newspapers have reported that Williams’ co-accused, Philip Stuart, who was in the stolen car at the time, told police officers when he was interviewed that Williams had said “Watch this” before driving into Pc Philips. The jury were not told about this during the trial.
Why? Is this not critical evidence of Williams’ intent? What went wrong?
In short, nothing. It’s simply because, in a trial of multiple defendants – let’s call them A and B – the law does not allow for statements made outside a courtroom by one co-defendant (B) to be admitted in evidence against the other (A). In law it amounts to hearsay, as B’s statement was not evidence given in court, and A has not had the opportunity to challenge B on its accuracy. Where A and B are both on trial, and where B repeats in his evidence on oath what he said to the police in his interview (e.g. “A drove at the officer and said “watch this””), then it becomes evidence and can be used against A. But where, as in this case, B gives the police an account, and then pleads guilty, he is not a party at trial and so what he said to the police in his interview cannot be used against A. Indeed, to avoid prejudice to A, the jury will not even hear about B’s interview.
If the prosecution wanted to put before the jury what B told police in his interview, they would need to call B as a prosecution witness to get him to confirm his account on oath, and this is rarely attractive when B has pleaded guilty to a serious offence. Exhorting a jury to believe the good and truthful prosecution scuzzbag over the bad and lying defendant scuzzbag is often a fool’s errand.
And so, information which to the average reader appears obviously important to a jury’s understanding quite often doesn’t make its way into the evidence. This is why, when there are two co-defendants and B pleads guilty, the prosecution case against the remaining one (A) can often become significantly weaker, as the prosecuting barrister can’t make capital out of cross-examining A on all the glorious inconsistencies between A and B’s accounts to the police.
So now you know. No conspiracy, just the law in action, folks.
UPDATE: So important is the comment below, from someone with far greater knowledge of the case, that it is worth reproducing in full here:
“Agree of course but what you don’t know, and how could you, is the full picture of what the Co-Defendant actually said. The reporting is, of course, woefully ill-informed (understandably – but little effort made to check accuracy or completeness). Yes the co-defendant stated that CW said “watch this” but it is taken entirely out of the rest of what the Co-D said in about 100 pages of interviews. That was all to the effect that CW was going over the central reservation to avoid the stop-stick, and that the “watch this” related to the manouevre to go round the obstacle. The Co-D repeated, again and again that there was no time to react to the officer suddenly moving back into the path of the car that was describing an arc around the stop-stick and officer. The Co-D stated more than once that the officer, unfortunately not wearing a hi-vis vest, “appeared out of nowhere”. The reporting has mislead all the multitudes who have “followed” this tragic case. The press have reported that CW “bragged” that he had killed a “bizzie” – there was no “bragging involved” – he was being wrestled to the ground by (possibly armed) officers and was explaining to youths watching what he was being arrested for. The conduct of this case from day 1, when the CC of Merseyside stated! stated! that it was “deliberate” and “murder”, through the reportage and primacy given to the understandable grief of those who knew the officer over the just and fair trial of CW, has been very depressing to behold! So yes, I agree (as ever) with your blog, but even then it only scratches the surface of the misleading nature of the reporting – which rather proves your point! So thank you for highlighting this issue.”