Benjamin Edwards' trial faced collapse because of Facebook comments

It could not be reported at the time - but Benjamin Edwards' manslaughter trial nearly collapsed because of comments posted on Facebook.

Friday, 2nd June 2017, 12:58 pm
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:53 pm
Benjamin Edwards. Picture issued by Derbyshire Constabulary.

Last Friday, there was an unexpected delay in the start of proceedings at Nottingham Crown Court.

Giving the reason for the hold up, Judge Stuart Rafferty QC told the court: "Over the course of the last 24 hours, on an open Facebook page, comments have been made concerning this trial.

"They should not have been made.

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Chris Henchliffe. Picture submitted by family.

"I repeat, they should not have been made.

"The use of Facebook and other social media has become a curse on this country."

The judge did not reveal who made the comments, the nature of the remarks or exactly where they were posted on the social media site.

When the jury was called into the courtroom, Judge Rafferty asked the six men and six women if they had seen the Facebook comments.

Chris Henchliffe. Picture submitted by family.

They all answered, 'no'.

If one of them said otherwise, it is likely the judge would have had to discharge the jury and order a retrial.

At the start of the trial, Judge Rafferty told jurors: "Don't carry out your own research of this case - that's a criminal offence.

"Your job is to decide the case based on the evidence heard in this court."

In most cases, criminal proceedings become active when someone is arrested, when someone is charged, when a summons is issued and when an arrest warrant is issued.

While criminal proceedings are active, journalists and online publishers - including users of Facebook and Twitter - must adhere to the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

If someone comments about a case or a defendant in a way which may influence a jury, they could be prosecuted for contempt of court and jailed for up to two years.

During a trial, the media has a legal duty to only report what is heard in court.

On Tuesday, a jury unanimously ruled that Benjamin Edwards, 22, was guilty of unlawfully killing former soldier Mr Henchliffe, who died in hospital nine days after an altercation outside the Pomegranate Theatre in Corporation Street, Chesterfield, last summer.

Edwards, of Fieldview Place, Chesterfield, was sentenced to five-and-a-half-years in prison by Judge Rafferty.

During the six-day trial, the prosecution said Edwards punched Mr Henchliffe, 26, outside the theatre in an 'act of aggression' - following a row over a spilt drink during a night out.

Mr Henchliffe fell 'heavily' to the floor and suffered a catastrophic head injury, the court heard.

Edwards denied manslaughter and argued he 'threw a punch' at Mr Henchliffe as he feared he was going to harm his friend.

Dad-of-one Mr Henchliffe, who lived on Maynard Road, Chesterfield, served with the Yorkshire Regiment and completed a tour of Afghanistan.