Legal History For W12 Man

First trial without jury in 400 years begins

A Shepherd's Bush man became part of legal history this week as he stood trial without a jury present – the first time in 400 years that a major criminal case is being heard by a judge alone.

Barry Hibberd is one of four men accused of a £1.75million hold-up at a Heathrow warehouse six years ago.

Along with John Twomey and Glen Cameron, both from New Milton, Hampshire and Peter Blake from Notting Hill, 43-year-old Hibberd was allegedly among six masked men who entered the Menzies World Cargo warehouse at Heathrow on 6 February 2004.

The six men allegedly threatened 16 members of warehouse staff with guns then tied them up, but the police had been tipped off and overpowered the gang.

Prosecutor Simon Russell Flint alleged the bungled robbery had been “professionally planned” by the men, who he said had received inside information from someone who worked in or around the airport.

The four defendants will be tried by a judge alone, who will decide both matters of law and on whether the men are guilty or not, but leading lawyers and civil rights groups have expressed concerns that a fundamental principle of justice is at risk: the notion of trial by jury traces its roots back to Article 39 of the Magna Carta signed by King John in 1215.

The four men face charges including possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, possession of a firearm with intent to commit robbery, robbery and conspiracy to rob. They all deny the charges against them.

This is the fourth time they have stood trial for the Heathrow robbery; previous trials had to be abandoned due to sickness and the jury being unable to reach a decision. The third trial was abandoned nearly halfway through after the judge said information had been received which pointed to "a serious attempt at jury tampering". The prosecution then applied for a trial without jury.

The estimated cost of the trials to date is about £22m.

15 January 2010