A former football club manager’s sexual assault trial has been delayed for two years after a prosecutor fell ill at the last minute, the court heating broke and a juror was found not to speak English.
James Rowe, 40, who has denied sexual assault, was to stand trial this week at Derby Crown Court but his trial was rescheduled for December 8, 2025. Following complaints from his barrister, the scheduled four-day hearing has now been pushed back to October 7 next year – nearly two years after he was charged.
But Rowe’s lawyer Peter Eguae said the long delay was “appalling,” and said of his client, the former manager of Chesterfield Football Club: “This is a human being.”
Judge Jonathan Bennett offered some “sympathy” to the defendant, whose girlfriend was supporting him from the public gallery, saying that “life was on hold” for both him and the complainant and that he was “innocent until proven guilty”.
Rowe of Breaston, Derbyshire, was released on bail. He is accused of groping his alleged victim during a private massage on November 24, 2021. Rowe is also alleged to have sent the woman – who had been seeking a job at Chesterfield – “flirty text messages” and had insisted she gave him a “free sample” of her services.
Rowe is facing a single charge of sexual assault against a woman.
When police launched an investigation in January 2022 he was temporarily suspended from his role at the club, leaving by “mutual consent” the following month. He was then appointed manager of AFC Fylde in March but left when he was charged by Derbyshire Police in September that year.
The judge, who refused the defence’s plea not to adjourn the trial, admitted “things have got worse” across the country with many cases not being scheduled until 2025 “because of the scarcity of people available to prosecute.”
He said the Rowe trial, which should have opened on Tuesday after a jury was sworn in, had been “plagued with problems”.
After the jury was selected on Monday there was “a problem with the heating” after the boiler system broke down, the judge said.
He told how a cyber attack on the chambers of prosecutor Dawn Pritchard had led to her “being unable to access emails in the case.”
On Tuesday the case should have been opened by Miss Pritchard, who had been expected to deliver her opening speech and outline the Crown’s case, but she was unable to attend because of a sudden illness.
The judge said: “Miss Pritchard was unwell and we were looking for alternative counsel and had sought to get a silk and one was lined up but it didn’t materialise.”
There had also been a last minute problem with one of 12 jury members sworn in, who later advised English was not his first language. After he warned he might struggle with fully understanding some of the evidence, he was dismissed.
The judge said he had “sympathy” for the defendant as “he is not able to work in his chosen job”.
He continued: “Judges up and down the country have to say to defendants serious allegations of a sexual nature trials will not be heard until late 2024 and 2025.”
He explained: “There continues to be a lack of judges, courtrooms and members of the bar being allowed to prosecute.
“Regrettably, I have to adjourn this case.”
Mr Eguae reluctantly accepted a new trial date in two years – in December 2025 – but after an adjournment an earlier date of October was fixed.
The lawyer said he was “appalled” at the judicial system “in the UK” and the “timeline of this case”, asking: “What are we doing? This [my client] is a human being. He wants to retain my services. It is appalling.”
He said he had worked as a barrister in different countries “where a murder trial could take five years to be heard” but he did not expect such delays in the British legal system.