CPS apologises to Hampstead school for collapse of iPad theft case and launches probe

PUBLISHED: 14:21 30 July 2015 | UPDATED: 15:08 30 July 2015

Fitzjohn's headteacher Rob Earrey said he had told the CPS of his holiday. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Fitzjohn's headteacher Rob Earrey said he had told the CPS of his holiday. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has apologised to a headteacher after shambolic blunders led to the collapse of a case concerning the theft of £4,600 worth of iPads at a Hampstead primary school.

Henrique Coceicao walked free from court yesterday. Picture: Polly HancockHenrique Coceicao walked free from court yesterday. Picture: Polly Hancock

Yesterday, a trial took place into allegations that a school employee had stolen 14 Apple tablet computers from Fitzjohn’s Primary School in Fitzjohn’s Avenue.

The thefts were said to have taken place between December 2014 and January this year.

After laborious efforts were made by the police and headteacher Rob Earrey to build a case, charges were brought against Henrique Coceicao – a 22-year-old Portuguese national living in Hampden Road, Hornsey, and a cleaner at the school at the time.

Mr Coceicao had pleaded not guilty on March 30 and a trial was earmarked to take place yesterday.

But a catastrophic lapse in communication at the CPS meant their prosecuting lawyer did not realise – in the middle of the trial – that key witness Mr Earrey was not available to give evidence because he was holidaying in Sri Lanka.

As a result, no evidence was brought against Mr Coceicao and the judge delivered a verdict of not guilty.

Mr Coceicao, who could not speak English, left Highbury Magistrates Court with a smile on his face after being told the result by an interpreter.

The CPS has launched an investigation into the blunder and is looking into why full disclosure of other evidence was not provided to the defence before yesterday’s trial – something which wasted an hour of the court’s time.

Mr Earrey, while on his holiday in Sri Lanka, told the Ham&High: “I am angry that my time and police time has been wasted and that this case has collapsed.

“Apparently the CPS will be writing to the school to apologise for their failure to communicate and their failure to share evidence in this case. I await their response with interest.”

A spokesman for the CPS said: “On March 31 we were made aware that the main witness in this case was not able to attend the trial date. Unfortunately this information was not acted upon until July 13 when we wrote to the court to seek an adjournment.

“No reply was received from the court and we made a further application to adjourn on the day of trial but this was refused by the court. Without the evidence of the key witness we had to offer no evidence and the case was dismissed.

“Clearly a more proactive approach could have been taken to resolve the issue that arose in this case as a result of the witness being unavailable and we also accept that we failed to fully meet our disclosure obligations in this case.

“We will be looking into the handling of this case to ensure that lessons are learned and we will be writing to the school to apologise.”

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