Scotland

Liam Fee murder trial: What next for the jurors?

Liam Fee
Image caption Liam Fee was found dead at a house near Glenrothes in Fife on 22 March 2014

For seven weeks, the jurors in the Liam Fee murder trial sat through some of the most harrowing evidence ever presented in a Scottish courtroom. How will the ordinary men and women selected to serve on a jury cope with their experience - and what support is available to them after the verdict?

Day after day, they listened carefully to the heartbreaking details of the relentless abuse and neglect endured by the two-year-old before his cruel death.

After 10 hours of deliberations, they found the child's own mother, Rachel Fee, and her partner, Nyomi, guilty of his murder and of a catalogue of abuse against two other children.

The details of the case made difficult and distressing reading - but the worst of it has not even been reported. The jury heard - and saw - much, much worse.

A silent video recording showing the toddler's body, taken hours after he died at a property in Fife, reduced some jurors to tears.

The final images of the video showed Liam lying dead on his bedroom floor, dressed in ZingZillas pyjamas with a duvet covering him up to his neck. He looked like he was sleeping.

Twelve minutes later a juror raised a hand and asked trial judge Lord Burns for a break in proceedings.

Image copyright Crown Office
Image caption The toddler's body was found in his bedroom
Image copyright Crown Office
Image caption They heard evidence of a makeshift cage was made partly from a fireguard

Legal restrictions mean we will never know how the individual jurors in the Liam Fee trial deal with what they experienced in that courtroom.

They could be held in contempt of court if they talked to their family, friends - or journalists - about the trial or their deliberations.

And that, experts believe, is one of the most difficult aspects of the process.

It was highlighted in a report on jurors' trauma by clinical psychologist Dr Noelle Robertson, which was published in The Howard Journal in 2009.

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland, she said: "What we know from the research we conducted a few years back is certainly the process of being sequestered away from other people and having to make very difficult decisions can be quite distressing."

In Scotland, those who experience extreme distress can be referred by the Scottish Courts Service to the Rivers Centre, where staff treat adults with traumatic stress.

Clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, cognitive behavioural therapists and art therapists work with patients at the facility in Edinburgh.

South of the border, court staff who are particularly worried about a juror can encourage them to contact the Samaritans.

Image copyright Thinkstock

Dr Robertson said most jurors will not need support, but others will suffer lasting effects - especially where the case involves a child.

"When we published the report we received unsolicited emails from former jurors who reported experiences which occurred many years after and quite unexpectedly," she said.

"I guess the things that would be most common in the immediate aftermath might be experiencing intrusive thoughts, re-examining some of the material mentally that you've been exposed to - you continue to see images that have been presented to you.

"But I would want to emphasise that whilst a small minority of people will present with symptoms akin to trauma, the vast majority of jurors will find that any immediate distress passes over time."

She added: "I think what we do know about the development of trauma symptoms is that they're more likely to occur in the event that there is witness to serious assault or where the case involves a child.

"To see someone who has been powerless can be particularly distressing."

'Potentially traumatising'

She suggested that jurors should be screened where a judge expects highly traumatic material to be presented to the court.

"The other possibility is for the judge to make some comment to indicate that material may well be distressing and that some people might well feel distressed in the event of viewing of listening to that," she added.

"What's important is for people to understand that their experiences and any symptoms that they have may be a normal response to dealing with material that is outwith their normal experience and is potentially traumatising."

We will never know how the six men and eight women of the Liam Fee trial deal with what they saw at the High Court in Livingston.

But we do know that they will not perform a similar for at least a decade - Judge Lord Burns excused them from jury duty for 10 years.

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