Killer loses appeal over Sun columnist being juror

A killer who claimed he did not get a fair trial because the jury foreman was a columnist for The Sun lost his appeal today.

But the Court of Appeal did suggest that in future journalists and writers called for jury duty who would have to examine issues upon which he or she has expressed strong opinions about the state of the law should alert the judge before the start of the trial.

Drug dealer Kenny Cornwall was 17 when he was ordered to be detained for life, with a minimum term of 15 years, for murdering 25-year-old Alan Reilly in Braintree, Essex, in April last year during a row over crack cocaine.

Cornwall’s counsel, Christopher Sallon QC, made no complaint about the way Judge Christopher Ball QC conducted the trial, which took place at Chelmsford Crown Court in May and June.

But he told the Court of Appeal that there was concern over the discovery that the jury foreman was Sun columnist Fergus Shanahan.

Lord Justice Leveson, sitting with Mr Justice Penry-Davey and The Recorder of Norwich, Judge Peter Jacobs, said Mr Sallon had described Mr Shanahan as an “outspoken polemicist who holds strong and well-publicised views on issues such as law and order, soft judges, knife crime, drugs and immigration which could be characterised as populist and tendentious”.

Lord Justice Leveson added: “Thus, it is alleged that his service on this jury gave rise to the real possibility or danger of bias against the applicant so as to render the trial unfair and the conviction unsafe.”

Dismissing the appeal against conviction, he said the appeal court had considered a bundle of articles by Mr Shanahan covering a period of three-and-a-half years.

“He is certainly critical of judges whom he describes as liberal but expresses himself on topics as diverse as Osama bin Laden, the death of the Princess of Wales, secret identities for those convicted of crime, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, politicians, the human rights legislation, capital punishment and the slaughter of a ship’s cat,” he said.

But the question for the jury was not what should happen to a knife-related murderer or anyone concerned in dealing or using drugs; it was whether Cornwall was proved beyond reasonable doubt not to have been acting in self-defence or not to have been provoked, Lord Justice Leveson said.

“The judge gave the jury entirely proper directions and there is nothing, save for Mr Sallon’s speculative assertion, to suggest that this particular juror was not entirely faithful to the oath that he swore.

There was, he said, “nothing” in the series of articles by Mr Shanahan which were put before the court which justified the conclusion that the foreman had shown partiality in the case.

He added: “As to sentence, that was simply not in Mr Shanahan’s hands.”

But Lord Justice Leveson went on to offer advice to journalists who serve on juries in the future, saying: “We only observe that a journalist or other writer, if called to serve on a jury which will have to examine issues upon which he or she has expressed strong opinions about the state of the law (rather than detection, sentence or the system generally) will be well advised to alert the judge of that fact so that an informed decision can be taken about the juror’s ability faithfully to apply the judge’s directions as to the approach to be adopted to the case being tried.”

The Court of Appeal also rejected a claim that Mr Shanahan might have had a commercial interest in the outcome of the case, bearing in mind subsequent articles about his experience as a juror, including one headlined “My juror’s glimpse of gangsta Britain”, on the basis that a conviction would result in a “better story”.

Lord Justice Leveson said: “In fact, the story could be told either way.

“It is not for us to decide whether one or the other makes a ‘better’ or more commercially saleable story.”

Mr Shanahan, he said, was not the only journalist to have written of jury experiences, and noted the “temperate account” he gave compared with earlier pieces he had written.

Also rejecting the appeal against sentence, the judge said that there were “a number of substantial and seriously aggravating features” to the case, and that the Court was not prepared to depart from the “very carefully expressed conclusions” of the trial judge, who was in the best position to determine the facts.

The jury at the trial had heard that Cornwall had been dealing in drugs since he was 14.

The fatal stabbing followed a chance meeting with Mr Reilly, of Coldnailhurst Lane, Bocking.

The trial judge had also lifted a ban on identifying Cornwall, saying it was in the public interest that those tempted to follow his style of life should know in real terms the consequences.

The judge said that none of the articles which Mr Shanahan wrote during and after the case demonstrated a risk that he was unable to apply his mind to the issues of fact he had to decide.

This also applied to a later one which dealt with his jury service, “My juror’s glimpse of gangsta Britain”, in which he reported what could have been reported during the trial itself.

Lord Justice Leveson said: “Mr Shanahan is not the only journalist who has written of his experiences on jury service and we note the temperate account given of the circumstances compared to some of his earlier pieces.

“We reject the submission that in writing in this way, he demonstrated actual bias or that these pieces give rise to the possibility or risk of bias.”

The court went on to refuse Cornwall permission to appeal against his sentence.

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