A counter-terrorism officer allegedly laughed and joked about a young female juror fancying him but failed to recognise the looming danger to his multimillion-pound case.
The bizarre episode towards the end of the “Three Musketeers” trial was more akin to Celebrity Love Island than the serious business of the Old Bailey.
Detective Sergeant Ryan Chambers’ banter with a senior colleague during a break in court was overheard by a Guardian reporter, who set in train events which nearly led to the terrorism trial crashing after more than four months of painstaking evidence.
The case, which also involved MI5, had already been rocked by four terror attacks and allegations by the defence of corruption within West Midlands Police which was accused of conspiring to get the four suspects off the streets, even if it meant planting evidence.
Senior judge Mr Justice Globe, who successfully steered the trial through the thorny issue of secrecy, faced calls to abort the trial when the woman’s sexual interest in DS Chambers was discovered just days before the jury was sent out.
But after an urgent inquiry with two court staff, two jurors, prosecution and police to find out what had been going on, he decided to dismiss one woman from the panel who had acted alone as an ill-conceived “matchmaker”.
Mr Justice Globe presented his findings while two jurors spent the day in isolation not knowing why.
The judge said the first he knew of the issue was when the Old Bailey operations manager contacted him on July 18 about a call from a press officer from the Ministry of Justice.
He said: “It related to a press inquiry from a reporter at the Guardian stating she overheard a conversation in the courtroom.
“She thought it was a West Midlands Police officer saying something about a juror passing a note to an officer in the case asking if he was single. The press inquiry was to ask if the judge knew about the issue.”
From then, it emerged the court usher had told the court clerk about three weeks before that one of the jurors found DS Chambers “very attractive” and was asking if he was single.
The clerk replied that she did not know and “would not be looking to find out”.
Around the same time the clerk had been in court one morning when DS Chambers was working on the IT system.
She mentioned she had heard some “positive feedback” and told him one of the jurors found him attractive and asked if he was single.
She did not seek a response from him but neither did she report the potential breach of strict jury service rules, which has the potential to land a juror in jail.
Neither clerk nor usher said any notes changed hands from any jurors on the subject, which was accepted by the judge.
The court manager tracked down the usher on her summer holidays for her story.
The usher admitted there had been a “brief” conversation with a juror when she was going to bring them into court.
It was in front of other jurors who could have overheard the exchange along the lines of “you know juror X fancies the officer” and trying to find out if he is single.
When the matchmaking juror did not succeed the first time, she persisted and made two more attempts to find out for her friend, the court heard.
Responding to the revelations, Stephen Kamlish QC, for Naweed Ali, said: “The fact of the case is not the juror fancies the officer but the juror has tried to contact the officer and wants to have a sexual relationship with him.
“The Crown have not dealt with it. We accept just finding somebody attractive is not enough but that’s not what has happened here.”
Underlining the seriousness of the issue, he added: “A juror would not, one assumes, want to go out with or go further and have any kind of physical relationship with a person who they personally believe committed perjury, perverted the course of justice, deliberately fail to investigate.
“She will know that Mr Chambers would not have a thing to do with her if she acquitted. It’s common sense. I’m going to find them not guilty so he will go out with me.
“Juror two is in a worse position because she kept it going. They are friends. They will have discussed this. Juror two knows the extent of Juror one’s keenness.
“How can that juror possibly be impartial if he/she is match-making with a witness accused of perjury and an officer in the case? He is in charge of everything on a day-to-day basis. And he is accused of reconfiguring evidence.
“The fact he/she persisted and tried to get this relationship up and running makes it more worrying. The close contact, the effort and partiality on behalf of her friend means she’s got to go.”
Rajiv Menon, QC for Khobaib Hussain, went on: “This is an astonishing move in the history of this trial. This was deliberate, this was shocking, it was arguably a manipulation of court process.
“Why didn’t the senior officer in the case tell (prosecutor) Gareth Patterson? Why the silence? Why the jokiness? Why the laughter? Why the deception? This is a matter that should be investigated. Why brush them under the carpet?”
Later, the two jurors involved in the Chambers incident were quizzed separately for their version.
The woman who fancied DS Chambers admitted the attraction but said she had no intention of taking it any further and “another juror jokingly asked for me against my wishes”.
Asked if she could remain faithful to her oath to try the defendants on the evidence, she replied: “Yes definitely!”
But juror two, who was identified by both usher and juror one, flatly denied her involvement three times and said “no personal request has been made”.
On whether juror one found DS Chambers attractive, she said: “Yes we think he is good looking and young man.
“We all laugh and makes jokes (sic) about all the men in court about who is married or single.”
Mr Justice Globe said juror two had not been “frank” with him and dismissed the grim-faced woman, while leaving the other juror to continue.
While briefly explaining to the rest of the jury what happened, Mr Globe said he was “very disappointed” that none of them had blown the whistle on the inappropriate behaviour, against his strict instructions at the start of the case.