Prison officer facing inquiry after Pentonville murder trial witness ‘exposed’
Three men were acquitted of murder after the fatal stabbing at the London jail.
A prison officer is under investigation after the alleged killer in the Pentonville murder trial saw the anonymous star witness “through a crack in the door”, plunging the case into crisis, it can now be reported.
An inmate, known as Bobby Dorset, was about to give key evidence on what he saw on G Wing when 21-year-old Jamal Mahmoud was stabbed to death on October 18 last year.
To protect his identity, he spoke through a Darth Vader-style voice modulator from behind a screen in Court 10 of the Old Bailey.
But after less than an hour in the witness box, the trial was halted when it emerged that he had been identified by defendant Basana Kimbembi.
The Congolese immigrant had been standing behind the door to the dock when it was opened by a prison officer while Dorset was still in court with a sound technician.
On being told his cover had been blown, Dorset expressed concern for his safety and that of his family and refused to carry on.
Kimbembi and his two co-accused, Joshua Ratner and Robert Butler, were later cleared of Mahmoud’s murder at the end of a trial lasting nearly three months.
On Monday, Kimbembi was jailed for 12 years after the jury found him guilty of wounding Mahmoud’s friend, Mohammed Ali, 22.
The full circumstances in which Dorset was identified can only now be told after the Press Association applied for a temporary ban on reporting legal discussion in the absence of the jury to be lifted.
On October 19, Dorset had begun his evidence in the morning and a technician was adjusting the sound equipment before he was due to continue after lunch.
Less than half an hour into the afternoon session, a note was passed to the judge via the prison officer in the dock who had been having a discussion with a visibly agitated Kimbembi at the back of the court.
Judge Richard Marks QC stopped the trial immediately, and, in the absence of the jury, explained the “unhappy coincidence”.
Describing the note he received, he said: “It was to the effect, shortly before 2pm when the defendants were brought upstairs, one of the prison officers having opened the door to inform the court staff the defendants were up, by an unhappy coincidence the witness was in the witness box because the sound equipment was being tested.
“Through a crack in the door, the defendant saw the witness and expressed the view he knew who it was.”
After quizzing the officer, the judge said he had concluded there was a “strong likelihood” Kimbembi had seen what he claimed.
Prison officer under investigation after Pentonville murder accused was able to see a key anonymous witness “through a crack in the door” at the Old Bailey.— Emily Pennink (@EmilyPennink) December 14, 2017
Judge Marks added: “I am satisfied that nobody was to blame for this and it was a very unfortunate set of circumstances which could not have been foreseen.”
But prosecutor Mark Heywood QC pointed out that Dorset was a witness in a “very serious case” and “what happened should not have happened”.
Kimbembi’s legal team also argued that the identification by one of the three defendants had created an “unfair” situation.
Kimbembi, 35, Ratner, 27, and Butler, 31, had denied murder and causing grievous bodily harm.