Judge Steven Everett was highly critical of the Crown Prosecution Service, and the investigating police officer, over their handling of the case including delays in handing over “devastating” medical evidence which showed the alleged victim had burned herself with bleach in the past, as well as making a separate acid attack allegation about a boyfriend of hers.
Innocent Anthony Brack, 51, who had denied four offences against Lauren Lennard, faced up to 16 years in prison if convicted but when his case came to trial the prosecuting barrister offered no evidence and the case was dismissed.
Ms Lennard alleged that Mr Brack threw a corrosive substance on her neck and chest area as she walked along Hartington Road, Toxteth, on February 6 this year, following an issue between them.
He has been in Walton jail since his arrest the following day, kept in segregation in single cell for his own protection.
After no evidence was offered against him today the judge recorded not guilty verdicts and Mr Brack, who lived in the same supported accommodation as Ms Lennard in Hartington Road, was discharged from the dock.
The case was listed for trial today at Liverpool Crown Court but Jonathan Rogers, prosecuting, explained that he had been instructed that morning by the CPS to offer no evidence.
He said that over the weekend the officer in the case, DC David Ellis, had reviewed CCTV footage – which had not been shown to the defendant’s lawyer – “in relation to the comings and goings from the complainant’s flat and they did not corroborate the account as to when she said she left the flat on the night of the corrosive attack.”
Mr Rogers told the court that the CPS had been requested to obtain the alleged victim’s medical records as a result of a defence case statement of May 10.
Judge Everett, who had seen the records, replied: “I don’t understand why it wasn’t the complainant who was investigated in this particular matter, not the defendant. It should have been the other way round and right at this moment I am wondering if that is going to happen.
“There is a prima facie [accepted as correct unless proved otherwise] case for perverting the course of justice. That is something the prosecution will have to consider.”
He said he was “astonished” that the medical evidence had not been seen earlier, adding: “On the face of it it seriously undermined the case.”
The court heard that Ms Lennard had also made allegations against other people, including assaults, which were not proceeded with because of inconsistencies or insufficient evidence. She had also made an allegation of another acid attack two weeks after the first one by an ex-boyfriend.
As well as asking why medical reports were not obtained, the judge said: “The big question is what checks were made about the previous allegations?”
Mr Rogers said that the medical reports had been sent to the defense lawyers on July 17 after the CPS lawyer returned from holiday.
The medical reports showed she had cut and burnt herself with bleach in the past and while not all the complaints were made to the police, others were made to a psychiatrist or doctor.
Judge Everett said: “That medical evidence is devastating.”
He suggested they should have been reviewed within two weeks of the alleged incident “and immediately the reviewing lawyer should have said, ‘this is going nowhere’.” And when it was viewed two weeks ago the case should have been brought straight back to court to be dropped.
Her 73 page medical record also revealed mental health issues, as well as reports of her being attacked in her own home, stalked and being threatened she would be killed.
The court heard that the housing association who owned the property where she and Mr Brack lived obtained a county court injunction at her request but he was not at court to contest her claims.
The CPS maintained the case passed the evidential test but the judge said he disagreed with that judgement.
The list of previous unfounded allegations made by the complainant should have led them “inexorably to the fact she is making it up,” he said.
He said he accepted the officer in the case had probably had at least 30 other cases to deal with at the time but he ordered him to provide him with a chronology of the investigations and wanted to know when he first viewed the CCTV footage and for the CPS to comment about it, because he didn’t want it to happen again.
Mr Brack had denied applying a corrosive substance with intent, causing grievous bodily harm with intent, an alternative charge of inflicting grievous bodily harm and putting a person in fear of violence between November 30 last year and February 6.
After the hearing he said that he plans to sue for wrongful arrest and for compensation for the time he spent on remand.
After explaining that Mr Brack, if convicted could have spent more than a decade in prison, Judge Everett said: “What a terrible miscarriage of justice that would have been.” He made reference to perceived failures in “disclosure,” which is when the Crown Prosecution Service give the defendant a copy of the evidence against them that has been collected by police.
He said: “Disclosure is a major issue as we all know and has been for a little while following various acquittals to people charged with rape.”
He said that earlier this year, following those acquittals of people charged with rape, the public was told that the CPS was carrying out a review.
Judge Everett added: “I am beginning to have real concerns that what really happened was that there was a review for rape and sexual assault allegations and the review was limited to that.
“I don’t know if that is right but if that is right then the review was seriously flawed… the CPS and police will have to look at other case notes where there are assaults – not just sexual assault.”
Judge Everett said that in this case – involving a woman with undoubted marks caused by a corrosive substance allegedly thrown by a man she had an injunction against – if all the information had not been obtained and he had been convicted he would have been “catapulted” into the category of receiving between nine and 16 years in prison with a starting point of 12 years.
He said: “I am really keen that this is looked at because I think the review must have been flawed.”