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Surrey man wrongly charged with bribery wants change after spending 18 months on bail

A man from Surrey says the justice system needs urgent change after the criminal case against him was dropped nearly two years after he was first accused.

Clive Steer, from Guildford, spent 18 months on bail after being arrested in July 2016 for bribing an employee at Surrey Sports Park to secure printing work.

He says he repeatedly told police and prosecutors that if they examined his laptop, emails would show that he had not done anything illegal.

Clive Steer and Gemma Bull had to postpone their wedding while he was on bail

You get scared. I have kids, a family, we had a business that collapsed, and you just think 'What? How can this be happening?' And then you look at the worst case scenarios. You google things, you read things, you just get scared and you think 'Oh my gosh', is that going to happen to me?'

– Clive Steer

Mr Steer said he went to a number of court hearings to ask for the contents of his laptop to be disclosed to his defence team.

Eventually his barrister, Julia Smart, secured a court order to get the laptop back, so they could examine it themselves.

After a few hours work, they say they had found the emails that exonerated Mr Steer. The CPS then dropped the case against him and he was formally acquitted.

Both Mr Steer and Ms Smart believe there were failures in the initial investigation and that both Surrey Police and the CPS failed to fulfil their disclosure requirements in his case.

Julia Smart, Barrister, Furnival Chambers

We're told the police officer looked at this computer, this hard drive, and claimed not to find any of these emails but that is astonishing.

And a lawyer along the way at the CPS, should have said 'What is on the download of this man's computer? He says there are emails there that will exonerate him. Who has looked at them and what do they say?' But that never took place.

– Julia Smart, Barrister

The Crown Prosecution Service said that after reviewing the case, it decided that the evidential test was no longer met.

It said: "The CPS complied with its disclosure obligations in this case. There were more than 110,000 emails retrieved from the defendant's hard drive.

"The defendant did not submit a defence case statement but in November 2017 highlighted a small number of emails as being potentially undermining of the prosecution case."

Surrey Police said it is supporting the CPS with a report into issues identified in the case.

It is the duty of both the police and prosecutors to disclose any evidence collected that has the potential to undermine the prosecution case - or strengthen the defence's case.

A judge also criticised prosecutors' 'last-minute' decision to drop a rape case against Oxford student Oliver Mears

Problems with disclosure of evidence in a number of high-profile cases have led to increased fears that miscarriages of justice could occur.

The case against an Oxford University student who had a rape charge 'hanging over his head' for two years was dropped on the eve of his trial after new evidence emerged.

A judge criticised prosecutors' 'last-minute' decision to drop the case against Oliver Mears.

A recent inspection of CPS South East found that initial disclosure was only dealt with correctly by prosecutors in 38.3% of the Crown Court cases that were looked at and that police complied with disclosure fully in only 41.7% of Crown Court cases.

The CPS, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing have recently published a Joint National Disclosure Action Plan with the aim of making significant improvements.

Chief Constable Nick Ephgrave, National Police Chiefs' Council, says a lot of work is taking place to improve disclosure.

We know there are deep-rooted, systematic issues in the area across the whole criminal justice system.

Getting disclosure right is a priority, and along with the police and other criminal justice partners, we are working to improve how we fulfil these vital disclosure obligations and ensure that cases which should not proceed are stopped as early as possible.

Action to implement this at a regional level has already been taken, with local plans in place to undertake further training on disclosure across the police and CPS.

– CPS South East

The Chief Constable of Surrey Police, Nick Ephgrave, is the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Criminal Justice. He said there is a lot of work now taking place to improve disclosure.

He said: "There is an absolute commitment to grip this from a leadership point of view and to raise the profile of disclosure generally among forces and among practitioners. We want to work much more closely at a senior level between Police and the CPS, to make sure we are really understanding what the issues are and effecting change quickly."

  • Watch Emma Wilkinson's full report: