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Butler murder trial collapses

PUBLISHED: 13:39 24 June 2008 | UPDATED: 10:18 11 August 2010

Charles Butler

Charles Butler

THE trial against the alleged killers of Charles Butler has collapsed due to a House of Lords ruling on anonymous witnesses. Today (Tuesday, June 24) the Old Bailey murder trial became the first case in the country to be halted in the wake of the ruling.

THE trial against the alleged killers of Charles Butler has collapsed due to a House of Lords ruling on anonymous witnesses.

Today (Tuesday, June 24) the Old Bailey murder trial became the first case in the country to be halted in the wake of the ruling.

The collapse came after last week's decision of senior judges to quash a double-murder conviction in a separate trial because the use of protected witnesses "hampered the defence". They said that the evidence was unlawful, led to an unfair trial and defendants had a right to see witnesses give evidence in court and know who they are.

At the Charles Butler trial, Judge David Paget QC today discharged the jury as the case involved five witnesses whose identities had not been disclosed to the defence.

The judge said they had heard "evidence they should not have" and it was "simply impossible" to carry on after the ruling.

He admitted nobody could have foreseen the decision and the trial had been "in some senses a waste of time".

Evidence from five witnesses has been given behind screens and three have used specialist voice distortion equipment.

Each anonymised witness was known only by a letter of the alphabet.

The prosecution claim businessman Charles Butler, 50, was shot in the neck by a hitman in Dagenham, east London, in October 2004.

Father-of-two Mr Butler fell into a coma and died eight months later on June 23, 2005.

It is claimed Douglas Johnson, 28, was the gunman while accomplice David Austin, 40, drove him to and from the murder scene. The pair are said to have been offered £5,000 to kill the wheel clamping boss.

Explaining to the jury why the trial had to be stopped, Judge Paget, said: "It is frankly impossible simply to ask each of you to ignore all that and it has formed a substantial part of the evidence that you have heard.

"So the only possible outcome I am afraid is for me to stop this case and order it be retried in due course on admissible evidence by a fresh jury."

Johnson and Austin will now face a retrial in the New Year.

The case could be the first of many to be halted after The House of Lords Decision last week and the ruling has cast doubt on a number of convictions for serious crimes that have relied on anonymous witness evidence and could prompt a series of applications at the Court of Appeal.

Johnson, of Witley Crescent, New Addington, Austin, of Dunley Drive, New Addington, who deny murder, were remanded in custody.

Johnson also denies conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.


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