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Court / Sheriff stops short of finding trial witnesses in contempt of court after night in the cells

A STERN warning has been sounded about being truthful at court after two witnesses were remanded in custody overnight following a trial.

The witnesses were kept overnight in the Lerwick Police Station cells to allow consideration of possible contempt of court amid concern they were being misleading.

The witnesses, Charlotte Close, 24, and 22-year-old Tai McGill, took the stand on Thursday afternoon as part of the trial of Haseeb Choudhary, who was accused of road traffic offences.

When they appeared from custody on Friday Sheriff Ian Cruickshank stopped short of finding both in contempt of court.

However, Close, of Lerwick’s Clairmont Place, appeared on a separate matter alleging threatening or abusive behaviour against a witness at the town’s sheriff court on Thursday.

She is accused of adopting an aggressive demeanour, shouting and uttering threats. The case was continued without plea until 20 March, and Close was released on bail with special conditions.

On Thursday, after hearing from a number of witnesses Sheriff Cruickshank ruled there was no case to answer on two charges Choudhary was on trial for.

Prior to the trial starting the 29-year-old, of Lerwick’s Clairmont Place, pleaded guilty to three charges.

These included attempting to pervert the course of justice by giving a false name to police, failing to give information to officers and struggling with police.

The court heard the charges related to an incident on 14 July last year in which a car left the road and overturned in Aith.

Choudhary was fined a total of £900 and given six penalty points for the offences he pleaded guilty to.

A key focus of the trial was to ascertain who was driving the car, which had four occupants, at the time of the crash.

Choudhary had denied charges of careless driving and driving without insurance.

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At court on Thursday the three other occupants of the Volkswagen Polo, owned by Close, gave accounts that appeared to contradict statements they gave to police.

The witnesses were repeatedly warned about the consequences of not telling the truth in court, including the risk of being charged with perjury, although they denied lying and suggested they were not in a fit state to give police statements after the crash.

McGill, who said he was intoxicated at the time of the incident, was brought up on being able to remember the cost of goods from a cake fridge on their drive from Lerwick to Aith – £5 or £6 – but not the manner of driving shortly after prior to the accident.

Some of the witnesses’ behaviour and attitude on the stand was also called into question.

Sheriff Ian Cruickshank said he hoped Close and McGill would reflect on their behaviour at the witness stand when they spent the night in the cells.

He added that if young people in Shetland think this how they can act in court then “they’ve got another thing coming”.

When they reappeared at court on Friday morning both Close and McGill apologised.

Sheriff Cruickshank said he had considered whether the pair had engaged in prevarication, a form of contempt of court described as “obstinate concealment of the truth”.

They were told about the difference in their accounts to police after the crash and what was said in court regarding who was driving at the time.

Given that the trial collapsed, Sheriff Cruickshank said the end result was either an innocent man has had to stand trial, or someone who was responsible for a crime has avoided conviction.

He told the pair that this was a matter for their “own conscience”.

Given that Close and McGill spent a night in custody, and had apologised, the sheriff stopped short of finding them in contempt of court.

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