Dr Jeremy Coleman found not guilty of 50 counts of sexual and indecent assault after Newcastle's longest criminal trial

ACQUITTED: Doctor Jeremy Coleman leaves Newcastle courthouse during the year-long trial. He was ultimately found not guilty of 50 counts of sexual and indecent assault, but the jury remained deadlocked on 16 other counts. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
ACQUITTED: Doctor Jeremy Coleman leaves Newcastle courthouse during the year-long trial. He was ultimately found not guilty of 50 counts of sexual and indecent assault, but the jury remained deadlocked on 16 other counts. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

IT was right on midday on August 3, a Friday, when Dr Jeremy Coleman got the first real indication of what his future held. 

Judge Penny Hock was preparing to discharge a juror, who had conceived and would've given birth during the longest criminal trial in Newcastle's history. 

But before she thanked the juror for fulfilling her civic duty, Judge Hock proposed to take whatever unanimous verdicts the jury had decided on.

For 11 months Dr Coleman, 64, had walked in and out of Newcastle courthouse, rode the elevator to the sixth floor, sat in the dock, listened to the evidence against him and then waited for any news from the jury. 

For the most part he seemed relaxed, almost confident in his defence that he had a proper medical purpose for touching or examining any of his patients, despite the weight of allegations against him – 46 women and 66 charges of sexual and indecent assault that, if proven, would be more than enough to put him away for life. But he looked tense now, focused. 

Dr Coleman remained standing in the dock as the jury filed in and the foreperson rose to her feet.  

"Has the jury agreed on its verdicts," she was asked.

"Yes we have," came the reply.

How do you find Jeremy Coleman in relation to count 2 (the first charge they had come to a unanimous verdict on), the foreperson was asked.

“Not guilty,” the foreperson said, confidently. 

To this there was no real reaction, from Dr Coleman or anyone else.

No sound of the air being sucked out of the courtroom, a common phenomenon when a jury returns a verdict after a contentious murder trial.

After all, it was only one count among many. 

Count 3? Not guilty.

Count 4? Not guilty.

Not guilty. Not guilty.

Not guilty. Not guilty.

Not guilty. Not guilty. 

Like that, by 12.08pm, Dr Coleman had been acquitted of 36 counts. 

As the jury filed out, Dr Coleman struggled to remain impassive.

The emotion swelled up into his face and he wept openly, embracing his legal team, including barrister Pauline David, and his family.

RESULT: Dr Jeremy Coleman's defence barrister, Pauline David, secured 50 not guilty  verdicts.

RESULT: Dr Jeremy Coleman's defence barrister, Pauline David, secured 50 not guilty verdicts.

But the battle was only half won for Dr Coleman.

There still remained a number of outstanding counts that the jury had either yet to determine or couldn't agree upon.

Judge Hock made a non-publication order on the fact that the verdicts were taken and on the verdicts themselves and, for the next four weeks – save for a mini-break in the middle – the jury pressed on. 

On August 23, they returned again with unanimous verdicts.

Again, Dr Coleman went through the process and again he heard the words “not guilty”, this time to 10 more charges.

On August 29 – last Wednesday – the jury came back once more with two additional acquittals. 

Judge Hock had given directed verdicts of not guilty to the jury in relation to two counts relating to one complainant at the conclusion of the prosecution case in March. 

So that made an even 50 not guilty verdicts, with 16 counts outstanding. 

But, it seems, things in the jury room were becoming even more tense than they were in the courtroom before those first verdicts were read. 

And by August 31, things had definitely reached a head and there was a clear split in the jury room.

"It's a bit like 12 Angry Men," Crown prosecutor Lee Carr said of the 1957 film.

"It can get heated and people say things.

"Some people don't have the strong resolve that others have."

They were now nine weeks into deliberating.

The trial's first birthday had come and gone with little fanfare. 

The record for a jury deliberation period in NSW is 12 weeks after a 12-week trial, the court heard. 

“Let’s not go for that record,” Mr Carr said. 

After the jury left on Friday, Judge Hock raised the prospect of invoking Section 56, the part of the Jury Act that dealt with discharging a jury that cannot agree. 

It was clear, Judge Hock said, that the jury shouldn’t be forced to deliberate any longer. 

Ms David opposed the move and said she had instructions to seek a stay of proceedings and make an application to the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Dr Coleman and his legal team were well and truly on top. The jury, it seemed, were slowly and meticulously picking apart the prosecution case until there was an element of reasonable doubt on each count. 

You have returned verdicts on the majority of counts on the indictment, which is a credit to you. But from time to time it is necessary to agree to disagree.

Judge Penny Hock in discharging the jury on Monday.

On Monday, when the jury returned, Judge Hock took evidence from three jurors under oath, who each said it was unlikely they would ever be able to come to a unanimous or majority verdict on the remaining counts. 

Satisfied that their evidence meant the jury should be discharged, Judge Hock proposed to put an end to the trial.

Ms David and Mr Carr agreed. 

“I do have the power to discharge you on returning verdicts on counts in which you have not been able to agree and I am going to do that,” Judge Hock told the jury on Monday. 

“This does sometimes happen, as I am sure you understand.

“You have returned verdicts on the majority of counts on the indictment, which is a credit to you.

“Sometimes people change their minds, other times people don't change their minds.

“From time to time it is necessary to agree to disagree.”

Before dismissing them, Judge Hock said it was her opinion they should be exempt from jury service for the rest of their days.

They had put their lives on hold for 12 months.

They had heard thousands of hours of evidence, including complex medical testimony, and deliberated for 36 days. 

As the jury filed out of courtroom 6.1 for the last time, Dr Coleman rose to his feet and repeatedly mouthed the words “thank you”. 

The longest criminal trial in Newcastle’s history was finally over. 

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