Man was locked up as witness vanished
8:10am Monday 15th October 2012 in News
A JUDGE has said it was a matter of concern that a young man accused of robbing an off licence spent nearly six months in custody, only for the case to be dropped.
John Berry served the equivalent of a sentence of about one year behind bars waiting for a trial which never took place.
Now the 21-year-old has been freed after prosecutors admitted they had lost touch with the victim, and were not sure how trustworthy he is.
Berry had been due to face trial accused of carrying out the hold-up at the Kwality Off Licence, on Victoria Road, on Sunday, November 13, last year.
He was said to have taken £330 in cash as well as alcohol when he robbed store worker Poulose Stalin during the alleged raid.
But the Crown Prosecution Service said they had lost contact with the victim, who is thought to have gone to India, so they would not proceed with the case.
Recorder Michael Vere-Hodge QC, sitting at Swindon Crown Court, told the CPP to explain what had gone wrong before he entered a formal not guilty verdict.
He said: “I think the public, and defendant, are entitled to understand why this decision has been made as the complainant is unable to be found.
“It is a matter of concern that a young man has been kept in custody since the end of April, and it turns out the prosecution has not kept in touch with its witnesses.”
He pointed out the time Berry had spent behind bars on remand roughly amounted to a one-year prison sentence.
Colin Meeke, prosecuting from the CPS, said it was unfortunate the case had to be dropped, but it was difficult to keep in touch with every witness.
He said: “With the number of cases, it is difficult to keep in touch with all witnesses at all times.
“Witnesses are all asked to keep in touch and say if they move.
“They are asked to inform the witness care unit of any change of address.
“To some extent the onus is on them: they are asked to keep in touch.
“It does happen from time to time, they move and don’t tell anyone.
“I know, in this case, the police have been from place to place, where he has moved.
“They have spoken to friends and colleagues. One acquaintance, a former work colleague, said he had gone to India.”
Mr Meeke said the decision to drop the case was also based on the fact the victim had been convicted and jailed for other matters since the incident.
He said that ‘also cast some doubt upon him’ when it came to considering whether they could proceed without him.
Berry, formerly of Charminster Close, Nythe, pleaded not guilty to robbery.
The defendant had initially been granted bail by the police but failed to turn up for a hearing last December.
A warrant without bail was issued for his arrest and he was brought before the court in custody on Thursday, April 26.
At that hearing Kevin Marland, defending, said Berry had moved in with his girlfriend in Eastcott Hill late last year, but she threw him out.
He said he feared not having a stable address would mean he would be remanded in custody, so he didn’t turn up for the hearing in December.
By the time he was arrested he said he was living a few doors away from the off licence on Victoria Road and was still welcome as a customer.