05/04/2012 19:43 BST | Updated 05/06/2012 10:12 BST

Juror Janet Chapman Jailed For Going On Holiday During Trial

A juror was jailed for 56 days today after going on holiday during the trial on which she was sitting.

Janet Chapman, 52, of Blackpool, Lancashire, rang court officials to say she had back pain and could not attend for two weeks.

But the phone call was a "misleading and deliberate deception" as she made it while in Malta with her partner.

The deputy care home manageress had listened to three weeks of evidence in a robbery trial at Preston Crown Court but failed to appear at the start of the final week of the scheduled four-week hearing.

She said she was unfit to attend and then on the following day on March 20 she left a telephone message with the jury bailiff which said: "Hello, this is Janet Chapman. I won't be attending court for a period of up to two weeks. I have got to return to the doctors next Tuesday. I have got sciatica. Thank you. Bye."

It emerged she had flown out with her partner, Raymond Pritchard, from Liverpool John Lennon Airport earlier that day for a week's holiday.

Trial judge Stuart Baker had, as normal procedure, asked all potential members of the jury before the case started whether there was any reason why they could not serve the set period of time and the defendant indicated there was none.

In explaining her absence from the proceedings, Pritchard told Preston Crown Court it was a surprise birthday present for Chapman.

Chapman said she thought that obtaining a seven-day sick note for sciatica meant she would automatically not have to attend the trial.

Finding her guilty of contempt of court, Recorder of Preston Judge Anthony Russell QC told her: "I am satisfied that if you really suffered back pain of such severity that you could not continue your jury service you would not have been able to endure the travel to Malta.

"I am driven to the conclusion that you pretended to your doctor that you had a back problem in order that you could take a holiday in Malta."

He continued: "Your assertion to the police when you were arrested on your return to the United Kingdom that you were unaware that you could not go away on holiday while absent from jury duty due to what you maintain was illness is ludicrous.

"If you were too ill to attend court you were not fit to travel to Malta for the holiday.

"I do not accept the evidence and mitigation which has been put forward on your behalf and I specifically reject the assertion made on your behalf that by telephoning the court and informing the court of your supposed illness you thought that you had done all you needed to do and that there was nothing wrong with going to Malta - this was not the action of a responsible person."

The trial was delayed for two days while inquiries were made with "genuine concern at first for your welfare", said the judge.

It resulted in "significant wasted costs, personal loss to several people and considerable inconvenience".

Chapman was discharged from the jury in her absence and the trial continued and eventually concluded.

Judge Russell said: "Jury service is one of the most important public duties that a citizen of this country can be called upon to perform. It is inconvenient, but an essential part of our democratic system. It is essential that the duty of jury service is taken seriously by those called upon to perform it, and that it is performed diligently and responsibly.

"You have manifestly failed to perform your public duty. Further it is clear that you deliberately deceived the court for your own ends and pleasure, namely taking a holiday in Malta.

"In my judgment this is a serious contempt of court which can only be met by an immediate sentence of imprisonment."