Ex-care worker cleared of sex attack on dementia patient 10 years after conviction
A “vulnerable” former carer has been cleared of a sex attack on an elderly dementia patient after more than 10 years spent protesting his innocence.
Gareth William Jones was jailed for seven years in July 2008 after being found guilty of sexual activity by a care worker with a person with a mental disability.
But his conviction was overturned at the Court of Appeal on Friday, with three senior judges ruling it “cannot be regarded as safe”.
Lord Justice Simon said Mr Jones did not receive a fair trial because not enough account was taken of his learning disabilities – the extent of which was not known at the time.
Mr Jones was 22 when he was found guilty following a trial at Cardiff Crown Court of committing the offence against a woman in her 70s while working at The Mountains Nursing Home near Brecon in February 2007.
There was no DNA or CCTV evidence and Lord Justice Simon said Mr Jones’ evidence to jurors was “crucial”.
His case was taken to the Court of Appeal by the Cardiff Innocence Project, which presented new evidence about the nature of his learning disabilities.
Since his conviction he has been diagnosed with Von Recklinghausen’s disease and a psychologist assessed him as being “a vulnerable, suggestible adult, with severe impairments in his ability to understand, process, retain or reason with complex information”.
His lawyers argued that the extent of his learning disabilities was not appreciated at the time of his trial and it was therefore unfair.
Lord Justice Simon said Mr Jones “faltered” under cross-examination and that his difficulty in dealing with leading questions may have left jurors with a “false impression”.
The judge, sitting with Mrs Justice Carr and Judge Martin Picton, also said Mr Jones’ learning disabilities made him “vulnerable” and tended to “conceal or mask” that vulnerability from others.
He said if the case were tried today, Mr Jones would have been given support throughout police interviews and the trial process, and that the trial judge would have directed jurors to take account of his learning difficulties.
He concluded that some of the questions asked by the prosecuting lawyer were “unfair”.
“The questions that we have identified … would have been objectionable if asked of a witness without learning disabilities,” he said.
“They were comments which should have been reserved to a closing speech to the jury.
“However, when asked of someone suffering from a disability such as the appellant, they can be seen to be unfair.
“The charged and rhetorical nature of the questions and some of the appellant’s responses would have been very likely to leave the jury with the impression that he had no answer to the charge.”
The judge also said part of Mr Jones’ evidence suggested he did not fully understand the nature of the charge against him.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has not asked for a retrial and Mr Jones’ name will be removed from the sex offenders register.
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