Eight men and seven women have become the first people to sit on a jury in Aberdeen in almost a year.
The trial of Keith Harper at Aberdeen Sheriff Court has now begun, with the jury appearing via video link from the nearby Vue cinema on Shiprow for the first time.
The 15 members of the public watched proceedings from the comfort of the new high-tech remote jury centre at the cinema, taking advantage of the state-of-the-art sound system to hear every word said in court.
In the courtroom, additional microphones and cameras have been installed, as well as a huge bank of TV screens, sitting at the back of the empty jury box, which displays the jurors in the cinema.
It comes after jury trials ground to a halt across the country last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ahead of the first witness giving evidence, Sheriff William Summers told the jurors: “Covid has led to jurors having to attend outwith the court building.
“Although you are physically remote, you are not remote in any other sense.
“You can see and hear us, and we can see and hear you. That means you can’t stand up to leave if you need to go to the toilet, and you can’t stand up to stretch your legs.”
The jury is sitting on the case of Keith Harper, 55, who is accused of assaulting his partner at the time to her severe injury by punching her to the head, causing her to fall into a chair, seizing her by the hair and repeatedly punching and kicking her to the head and body.
It is alleged the incident took place on January 22 2019 at Harper’s flat at the time on Lamond Place, Aberdeen.
Harper, now of Fullerton Court, Aberdeen, denies the charge against him, and lodged a special defence of self defence.
At the start of the trial, a joint minute of agreed evidence was read to the jury, stating the complainer, Rachel Thomson, was taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary at around 7.50pm on January 22 2019 with fractures to her eye socket and check, which required surgery.
It was also agreed that Harper was seen to have an injury to his chin which was bleeding when he was dealt with by police on the same evening.
The first witness
Fiscal depute Katy Begg called Ms Thomson as the first witness in the case, and asked her about the incident.
Ms Thomson told the court she had drunk half a bottle of wine at Harper’s before he asked her to leave.
The witness said Harper made reference to her having made an offensive comment about his daughter, and added: “I was knocked backwards into the chair. He punched me on the left side of the face.”
Asked how she felt at that point she replied: “Stunned, shocked.”
Ms Begg asked the witness: “When you were knocked on to the chair, what, if anything, did Mr Harper do?”
Ms Thomson said: “He looked at me and said ‘look at the state of you’.”
She added this made her feel “degraded”.
The fiscal asked Ms Thomson what Harper did when she was leaving the flat. She replied: “I was just away to open the door and he punched me on the back of the neck. I hit my head off the door.”
The court was shown CCTV of Ms Thomson attending at nearby corner shop L&M Stores on Hutcheon Street and phoning 999. A recording of the call was played to the jury.
Ms Begg asked Ms Thomson: “At any point were you kicked by Mr Harper during the incident you have described?”
She replied: “No.”
Cross-examining the witness, defence agent Gregor Kelly put it to Ms Thomson that she had had more than half a bottle of wine, and had also been drinking lager earlier in the day, which she denied.
He added: “did you have any other substances, prescribed or otherwise?”
Ms Thomson replied: “You’re going to make me look bad because I’m on methadone.”
Mr Kelly asked: “Is it not the case you’re told not to drink with methadone?”
The witness said: “I’m advised not to drink.”
Mr Kelly asked Ms Thomson if she had “taken” anything while in the toilet at Harper’s, which she denied.
The solicitor said his client’s positon was that Ms Thomson had been in the toilet for some time and when she came out she said she was “just using” Harper and made an offensive comment about his daughter, at which point he asked her to leave.
Ms Thomson denied having been in the toilet at all, adding: “I’ve got no reason to say anything like that to him.”
Mr Kelly put it to the witness that she was “aggressive” to Harper and “clamped” her mouth on his chin and scratched him while he said “let go, let go”.
The witness replied: “That’s rubbish.”
Mr Kelly said his client then punched Ms Thomson once when she would not let go.
Sergeant Richard Arton
Evidence was also given by Sergeant Richard Arton who arrested Harper.
Under questioning from Ms Begg, the witness said an upset Harper had told him Ms Thomson had “gone crazy” and that he had “had to push her out the flat and lock the door”.
The trial continues.