An ill-advised tweet by Priti Patel – the UK’s Home Secretary, in charge of the country’s police service (but not, thankfully, justice) could have derailed a major criminal case, it has been revealed.
Four alleged people-smugglers have now been found guilty of manslaughter in the so-called Essex lorry deaths trial, after 39 people were found dead inside a lorry when it was inspected on its way into the UK from continental Europe.
On October 23, the anniversary of the tragedy, Priti Patel’s Twitter account posted: “One year ago today, 39 people lost their lives in horrific circumstances at the hands of ruthless criminals.
“My thoughts remain with everyone who was affected by that day, particularly the loved ones of the people who so tragically died.”
This public comment could have prejudiced the then-ongoing trial and for that reason was certainly in contempt of court.
Patel should have known this. In fact, This Writer finds it hard to believe that she didn’t.
Considering her other recent behaviour, it seems more likely that she thought she could get away with saying anything she liked – because she is a Conservative cabinet minister. Once again, it would be a case in which the Tories put themselves above the law.
According to The Mirror,
The post was retweeted and liked more than 300 times before it came to the attention of a defence lawyer and the trial was halted.
In the absence of the jury, Alisdair Williamson QC complained about the description of “ruthless criminals”, especially as she was a senior Government minister.
The judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, did not authorise action against Patel but pointed out to jurors that many messages were likely to appear on the social media – and all should be ignored.
“It’s a fundamental principle of our criminal justice system that those on trial are presumed to be innocent until proven to be guilty and it is you and you alone who are going to decide whether they are guilty or not guilty.”
Patel had no right to suggest that anybody was a “ruthless criminal” until the jury came to a decision supporting such a claim.
But then, considering her other ill-advised tweets about “activist lawyers”, which led to at least one attack on a firm of solicitors, it seems clear that she believes herself to be above the rules that affect the rest of us.
Sadly, Mr Justice Sweeney’s lack of action against her, along with the failure of the police to act over the other matter, tends to prove her right.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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