The Crown Prosecution Service has used the latest digital technology to help a terminally ill woman give evidence from her hospice bed to secure the conviction of a man who stole her purse.
Bonnie Hughes, 33, is terminally ill with a brain tumour. She had her purse stolen while she was on a shopping trip in the Pyramids Shopping Centre in Birkenhead on 17 March 2020.
Two men had asked her the time as she left the CeX shop and as she tried to answer them, they stole her purse from her pocket. It was later found abandoned nearby.
Steven Watterson, 57, pleaded guilty to the theft on 28 August 2020 and was jailed for 8 months. But his accomplice Paul Hodgson, 48, denied the offence so the case had to go to trial.
By this time, Bonnie Hughes was seriously ill. However, she was still determined to give evidence against Hodgson.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) made it possible for Bonnie to give evidence from her bed in the Manor House hospice in Wirral via a live link known as the Cloud Video Platform (CVP).
A bible was provided for Bonnie to swear on before she gave her evidence into the hearing at Sefton Magistrates’ Court.
Hodgson was found guilty and on 4 January 2021 at Liverpool Crown Court, he was jailed for 13 months.
Bonnie said, “I was determined to make sure the defendant was prosecuted for what he had done to me. Just because I’m visibly vulnerable I couldn’t let them win.
“I am seriously ill now so there was no way that I would have been able to get to the court to give evidence.
“The link was set up and I was given a bible to swear on before I started. Staff at the hospice helped me and the police have been fantastic in supporting me. This was really difficult, but the video link made it possible.
“I was once very independent, but the theft really shook me up and I’m unable to go out shopping on my own now and with the pandemic I don’t think I will ever get to go shopping again.”
The video link from the court to the hospice was set up by Carol Monaghan, who is the victim liaison manager for CPS Mersey Cheshire.
Carol said, “Bonnie used a laptop to link into the court. Once the application for a victim to dial into the court is granted, the court send a link out to them.
“On the day of trial they click on the link and it takes them into a lobby and they wait there until they are required to give evidence.
“The victim is given some guidance on how to do this and also a link to a test site.”
CVP is enabling the Courts and the CPS to hold hearings while the Covid-19 lockdown continues.
Prosecutors are encouraged to ask for CVP to be used wherever possible to lessen the number of people needed at court and reduce the risk of transmitting or catching the Coronavirus.
Neil Colville, Head of CPS Mersey Cheshire’s Magistrates’ Court Unit, said, “The CPS was already forging ahead with new technology before the lockdown but we’ve had to advance even quicker since to make sure justice is still done.
“We increasingly apply to the Courts for our prosecutors and victims and witnesses to be able to take part in hearings via video link, so that only those members of our staff who absolutely have to be there are.
“This case was particularly poignant as the victim is extremely vulnerable and seriously ill yet she was determined to see this man brought to justice.
“The CPS would like to thank her and her family for their help and determination that has enabled us to bring this case to court.”
Some other examples of CVP prosecutions in CPS Mersey Cheshire.
• On 29 September 2020, John Morgan, who’s 31 and from Swindon, dialled into a live link at Chester Magistrates from his mobile phone in a car in a layby in Swindon in which he was a passenger. He entered a guilty plea to a drink driving offence in Warrington, was sentenced and was driven home by a relative. CPS lawyer Andrew Page had prosecuted the case via CVP from his home.
• On 29 January 2020, Frederick Clague, 88, was sentenced for causing the death of cyclist Simon Jones by careless driving. CPS lawyer Alan Currums dialled into the hearing at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court from his home via the Cloud Video Platform, the defendant did because of his age and the victim’s brother did too as he was self-isolating because of Coronavirus. The only people in the court room were the District Judge and the legal advisor.