05:47, December 14 246 0 theguardian.com

2017-12-14 05:47:03
Inquiry under way after Pentonville murder trial witness exposed

A prison officer is under investigation after the alleged killer in the Pentonville murder trial saw the anonymous star witness “through a crack in the door”, plunging the case into crisis, it can now be reported.

An inmate, known as Bobby Dorset, was about to give key evidence on what he saw on G Wing when 21-year-old Jamal Mahmoud was stabbed to death on 18 October last year.

To protect his identity, he spoke through a Darth Vader-style voice modulator from behind a screen in court 10 of the Old Bailey.

But after less than an hour in the witness box, the trial was halted when it emerged that he had been identified by defendant Basana Kimbembi.

Kimbembi had been standing behind the door to the dock when it was opened by a prison officer while Dorset was still in court with a sound technician.

On being told his cover had been blown, Dorset expressed concern for his safety and that of his family and refused to carry on.

Kimbembi and his two co-accused, Joshua Ratner and Robert Butler, were later cleared of Mahmoud’s murder at the end of a trial lasting nearly three months.

On Monday, Kimbembi was jailed for 12 years after the jury found him guilty of wounding Mahmoud’s friend, Mohammed Ali, 22.

The full circumstances in which Dorset was identified can only now be told after the Press Association applied for a temporary ban on reporting legal discussion in the absence of the jury to be lifted.

On 19 October, Dorset had begun his evidence in the morning and a technician was adjusting the sound equipment before he was due to continue after lunch.

Less than half an hour into the afternoon session, a note was passed to the judge via the prison officer in the dock who had been having a discussion with a visibly agitated Kimbembi at the back of the court.

Judge Richard Marks QC stopped the trial immediately, and, in the absence of the jury, explained the “unhappy coincidence”.

Describing the note he received, he said: “It was to the effect, shortly before 2pm when the defendants were brought upstairs, one of the prison officers having opened the door to inform the court staff the defendants were up, by an unhappy coincidence the witness was in the witness box because the sound equipment was being tested.

“Through a crack in the door, the defendant saw the witness and expressed the view he knew who it was.”

After quizzing the officer, the judge said he had concluded there was a “strong likelihood” Kimbembi had seen what he claimed.

Marks added: “I am satisfied that nobody was to blame for this and it was a very unfortunate set of circumstances which could not have been foreseen.”

But prosecutor Mark Heywood QC pointed out that Dorset was a witness in a “very serious case” and “what happened should not have happened”.

Kimbembi’s legal team also argued that the identification by one of the three defendants had created an “unfair” situation.

Dorset had allegedly witnessed Mahmoud rowing with Kimbembi about a smuggled parcel of phones and drugs the day before he was stabbed to death at the north London jail.

He also told investigators he had seen Kimbembi stab Mahmoud in the stomach but never gave his evidence to the jury about it.

The prosecution were relying on his account as CCTV on the top floors of G Wing, which might have captured the attack, had been disabled years before.

And other potential witnesses, such as Mahmoud’s friend Ali, had refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Kimbembi, 35, Ratner, 27, and Butler, 31, had denied murder and causing grievous bodily harm.

The Press Association has approached the Prison Service about the probe into the officer’s conduct and what compensation Dorset may be entitled to.

At a brief hearing on Thursday, Deanna Heer said the prosecution did not oppose lifting the temporary banning order.

She said: “The court can be satisfied that the anonymity order remains in place that will protect the identity of Bobby Dorset.

“As far as the disciplinary proceedings against the prison officer are concerned, his name was never mentioned in court and therefore is not capable of being reported.”

A Prison Service spokesman said: “An investigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”