This woman is campaigning to support jurors sitting on harrowing cases

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Moya Lothian-McLean
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“Once you’ve seen you can’t unsee”

For people working in jobs that put them at high risk of psychological trauma, there is a wealth of support available. Police officers, those serving in the Armed Forcesparamedics… the list goes on. By now, most roles that pose a risk to mental health have been identified and appropriate steps taken to minimise the effect the job can have on a person. But one woman is speaking out to raise awareness of the lack of assistance there is on hand for jurors left traumatised by time served on disturbing cases. 

In an ITV News interview, a mother-of-three and NHS worker known only as Rebecca (jurors are entitled to anonymity) said her experiences as a jury member on the notorious 2017 Becky Watts murder trial left her “emotionally isolated.”

“During the whole court process, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep,” said Rebecca. “I think I lost about three quarters of a stone during the seven weeks. I felt very emotionally isolated [I] had nowhere to turn, I had no way in which I would process all that information that I was seeing. I had no way to debrief. And once you’ve seen you can’t unsee.” 

Jurors, especially in murder cases, are often exposed to graphic information such as pictures and detailed descriptions of harrowing injuries and ordeals that victims had to endure. In the case of Becky Watts, the 16-year-old teenager was suffocated during a sexually-motivated kidnapping, carried out by her stepbrother and his girlfriend. The pair then dismembered Watt’s body and hid it in a shed for 11 days. 

The civic duty of serving as a juror is a weighty one. Not only is it compulsory (you can defer - but only once), jurors are sworn to silence and unable to share details of cases - or the emotional impact of them - with others for fears it will jeopardise a trial’s outcome. Unlike Scotland, which has a dedicated counselling service for jurors, individuals sitting on juries in England and Wales have no formal support structure to help them deal with their experiences. And psychologists have been warning about the consequences of placing individuals under daily mental distress with no prior training or follow-up care for almost a decade. 

A 2009 study carried out by Dr. Noelle Robertson of the University of Leicester found that “jury service, particularly for crimes against people, can cause significant anxiety and for a vulnerable minority it can lead to severe clinical levels of stress or the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.” The report also stated that women were more likely to experience distress as a result of serving on a jury, particularly if a case triggered trauma from their personal histories. 

Rebecca - who sought personal professional help following the seven-week trial - thinks she was failed completely. 

“I don’t think there was a duty of care provided - a duty of care to me suggests that your emotional and mental well-being is being looked after during the course of that trial and afterwards,” she said.

In a statement, the Criminal Bar Association said that they supported welfare networks being created to provide more assistance for affected jurors.

“We recognise more can be done to improve the experience of jurors and we have recently conducted research looking at how support for jurors can be improved,” said a spokesperson for the organisation. “Court staff are not given training to recognise signs of trauma in jurors, and there is a risk that jurors who are being deeply affected by their task may fall through the net.”

Images: Rex Features