Jan 2012

Former Chelmsford mayor fails to clear name in High Court

A FORMER Chelmsford mayor has failed in a High Court bid to clear his name over possessing child pornography.

David Lee, 48, of Rushleydale, Springfield, was given a caution by Essex Police in August 2008 after indecent images of children were found on computer equipment at his home.

The ex-Conservative councillor has urged top judges to quash the caution, arguing it was “unlawful” because officers made procedural errors when issuing it.

Lee claimed he had not been given a written explanation of the consequences of the caution, which he said breached Home Office guidelines that came into force two months before he received it.

But his case was dismissed by Lord Justice Aikens and Mr Justice Maddison, who said Lee was “well aware” of the implications of accepting the formal caution.

The court heard four films depicting child sex abuse were found on computer equipment seized during a November 2007 raid, after the force received information from Chelmsford Council.

Lee’s lawyers told the court on January 20 he was “unaware” of the images, but admitted his guilt at Braintree police station in August 2008, after being told he would be given a caution if he did so.

He was also ordered to sign the sex offender’s register for two years as a result and resigned his position at the council following the discovery of the images.

In court documents his barrister, Leslie Thomas, argued Lee should have been given the caution in accordance with guidelines contained in a Home Office circular – issued in June 2008.

Mr Thomas said that, contrary to the advice in the circular, Lee was not given a list of the consequences of accepting the caution in writing.

The lawyer said the consequences he should have been informed of, but was not, included how the caution might affect his ability to travel to some countries, or the fact he could still be prosecuted if new evidence came to light.

Mr Thomas added: “We say the caution is unlawful because of procedural impropriety as a result of the failure to adhere to the Home Office circular.

“As such, the force made an error in law and breached his legitimate expectations.”

Matthew Holdcroft, for Essex Police, argued that, while officers admitted they were unaware of the circular, Lee “suffered no prejudice” as a result and they did explain the consequences of accepting the caution.

Dismissing Lee’s case, Mr Justice Maddison said: “It appears to me that, although the police officers were ignorant of the circular, they did in fact substantially comply with it – though I accept that they did not do so entirely.

“The outcome, in my judgment, was that Mr Lee was well aware – before he signed the caution – of the implications of signing it, and that in signing it he did so with informed consent.”

Lee was ordered to pay £2,500 towards the force’s legal costs of the hearing.