Prosecutor in Kerri McAuley murder trial 'flabbergasted' at incompetence of HMP Bedford officials who trusted killer Joe Storey
PUBLISHED: 14:13 17 June 2017 | UPDATED: 08:59 18 June 2017
The "failings" that meant a convicted killer was not in court to attend his sentencing hearing for the brutal murder of a Norwich mother of two have added to the sense of grief and loss suffered by the victim's family.
Joe Storey was due to be sentenced at Norwich Court yesterday after a jury took less than an hour to convict him of the brutal murder of “on-off” partner Kerri McAuley at her home in Southalls Way, Norwich, in January.
But Storey, 27, formerley of Murrells Court, Norwich, was not present for the hearing after he told Bedford Prison, where he is being kept, that he need not attend and could appear via videolink instead.
The killer’s non-attendance meant sentencing had to be adjourned until Monday by an angry Judge Stephen Holt who has ordered a report into what happened and insisted Storey would be present on the next occasion even if it meant he had to be “physically put” on prison transport.
Simon Spence QC, who prosecuted the case, said the situation was “completely unprecedented” in his 32 years as a barrister and insisted he was “flabbergasted” at the “incompetence” shown by officials at HMP Bedford and felt “utter disbelief” they had taken the word of a prisoner.
Speaking after the adjournment Mr Spence said: “I’m horrified to be honest of what’s happened today.
“The jury convicted Joe Storey of a brutal murder yesterday. There’s a large group of family and friends who have been following the trial and arrived this morning expecting Joe Storey to be sentenced he wasn’t because when he went back to prison last night he told Bedford Prison he wasn’t required, they accepted that at face value and didn’t produce him.
“The judge is clearly very unhappy and cross about the situation and I share his sense of frustration and anger.
“I find it bewildering that a prison, knowing they are holding a prisoner convicted of murder, knowing he’d due to be sentenced took it upon themselves not to produce him simply because the prisoner says so.
“It’s clearly a very difficult case. Any domestic murder is harrowing for the loved ones of the person who dies and when something happens that affects the expectations of the family then of course it simply adds to the sense of loss and grief and they, from their perspective, see that the defendant is able to manipulate a process which should be protecting them and putting their interests in a proper perspective and that hasn’t happened because of the prison’s failings today.”
He added: “I’ve been a barrister for 32 years and it’s the first time I’ve come across a situation like this and I very much hope that I don’t again.
“It’s only right the prison provides a full explanation of what’s gone wrong and why.”
This paper contacted the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for a comment regarding Storey’s absence but a spokesman simply would only confirm that “a prisoner from HMP Bedford failed to attend court on Friday, June 16”.
Family and friends of Ms McAuley turned out in large numbers yesterday, as they had throughout the trial, to see Storey sentenced.
They were informed of Storey’s non-attendance by Judge Holt who said: “Once again Joe Storey has manipulated the court process.”
Judge Holt said one of the reasons there were delays during the course of the trial, when the court could not sit, was Storey, 27, had said he was ill and did not appear.
He said: “I understand he told the staff at Bedford Prison where he’s being held because it’s unsafe to hold him in Norwich, that he wasn’t required and could do it by videolink and for some reason they believed him.”
Judge Holt said he had “no option” but to adjourn sentence until Monday after hearing from Mr Spence that Ms McAuley’s family “feel very strongly that this defendant should be present in court to be sentenced”.
Speaking after the adjournment Steve Roberts, Ms McAuley’s uncle who was speaking on behalf of the family, said they were “angry” that Storey had not appeared and insisted it served to “increase the stress” being felt by the family at this horrific time.
When Storey does get sentenced on Monday the court will be told he has served custodial sentences for assaults on previous partners and was also previously the subject of a restraining order prohibiting him from contacting Ms McAuley.