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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 October 2007, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Jury bribe bid sees trial ruling
An attempt to bribe a juror in a cigarette smuggling case has led to a landmark ruling that the retrial should be heard by a judge sitting alone.

Three brothers and a senior customs official deny evading duty on six million cigarettes seized near Coalisland in County Tyrone in 2003.

The defendants went to the Appeal Court to try to get the ruling overturned

However, the judge said there was a "real and present danger" that jury tampering would take place.

The Court of Appeal in Belfast heard that the juror reported that two partly-masked men had come to his home and offered him money for information about the case

'Considerable fear'

He refused to have any dealings with them but reported that he had experienced considerable fear as a result of the approach, Lord Chief Justice Sir Brian Kerr said.

"The determined nature of the approach to the juror, the blatant attempt at bribery and the fact that those involved were prepared to go to the juror's home are deeply ominous of future interference with any jury empanelled to hear this case," Sir Brian said.

Sir Brian and lord justices Campbell and Girvan rejected a defence argument that the retrial could proceed with a jury so long as members were given constant police protection.

The lord chief justice said this "would lead to an incurable compromise of the jury's objectivity".

The defendants in the case are Benedict Mackle, 38, of Main Street, Charlemont, County Armagh, Plunkett Jude Mackle, 42, of Cloverhill, Moy, Patrick Mackle, 45, of Armagh Road, Moy and James Sloan, 56, whose address was given as c/o Customs House, Belfast.

They deny evading duty on six million cigarettes. Mr Sloan also denies passing information contrary to the Official Secrets Act.

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