Paramedic who almost derailed Leeds Crown Court grooming trial while serving as juror spared jail over coronavirus pandemic

A paramedic who almost derailed a grooming gang trial while serving as a juror has been spared a prison sentence so he can serve the public during the coronavirus pandemic.

John Sayles carried out his own internet research while serving as a juror at Leeds Crown Court on a major case involving ten defendants accused of the sexual exploitation of 15 girls in Huddersfield.

Leeds Crown Court

Leeds Crown Court

Sayles, 47, made his own enquires in relation to the previous convictions of one of the men - Raj Singh Barsran

Father-of-three Sayles then shared the information with the other 11 jury members.

Leeds Crown Court heard today how eight of the defendants were found guilty.

Barsran was jailed for 17 years after being convicted of rape and two offences of sexual assault.
But Sayles' actions meant lawyers for all of the defendants have been able to lodge appeals.

It could mean vulnerable victims in the case may have to give evidence for a second time if a re-trial is ordered..

Sayles, of Meadow Brook Chase, Normaton, Wakefield, was given a suspended prison sentence after pleading guilty to an offence of carrying out research while being a member of a jury.

The court heard Sayles has worked for many years as for the Yorkshire Ambulance Service as a front-line emergency medical technician.

He is also a member of the Special Operational Response team, an organisation which provides immediate medical response to major incidents.

Sayles' union representative gave evidence to the court during the sentencing hearing.

He described how Sayles would be required to carry out vital work as NHS resources continue to become stretched during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Recorder of Leeds, Judge Peter Collier, QC, said: "I have considered whether that sentence could be suspended.

"In determining that fact I have considered whether you present a risk to the public - you do not.

"Quite the opposite, you are someone who at this time in particular is needed by the public to contribute to the health and wellbeing of many members of the public.

"Not only is there a realistic prospect of rehabilitation but you are very much a net contributor to society.

"You have the strongest personal mitigation and immediate custody is likely to have a significant harmful impact on others, not just your family but the health of others in this region.

"These are not idle words, they are the reality of the situation in which this country - indeed this continent - finds itself at this time."

Sayles was a juror on a trial which lasted 14 weeks, between January 8 and April 17, 2018.

The defendants were accused of a range of offences relating to the grooming and horrific sexual exploitation of girls in Kirklees.

Georgina Coade, prosecuting, said jurors were warned at the beginning of the trial that they must not conduct any research.

They were told they would be provided with all the evidence they needed in the courtroom.

During the trial, and before the jury commenced deliberating, Sayles carried out internet searches in relation to Barsran.

Jurors heard during the course of the trial how Barsran had previously been to prison.

Sayles then told his fellow jury members outside of the courtroom why he had been sent to prison.

Sayles' conduct was reported to court staff.

He was spoken to by the trial judge, Geoffrey Marson, QC, and he admitted that he had carried out his own research.

The judge discharged Sayles as a juror and the trial continued with 11 jury members.

Miss Coade said Sayles' actions caused one of the jury members to suffer a panic attack.

Sayles was interviewed by police and initially told them he had come across the information inadvertently when a newspaper story about Barsran's previous offending appeared in his news feed.

Police then seized Sayles' mobile phone and other devices.

It was discovered that Sayles had made internet searches about the defendant on four occasions before going into court.

Miss Coade said all eight convicted defendants have lodged appeals based on Sayles' actions.

A Court of Appeal hearing is yet to take place.

Miss Coade told the court: "This defendant's actions have carried with them the risk of a lengthy re-trial with vulnerable witnesses having to give evidence.

"Some have responded with anger, others with upset, some are unsure that they can put themselves through that process again."

Mark McKone, mitigating, said Sayles' offending took place when he had begun drinking to cope with the harrowing details of abuse he heard during the case.

The barrister said Sayles was a loving family man and was well respected in his job.

He was also grieving following the death of his mother.

Mr McKone said other jurors in the trial had also struggled to cope.

The court heard Sayles changed from a man interested in Rugby League, refurbishing his kitchen and his career in the ambulance service, into someone who drank more and became focused on criminal documentaries.

Sayles was given a four-month sentence, suspended for two years.

Judge Kearl told Sayles that he had committed a serious crime which usually attracted an immediate prison sentence.

Passing sentence said: "I have read correspondence from jurors involved in the trial as to the effect that the content and length of the trial had upon them.

"Many of the jurors in this trial found it to be an upsetting and distressing experience.

"It had an adverse effect on their mental health, affected their personal relationships and in one case led to the juror losing his job.

"Another needed time off his work and received counselling to be able to deal with the effect and content of the trial.

"Another was prescribed anti-depressant medication for six months after the end of the trial."

Describing Sayles's offending, the judge said: "Jurors bear a heavy responsibility when they take the oath to sit in judgement on others.

"Their verdicts must be true and in accordance both with the law and returned in accordance with both with the law and returned in accordance with the evidence adduced in court.

"Jurors are not entitled to pick and choose which legal directions they wish to follow and which to disregard."