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British juror faces jail over Facebook chat

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LONDON – A British juror was warned by a judge on Tuesday that she faces jail for contacting a defendant on the social networking site Facebook, causing the collapse of a major drugs trial.

In what is believed to be the first case of its kind in Britain involving the Internet, juror Joanne Fraill admitted contempt of court at the High Court in London for chatting online with Jamie Sewart during a trial last year.

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Britain’s Lord Chief Justice, Igor Judge, said Fraill’s sentence would be announced on Thursday, but warned the sobbing woman he did not think there were any circumstances under which she could avoid jail.

Fraill, 40, faces a maximum of two years in prison.

The judges also found that Sewart — who ended up being acquitted during the trial last August — had also committed contempt by asking Frail for details of the jury’s deliberations.

But the judges ruled the 34-year-old would receive a suspended sentence because she had suffered a lengthy separation from her baby during the earlier trial.

The charges were brought by Britain’s attorney general over the collapse last year of one of a series of trials of an alleged drugs gang in Manchester, northwest England, that cost £6 million (6.8 million euros, $9.7 million).

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Fraill admitted making contact with Sewart through Facebook while the trial was underway and revealing details of the jury’s deliberations while they were continuing.

She also carried out her own research into the case on the Internet.

After tracking down Sewart through Facebook, Fraill told her in one conversation: “Can’t believe they had u on remand”, the BBC reported.

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In another exchange, Sewart replied: “Ha ha, ur mad. I really appreciate everythin. If i cud of kissed u all i would of done ha ha.”

Fraill’s lawyer, Peter Wright, admitted it was “a most grave contempt” but told the court that during the trial Fraill “came to feel considerable empathy towards the female defendant, Miss Sewart”.

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The High Court is also dealing with an appeal by Sewart’s boyfriend Gary Knox, who was convicted in the drugs case but argues that his sentence should be overturned because of misconduct by the jury.

Knox was convicted of buying information on drug dealers from a police officer in return for a BMW car and tickets to English Premier League football matches.

The judges said they would also rule on Knox’s appeal on Thursday.

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Speaking outside Court, Sewart said: “I regret everything. She (Fraill) contacted me. My mind was in a whirlwind. I had just been acquitted. When I sat back and thought about it I realised I should report it and I did.”


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Japan PM calls for nationwide closure of schools over virus

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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday urged schools nationwide to close for several weeks to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, as authorities reported the country's fourth death linked to the outbreak.

The move comes as crew members from the Diamond Princess, a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship quarantined off Japan, began leaving the vessel where more than 700 people have tested positive for the disease.

"The government considers the health and safety of children above anything else," Abe said.

"We request all primary, junior high and high schools... across the nation to close temporarily from March 2 next week until their spring break."

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Roman Polanski snubs French Oscars fearing ‘lynching’

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The controversial film director Roman Polanski told AFP on Thursday he will not attend the French Oscars because he fears a "public lynching" by feminist activists.

The veteran is at the centre of a storm of protest after his new film about the Dreyfus affair, "An Officer and a Spy", topped the list of nominations for the Cesar awards, which will be presented in Paris on Friday night.

France's equality minister and feminists were outraged at his 12 nominations, including for best film, given that Polanski is still wanted in the United States for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

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Placido Domingo says apology gave ‘false impression,’ drops Spain show

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Scandal-hit opera star Placido Domingo on Thursday said his apology over sexual harassment allegations had given a "false impression" but cancelled his appearance in an upcoming performance in Madrid.

"I feel I have to issue another statement to correct the false impression generated by my apology," he said in a statement that said he had withdrawn from "La Traviata" at Madrid's Teatro Real and would do the same with any theatre or opera house "that might have difficulties" with his presence.

The latest statement came two days after the 79-year-old, who faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment, apologised for "the hurt" caused to his accusers, saying he accepted "full responsibility" for his actions.

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