A JUDGE has demanded an investigation after a pair of men accused of a serious attack in Lymington walked free from court when the prosecution lost contact with the victim and a key witness.
Martin Williamson (46) and Rowland Stanford (42) were each facing a trial on a charge of inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent against Nicholas Anderson.
He was found in Lower Buckland Road, Lymington, on 31st October 2018, with injuries so bad that he had to be placed in an induced coma in hospital.
As their trial was due to get underway on Monday morning at Southampton Crown Court, however, prosecutor Nick Tucker said he was unable to offer any evidence.
At a pre-trial hearing four days earlier Mr Tucker had assured a judge the trial would start. But a “mistake” meant one of the key witnesses in the case against Williamson, Louise Webb, had not been warned to attend.
Police officers were sent to her address over the weekend and spoke with her partner, Nicholas Hiscott. But he became “extremely rude and abusive” and told police she was not co-operating with the prosecution anymore and refused to reveal where she was, Mr Tucker said.
Officers also went to the last known address of the victim, Mr Anderson, in Milford, but could not find him despite speaking to his girlfriend. Subsequent visits to both addresses also drew blanks.
Mr Tucker stressed that the “unwillingness” of the witnesses to co-operate with the prosecution was a recent development.
He told the court: “I can say this: the police’s view is the starting point for the incident was drug related and that may well have played a part in the willingness of other parties to co-operate with police thereafter.”
Ms Webb’s evidence was key in the case against Williamson, the prosecutor continued, and if she could not come to court he would have to drop the case against him.
That meant some of the evidence against Stanford could not be put before the court, weakening his case. Stanford had claimed that he merely disarmed the victim of a knife during the incident, Mr Tucker said.
Judge Peter Henry said it was evident pre-trial “faults” had caused the witness no-shows but asked the prosecutor if there were fears witnesses had been “got at”. Mr Tucker replied: “We do not think this is the case”
Mr Tucker pledged: “I do not say this as a superficial exercise – there will need to be a proper enquiry as to what went wrong.”
Recording not guilty verdicts for Williamson and Stanford, the judge added: “It’s very unsatisfactory situation, partly because it’s a very serious charge such as this and partly because we are trying to get on trials which are effective so we can clear our rather large backlog.
“I do want an explanation though as to how it was that witnesses were not warned. I suspect the buck will be passed between the various agencies but could I kindly ask you start the ball rolling by finding out whose responsibility it was and how that has happened?”
Williamson, of Lymington Road, Brockenhurst, had been remanded in custody since his arrest.
He punched the air and shouted “yes” before he was led away to the cells to be processed for his release, while Stanford, of Hillside Road, Pennington, left the dock.