by JAMIE WELHAM
A CAMDEN Town businessman wrongly accused of downloading child pornography has spoken of his “14 months of hell” after the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case two weeks before he was due to stand trial.
Chris Singam, 48, was arrested in July last year after police discovered 30 indecent images on two computers seized at his home and Kentish Town office.
Recorder Stephen Miller QC threw out the case, acquitting Mr Singam of all charges of making and possessing indecent images of children. He awarded Mr Singam costs of £180,000 after it emerged evidence put forward by the CPS was “flawed”.
A report written by computer expert Duncan Campbell shows a series of errors were made during the investigation. The report – seen by the New Journal – was ordered by Mr Singam’s defence team and describes how the computers were infected with a “malicious” virus that meant he could not have known indecent images of children were being sent to his computer.
The report states:
- There is no evidence to show user/s took the necessary steps of deliberate manual navigation to web pages containing offending material.
- The computers had hundreds of examples of malicious software, which could direct a user selecting advertising for legal material to visit potentially illegal sites.
- All charges relating to the second computer are fatally flawed.
- The prosecution computer expert used virus checker programmes but did not carry out tests for pop-ups, pop-unders (which can create concealed windows). This is a flawed approach.
- Only the deceptive status bar advertisement wording would be visible to the user. Unless the user had specialist knowledge or skills and carried out relevant tests, he would not be aware of the concealed redirection commands.
It has emerged that Mr Singam’s case was being prosecuted by the fraud branch of the CPS, the Fraud Prosecution Division, and not by mainstream prosecutors who usually work on criminal cases such as this.
In a statement following the decision at Southwark Crown Court last Friday, the CPS said: “In July 2010, the CPS was provided by Mr Singam’s legal team with a report from an expert that it was possible the websites carrying indecent images of children could have been accessed accidentally. Having considered that proposition and a further expert opinion on the matter, the CPS decided in September that there is no longer sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and duly offered no evidence in this case.”
The CPS admitted hiring a private computer expert only after seeing Mr Campbell’s report. It said police examination of the computer did not identify the malicious virus because it had been carried out by someone who “wasn’t a specialist in that field”. Mr Singam said police did not fully understand the two laptops had been linked to his office network, explaining why the virus was on both machines.
Mr Campbell appeared as an expert defence witness in the high-profile Operation Ore child pornography prosecutions in 2005, exposing how police errors and technical naivety led to hundreds of false arrests.
Talking about his ordeal for the first time, Mr Singam, a barrister who lived in Highgate at the time of his arrest, said: “It has been a living nightmare. I am elated with the decision. If this had got to trial it is such an emotive issue I wouldn’t have stood a chance.
“My life was in danger. I was called a paedophile and as far as everyone was concerned I was guilty. Nobody talked to me. My business suffered. If it wasn’t for my girlfriend I’d probably be dead.”
Mr Singam was running a property company which managed bars in Inverness Street, Camden Town, when he was arrested in July 2009 following an unconnected Scotland Yard investigation into alleged fraud, which was also dropped.
While examining computers – office laptops used by employees as well as by Mr Singam at home – officers from Scotland Yard’s Economic Crime Unit discovered indecent images.
He was remanded in Wandsworth Prison for a month before his lawyers were able to get him bail. Mr Singam said: “People wouldn’t look at me and nobody would talk to me. Twice I was attacked. Once someone threw chairs at me, and another time I was assaulted in the street. My car was vandalised.
“I lost my fortune. I came close to ending my life. The only thing that stopped me was that I knew I was innocent. I questioned myself in lots of ways, but I always stayed strong because of that.”
He has since “reassessed his priorities” and is now taking a Masters degree course in criminal law at Birkbeck College.
SOURCE: Camden New Journal