A Northiam boarding school worker who was found guilty of child sex offences after his death has had his conviction annulled.
Darren Turk, 54, hanged himself in June last year while on trial at Lewes Crown Court for historic offences against boys at Frewen College over a six-year period.
But after he died, in what is believed to be the first time a dead man has been convicted of a crime in England, the jury were asked to give a verdict and found him guilty of 10 child sex-related offences and not guilty on six counts.
Three of the country’s top judges in a test case ruling today (Thursday, April 6) annulled the conviction.
Unmarried Turk was not a teacher at the school but part of the care staff and later head of care.
Today’s ruling at London’s Appeal Court was the result of action taken by his mother, who insisted he was innocent.
Sir Brian Leveson, sitting with Mr Justice Jay And Mr Justice Garnham, ruled the verdicts were ‘wrongfully returned and must be set aside as a nullity’.
He added that there was nothing to suggest the verdicts were ‘unsafe’ but they were ‘irregular’.
He continued: ”In our judgment, there is no discretion as to the course which the judge should follow in these circumstances. He was not entitled to continue simply because he thought that obtaining verdicts from the jury justified that course.”
Sir Brian commented during the hearing that the case ‘raises a really important issue of criminal law.
He said: “We can recognise that for the victims, the pronouncement of the verdicts, at least in certain cases, was a vindication of their evidence. Nothing we decide in any sense should be taken as removing their appropriate feelings of vindication.”
He said the question for the court was whether ‘as a matter of criminal law and practice, it is either justifiable or right that once a defendant has died the case should continue in any form’.
He added: “It is a problem, particularly in relation to historic allegations of abuse, and we are all familiar with the current inquiry and the need to investigate what has happened in the past.”
He said that ‘critical to the criminal justice process’ was that trials were neither initiated nor pursued against those who had died.
Sir Brian said: “As soon as a judge learns that a defendant has died, it is his duty to take no further step in the case against that defendant save for receiving proof of death whereupon the indictment as far as it concerns that defendant must be declared of no effect.
“We appreciate that, in relation to many of the allegations pursued at trial, complainants may well consider that they had been vindicated and that, by this decision, there was important recognition of their position; so far as the record is concerned, that would be lost.
“We recognise that entirely understandable view but we repeat that it is critical to maintain an approach to criminal justice that is consistent and even-handed, maintaining a definitive position that the death of a defendant brings any criminal prosecution of that defendant to an end.”
A spokesman for the victims said later: “We respect the decision of the court.
“However, there should be equal regard and recognition for the feelings of those of us who were involved and who have pursued justice for our sons for many years now. This appeal was about a point of law, not clearing Darren Turk’s name.”
At an inquest in January, a coroner heard Turk had been prescribed anti-depressants and left suicide notes before his body was found by his stepfather at home in Etchingham, in June last year. A post-mortem confirmed death was by hanging and the coroner concluded he had taken his own life.
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