Darshna Soni: Working week

Friday 27.04.2007

Day 26 – the Old Bailey. I'm drinking yet another cup of tea, as I wait for the jury to come back. They've been deliberating their verdicts for a record six weeks. Seven men are in court over a fertilizer bomb plot, in one of the biggest terrorist trials ever seen in Britain.

Every morning I turn up, wondering if today's the day. I don't think any newsroom was prepared for it to take this long. Journalists have been asking questions about the cost of the case – an estimated £50 million, with legal fees, court costs and so on. B

ut I wonder how much it's costing the media. Some newsrooms have had reporters sitting in court every single day since the jury's been out.

Some of the most high profile QCs are involved in the case and it's been a great experience watching their closing speeches. Michael Mansfield entertained, with references to Bilbo Baggins from Lord of the Rings. Baroness Helena Kennedy inspired, with a defence of the principle of jury trials.

I've got to know some of them during the course of the trial. One night, I found myself in China White, amazed at the sight of several QCs dancing away to the Pogues. Their antics made it into the Evening Standard the next day.

Monday 30.04.2007

I've just settled into the canteen and unpacked my laptop – when suddenly, at 11 o'clock, there's a tannoy calling us into court eight. The verdicts are finally in.

The courtroom is packed. I'm sitting on the press bench, next to the jury. Everyone is still as the verdicts are read out. One defendant sits back on his chair as he's found guilty – another swoons in relief as he's cleared.

The judge warned the courtroom that he wouldn't let anyone in or out of the room as the verdicts were being delivered, but I have to creep out at quarter to twelve for a live on our noon programme. Two minutes later, I'm begging the policewoman on the door to let me back in, when I realise I've left my phone on the press bench.

Outside, there's a huge adrenaline rush as we go live. There's some confusion – has the court order preventing us from reporting the 7/7 connection been lifted? I stand in a row of other reporters and can hear them delivering their lives at the same time as me.

Half an hour later, there's a huge scrum as one of those found not guilty, Nabeel Hussain, comes outside. While we're filming his solicitor reading a statement, Shujah Mahmood quietly slips away in a taxi – we just about manage to get some shots of the car departing.

Later on, there's a bidding war for interviews with the men. Channel 4 News won't offer any money and Mr Hussain eventually agrees to talk to Sky News, for a rumoured £15,000.

Tuesday 01.05.2007

The papers are full of the links between the fertilizer plotters and the 7/7 suicide bombings. The survivors of those attacks are demanding a public inquiry. The pressure is on to come up with new lines. I've secured the only interview with the Attorney General about the case. He says he'll ask the CPS to review why the trial took so long.

It was originally scheduled to last just 16 weeks – but ended up taking over a year. I get hold of a copy of a report by the Criminal Bar Association which examines why. It reveals that the court only sat for 62 per cent of available days. The jurors were given 49 days off at the judge's discretion. They had to give up a year of their lives. Is that an unfair burden on ordinary members of the public?

Wednesday 02.05.2007

I spend the day trying to convince a group of people to give an interview. Our lawyer looks very nervous when I tell him what I'm doing and warns me that I could end up in prison if I'm not careful…

Thursday 03.05.2007

I wake up with butterflies in my stomach. Two jurors have agreed to come on camera. There are strict rules about approaching juries and I'd normally steer well clear. But I'm dying to know what on earth it was like, serving on the most high-profile case of recent times.

They were from a cross-section of society and included a telephonist, a bank clerk and a builder. The youngest member tells me that when he got his summons, he wasn't sure what it was and thought he was in trouble with the court.

Another tells me what it was like being locked in a room during deliberations, not allowed out of the building even for a break. They all want to talk about the awful sandwiches served at lunchtime.

It's a fascinating interview and we swap gossip about our experiences of the trial. It's great to hear their stories and I'm reminded why I love my job so much.

No comments to display

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *