The trial of a former Labour peer accused of sexually abusing younger children has collapsed due a “disgraceful” late disclosure of evidence by the prosecution, a judge has said.
Nazir Ahmed was charged with two counts of attempting to rape a girl under 16, indecent assault of a boy under 14, and raping a boy under 16, all alleged to have occurred in the early 1970s.
He went on trial at Sheffield crown court last month alongside his brothers Mohammed Farouq and Mohammed Tariq, who were charged with indecent assault of a boy under 14.
On Monday, Judge Jeremy Richardson QC ruled that proceedings should be halted, criticising the conduct of the prosecution and police. A restriction preventing this from being reported remained in place until a further hearing on Tuesday.
The late disclosure of material by the prosecution resulted in the subject matter of cross-examining a witness being “exponentially expanded”, the judge said. “There is now much more to cover than ever appeared to be the case when this trial started,” he said.
The judge also said that he was “extremely concerned” by the alleged failure of the police to follow up “reasonable lines of inquiry” and that he was “unpersuaded” that they had done so.
He said: “It appears to me that has simply not been done in this case. It resulted in a mass of material being disclosed to the defence once the trial started. That is unacceptable in the ordinary run of case, it is outrageous and comprehensively to be deplored in a case such as this. It has caused the trial to abort.
“The material recently disclosed by the prosecution raises a number of significant concerns. I have not the slightest doubt that this material should have been disclosed ages ago. It is disgraceful that it was not. I was given no adequate explanation for this calamity. …. The case began to falter almost the moment [the prosecution] finished [their] opening, the crisis started to unfold. It went from bad to worse.
“The schedule of when material was disclosed reveals a very worrying state of affairs. The trial stopped. It could not go on fairly. It sabotaged the trial. It was as if an incendiary device had been thrown in our midst.
“This disgraceful situation has sabotaged this trial and caused it to abort. I do not use that adjective lightly. It is rather more than a lamentable failure.”
The judge said that the prosecution, Tom Little QC, had conceded that it was unacceptable and had asked for time “to put things right”. On Tuesday, the order became subject of an appeal by the prosecution, and a final decision will be made by the court of appeal.