Page last updated at 16:17 GMT, Wednesday, 25 June 2008 17:17 UK

When crime is used as an excuse

By Julian Joyce
BBC News

Tony Emmanuel
Tony Emmanuel walked free - even though he admitted drugs offences

Three men who took part in the brutal murder of special constable Nisha Patel-Nasri, have been jailed for life.

But another man - getaway driver Tony Emmanuel - was earlier acquitted of the crime.

His excuse - that he thought he was taking part in a drug deal, not a murder. The jury believed him, and Mr Emmanuel left court a free man.

Lawyers say it is not usual for defendants to use participation in lesser crimes as defences against more serious charges.

But why do prosecutors, having failed to make the serious charges stick, not pursue defendants for lesser crimes that they have admitted?


After all these crimes, although not as serious as those being pursued by prosecutors, have been admitted to in open court.

In Mr Emmanuel's case, he was candid about why he did not realise that he had been acting as getaway driver after a murder.

In a statement made after his arrest the 26-year-old nightclub bouncer told police:

Once the prosecution have rubbished a defence, seeking to prosecute that person again...would be seen to be having their cake and eating it
Criminal defence barrister Tom Little

"On the 11th May 2006 I was asked by a friend [later revealed to be jailed knife-man Jason Jones] to drive him to an address in the Wembley area... my friend informed me that he wished to collect some ecstasy tablets from an address."

'Out of breath'

In fact, Mr Emmanuel had driven Jones to Nisha Patel-Nasri's address, where, armed with a knife and with the keys to the house he pursued the 29-year-old woman into her garden and stabbed her to death.

He admitted that Jones had returned to the car and was "out of breath".

But he added: "I did not see a knife... I did not see where my friend had gone or what happened."

When Jones asked Mr Emmanuel to stop the car so he could dump the murder weapon in a drain, the driver said he had thought they were stopping for a toilet break.

"At no time did I contemplate or have any knowledge that my friend may injure anybody," he said.

"I thought my friend was going to carry out a drugs deal."


The jury accepted that he had not known about the killing, and Mr Emmanuel was acquitted of murder offences.

But the explanation as to why police and prosecutors failed to pursue Mr Emmanuel for any drug-dealing offence - such as conspiracy to supply, or being an accessory - lies within the strict rules that govern English law.

It is simply a matter of consistency of approach, says the Crown Prosecution Service:

Said a spokeswoman: "We have to be consistent - we cannot first reject a defendant's explanation of why they are innocent of the crime, and then later change our minds and say, actually, now we do believe that explanation.

"This applied even if the defendant admits, as part of his defence, committing another crime.

"In this case, we did not accept Mr Emmanuel's explanation that he thought he was taking part in a drugs deal, rather than a murder.


"Once he was acquitted on the murder charges, the uncorroborated admission, rejected by the prosecution in a court of law, would not be sufficient evidence to prosecute him for drug dealing.

If we did try to prosecute him, then I think we would find that the defence lawyer would challenge us straight away."

Criminal defence barrister Tom Little agrees:

Emmanuel, accompanied by a friend
Mr Emmanuel, accompanied by a friend, left court soon after being cleared

"Once the prosecution have sought to rubbish a defence then seeking to prosecute that person again would be seen to be having their cake and eating it.

"It could be an abuse of process."

Mr Little, who is secretary of the Criminal Bar Association, said it was not unheard of for defendants to use lesser crimes as part of their defence against being convicted of more serious ones.

He said that usually the crimes admitted to are ones that would exclude the defendant from the possibility of committing more serious offences.

"For example, defendants accused of cocaine smuggling sometimes say that they thought they were smuggling something else - like tobacco.

"If the court believes them, then Customs are very unlikely to try and prosecute them for tobacco-smuggling because there is no evidence that tobacco was smuggled.

"In those circumstances tobacco smuggling and cocaine smuggling would not be put on the same indictment," he added.

"For this sort of defence to work for defendants, it has to be an either-or situation."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific