06:32, April 06 321 0 theguardian.com

2017-04-06 06:32:02
Judges overturn abuse conviction of man who killed himself during trial

A bid to overturn the child sexual abuse conviction of a former boarding school worker found guilty by a jury following his suicide during his trial has succeeded.

Darren Turk, 54, killed himself last June while he was on trial accused of offences against boys aged between 11 and 15 at Frewen College in Northiam, East Sussex, between 1996 and 2002.

After his death, a jury at Lewes crown court found him guilty of 10 child sexual abuse-related offences and not guilty on six counts in what was believed to be the first time a dead man has been convicted of a crime in England.

Turk’s family criticised the decision of the trial judge to allow jurors to return verdicts after he had died.

On Thursday, three judges in the court of appeal said the verdicts were wrongfully returned and must be set aside as a nullity with the convictions annulled.

Sir Brian Leveson, sitting with Mr Justice Jay and Mr Justice Garnham, said there was nothing to suggest that any of the verdicts returned were unsafe but they were, however, “irregular”.

“In our judgment, there is no discretion as to the course which the judge should follow in these circumstances; he was not entitled to continue simply because he thought that obtaining verdicts from the jury justified that course.”

The proceedings were brought by Turk’s mother Jasmine Botting, 76, from Etchingham, near Hastings, East Sussex.

During the hearing, Leveson said the case raised a “really important issue of criminal law”.

He added: “We can recognise that for the victims, the pronouncement of the verdicts, at least in certain cases, was a vindication of their evidence.”

He emphasised: “Nothing we decide in any sense should be taken as removing their appropriate feelings of vindication.”

Botting has previously said: “I know for a fact that my son is innocent.”

Turk was a member of care staff and later head of care at the boarding school, but was not a teacher. At the time of his death, he worked as an electrician’s assistant.

At an inquest in January, a coroner heard he had been prescribed anti-depressants and left suicide notes before his body was found by his stepfather.

A postmortem examination confirmed his cause of death was by hanging. A coroner concluded he had taken his own life.

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Helplines in other countries can be found here