Criminal Law Week
Is bad character evidence that one of two appellants charged with conspiracy to burgle belongs to a gang admissible at the trial of both?
The following article is written for Police Professional by the editors of Criminal Law Week. Criminal Law Week is used by criminal justice professionals including police officers, the CPS, judges and lawyers to stay up to date with changes in criminal law. Published 46 times a year, each issue summarises important cases and legislation, keeping you on top of the latest developments regarding offences, police powers, the rules of procedure and evidence, and more. Incisive commentary is also provided by James Richardson Q.C., the editor of Archbold. Our online service gives you access to all Criminal Law Week issues, from 1997 to today. These are pulled together in a fully-searchable database, complemented by annotated key criminal legislation. For more information about Criminal Law Week, or to sign up for a free trial of our online service, please visit www.criminal-law.co.uk or call 01483 414 599. Is bad character evidence that one of two appellants charged with conspiracy to burgle belongs to a gang admissible at the trial of both? Yes, said the Court of Appeal in R v Leathem and Mallett (CLW/17/33/2). The appellant, Leathem, was part of a criminal gang that conspired to carry out a series of robberies in the Midlands between March and October 2013, and between December 2013 and June 2014, of targets including supermarkets, a bank, convenience stores and a pub. To carry out the robberies the gang wore balaclavas, used crow-bars and high-value vehicles stolen during a series of domestic burglaries, and tied people up. Leathem subsequently pleaded guilty to counts of conspiracy to rob, conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to steal in relation to that campaign. When police searched Leathems home in June 2014, they discovered, hidden in a George Foreman grill, a hand-drawn floorplan of a house belonging to a 91-year-old man, Stephen Hastings. Mr Hastings held a firearms licence, and the location of his firearms cabinet was clearly marked on the plan. The fingerprints of the other appellant, Mallett, were found on the floorplan, and it was established that he had drawn it. Mallett had visited Mr Hastings property on April 11, 2014, and telephoned Leathem, his cousin, the following day. Leathem declined to answer any questions when interviewed by police officers. Mallet said that, after visiting Mr Hastings property in his capacity as a gas engineer, he had drawn the plan out of concern for Mr Hastings. He had, however, forgotten to raise those concerns with either Mr Hastings family or the police. Leathem and Mallett were charged with conspiracy to burgle. The prosecution case was that Mallet had given Leathem the floorplan as part of an agreement to burgle Mr Hastings house and steal his firearms. They relied upon a notebook referring to Mr Hastings guns and a telephone schedule setting out communication between the appellants at the relevant times. Both appellants denied the charge. Leathem relied on the fact that there was no direct evidence as to when the floorplan entered his house, and denied being aware of its existence, but gave no evidence at trial. Mallett again said he had drawn the floorplan out of concern for Mr Hastings. He believed it must have fallen out of his workbook whilst visiting Leathem, but he was unable to explain why Leathem had kept it. The issue for the jury was whether Mallett had given the floorplan to Leathem for the purpose of forming an agreement to burgle Mr Hastings house in order to steal the firearms and whether there had been a crystallised agreement to commit burglary. The prosecution applied to the judge to admit Leathems previous convictions relating to the campaign as evidence under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, section 101(1)(c) (important explanatory evidence) and/or 101(1)(d) (evidence relevant to a matter in issue between the defendant and the prosecution). Section 102 stipulates that evidence is important explanatory evidence if without it the jury would find it impossible or difficult properly to understand the other evid