MIN­IS­TERS WE'LL TACKLE SPEED­BOAT LE­GAL AID LOOP­HOLE

Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Sam Green­hill, Ja­son Groves and Emine Sin­maz

AN UR­GENT re­view was or­dered last night into the loop­hole let­ting a killer claim le­gal aid while on the run. De­spite be­ing a fugi­tive, Jack Shep­herd, 31, has been granted pub­lic money to chal­lenge his six-year prison sen­tence for killing his date on a speed­boat trip. Jus­tice Secretary David Gauke has told of­fi­cials to ex­am­ine le­gal aid rules in such cases and last night the So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral joined MPs in call­ing for re­form. Home Secretary Sa­jid Javid also in­ter­vened to say it was a ‘heart-break­ing’ sit­u­a­tion.

Prais­ing the Mail, which is of­fer­ing a

£25,000 re­ward to bring Shep­herd to jus­tice, Mr Javid ap­pealed to those har­bour­ing the killer of Char­lotte Brown, 24, to turn him in.

‘ Her par­ents have suf­fered enough and Mr Shep­herd should give him­self up right away,’ he said. ‘I will be meet­ing Char­lotte’s par­ents in the com­ing weeks and will do all I can to sup­port them.’

Police ad­mit Shep­herd could be any­where in the world and they have no ‘tan­gi­ble clues’ as to his where­abouts. Pros­e­cu­tors failed to have his pass­port con­fis­cated and he fled be­fore his trial.

The reck­less wom­an­iser killed Miss Brown while he was show­ing off his de­fec­tive speed­boat on a drunken dash down the Thames in cen­tral Lon­don. When it flipped over, he called for help only for him­self. Miss Brown, a busi­ness con­sul­tant from Clac­ton in Es­sex, died af­ter be­ing pulled un­con­scious from the wa­ter.

Yes­ter­day her griev­ing fam­ily vowed not to give up fight­ing to track down the man who robbed her of her life in De­cem­ber 2015. Her fa­ther Gra­ham Brown said: ‘She was a young wo­man with ev­ery­thing in front of her. He stole that. She’s never go­ing to have a hus­band, chil­dren, her dream ca­reer – all be­cause of him.’

Re­call­ing the mo­ment a po­lice­man broke the news, he added: ‘I threw my phone down and screamed. It was the most aw­ful, aw­ful thing.’ He said that when he was shown his daugh­ter’s life­less body, ‘I stood over her and I opened her eyes. I looked into them, into my daugh­ter’s eyes for the last time, and just said “Why?”. That mo­ment will stay with me for the rest of my life.’

Miss Brown’s mother, Roz Wick­ens, said of Shep­herd: ‘He needs to serve his sen­tence. His ac­tions killed my daugh­ter. If it was not for Jack Shep­herd tak­ing her out that night, Char­lotte would still be with us now.’

Shep­herd’s lawyers told his trial he was too cowardly to face Miss Brown’s dev­as­tated fam­ily at the Old Bai­ley.

He went on the run in March last year, four months be­fore he was tried in his ab­sence and found guilty of man­slaugh­ter. Un­der a Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights prece­dent be­ing on the run is no bar to an ap­peal.

Ear­lier this week, it was an­nounced that Shep­herd, orig­i­nally from Ex­eter, had been granted the right to ap­peal – with the pub­lic hav­ing to foot the bill through le­gal aid. Yes­ter­day the Jus­tice Secretary or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the loop­hole.

A source close to Mr Gauke said he ‘quite un­der­stands and sym­pa­thises with the pub­lic con­cern here about a con­victed killer flee­ing the coun­try and hav­ing his ap­peal paid for by the tax­payer and has asked of­fi­cials to look at this’.

The source added that the sit­u­a­tion was not clear cut, with the min­is­ter anx­ious not to spark ‘un­in­tended con­se­quences’ that could make it harder to try crim­i­nals in their ab­sence. ‘In ex­plor­ing this he is clear that we must not do any­thing that would make judges less likely to pro­ceed with a trial for an ab­sent de­fen­dant be­cause of fear they would not be prop­erly rep­re­sented through­out the whole process,’ the source said.

‘He is par­tic­u­larly mind­ful that vic­tims’ fam­i­lies could be left with­out jus­tice for years where courts con­sider them­selves un­able to try an ab­sent de­fen­dant.’ Shep­herd could be us­ing bank ac­counts and phones police can­not trace, Scot­land Yard has ad­mit­ted.

From his bolt-hole, the con­victed killer is di­rect­ing his Lon­don lawyers to pre­pare his le­gal aid­funded ap­peal.

The Govern­ment’s sec­ond most se­nior lawyer, So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral Robert Buck­land, called for ac­tion. The Con­ser­va­tive MP, who is a se­nior bar­ris­ter, chal­lenged the Min­istry of Jus­tice to ex­am­ine the is­sue, say­ing: ‘This is a mat­ter that de­serves care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion.’

His pre­de­ces­sor Lord Garnier QC said the rules needed to change to pre­vent ‘ beyond cyn­i­cal’ sce­nar­ios like Shep­herd’s.

For­mer Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans, who was de­nied le­gal aid when fight­ing un­founded claims of rape and sex­ual as­sault, branded the sit­u­a­tion ‘ab­so­lutely bonkers’.

The 61-year-old Tory MP, who had to spend his en­tire £130,000 life sav­ings fight­ing the 2014 case be­fore be­ing found not guilty of all charges, said: ‘It’s mak­ing a mock­ery of our le­gal aid sys­tem that some­one at large when they should be in prison can get it – while other peo­ple who have ap­plied le­git­i­mately are re­fused it. This guy is an out­law and he’s now abus­ing the sys­tem in or­der to get tax­pay­ers’ money to de­fend the in­de­fen­si­ble.

‘A lot of in­no­cent peo­ple through no fault of their own are hav­ing to pay their own le­gal bills to de­fend them­selves, yet some­one can claim le­gal aid to use the sys­tem to try to avoid pay­ing for his crime.

‘This is non­sense, it’s barmy. If you are out­side the law, why should you try to use the law and le­gal aid sys­tem to de­fend your­self? If you be­lieve you’re in­no­cent, turn your­self in, then fight your cor­ner and make an ap­pli­ca­tion for le­gal aid.’

The Le­gal Aid Agency, which has awarded Shep­herd £93,000, said he was en­ti­tled to the money un­der the reg­u­la­tions. Of­fi­cials ar­gued they had been fol­low­ing the rule book which ap­par­ently of­fers no guid­ance on whether fugi­tives should re­ceive le­gal aid.

Ad­di­tional re­port­ing: Izzy Fer­ris, Richard Mars­den, Larisa Brown, Neil Sears, David Wilkes, Tom Witherow, Ian Drury, Jake Hur­furt and Dora All­day

JUS­TICE SECRETARY DAVID GAUKE ‘Has asked of­fi­cials to look into pub­lic’s con­cerns’ SO­LIC­I­TOR GEN­ERAL ROBERT BUCK­LAND ‘This mat­ter de­serves care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion’ HOME SECRETARY SA­JID JAVID ‘I will do all I can to help Char­lotte’s par­ents’

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