Chapter Seven

He doesn’t seem to have logged on,’ Denham complained, glancing from his laptop to the court’s screens and back.

‘Perhaps I could email him, Your Honour,’ Tom said. ‘I’ve got his details. He may have—,’ he stopped himself. He couldn’t say ‘forgotten’.

‘Let’s just give him another minute,’ Denham replied. ‘Maybe we’re early.’ He swiveled his chair to the left, reached for a lever arch file, and began scrutinizing its contents.

As Tom stood waiting for Rowe to connect to the call, Anna gazed at the ceiling, Denham pored over his file, and Blake sat muted on the court’s screens. In the stillness, every gulp and every breath seemed audible. It was almost dreamlike; Tom half expected to look down and discover that he was naked, alone in the dock with Sophie giving evidence against him.

The silence was broken by the sound of slurping, followed by a hoarse aahhh. The display on the court’s screens suddenly split into two, with Blake in one half and the other blank.

‘Professor Rowe,’ Denham’s voice was loud and crisp. ‘We can hear you. Can you hear us?’

There was a scramble—a clink and a thud, something knocked over—and then he could be seen: a long skeletal face with hollow cheeks and a grey moustache. 

‘Hello, yes. I do apologise. I’ve not used this particular program before, so I had to install it.’

Tom felt a twist of anxiety: he needed Rowe to exude confidence; to project a mastery of his field. 

Rowe started by stating his qualifications, affiliations, and specialism: virology. In response to Tom’s questions, he confirmed that the symptoms of the virus emerged between one and seven days after transmission, but that the speed at which this happened depended on numerous factors, including an individual’s lifestyle, age, and underlying conditions. He also explained—as everyone in court knew—that the virus could survive on surfaces for up to eight hours, that it could be transmitted before its symptoms became apparent, that infection did not result in future immunity, and that the most common cause of death was encephalitis.

Rowe then moved on to the report that he’d prepared, examining the infections of PC Shah, PC Scott, and Sergeant Copley. He began by stating that he’d analyzed the hospital and Contaxx records of all three, and that, due to the frequency of their professional interactions, combined with the fact that their symptoms had developed within the same timeframe, he had little doubt that their infections were linked. Since all three had met Blake on the same evening, one day before falling ill, he formed the preliminary conclusion that Blake was the source of their infections. He became convinced of this when he learned that Blake’s neighbour had died of the virus.

‘In conclusion,’ he said, as if reading out his report, ‘having assessed all of the relevant factors in this case, I can say with a high degree of certainty that it was Mr Blake who transmitted the virus to PC Shah, PC Scott, and Sergeant Copley.’

‘Thank you, Professor,’ Tom said. ‘If you’d wait there, please.’

Tom sat, and Anna rose slowly, reading from her screen as she did so. She placed her laptop on her lectern and finished typing a note, before looking up to Rowe.

‘Professor, I’d like to ask you, first, about the material you relied upon to compile this report. You used,’ she began listing items on her fingers: ‘Contaxx data, hospital records …’ She stopped. ‘Anything else?’

‘Their medical records were extensive.’

‘You didn’t interview Sergeant Copley?’

‘No.’

‘You didn’t interview PC Scott to establish where he’d been or who he’d seen in the days before meeting Mr Blake?’

There was a pause. Rowe shuffled in his seat. ‘No.’

‘And you didn’t interview PC Shah’s family or colleagues to learn about her movements?’

‘No. There was no need. The data I had was extensive, as is my understanding of the virus.’

Anna then asked whether he’d received a copy of the digital bundle, and when he confirmed that he had, she directed him to the Contaxx data. 

‘I’d like you to look at PC Scott’s records, please.’ 

Professor Rowe leaned in and examined his screen.

‘What do you notice about the date on which his status was last updated?’

The professor shook his head.

‘If you compare it to the other entries…,’ she suggested.

‘Ah,’ he said. ‘His last update was several days earlier.’

‘Could you just confirm, please: if PC Scott had been infected on the Saturday and then tested on the Sunday, the infection would’ve been detected, wouldn’t it?’

‘Yes.’

‘But if he’d been infected on the Saturday and then missed a test on the Sunday, no one would have known that he was infected, would they?’

‘Not initially, not until he became symptomatic.’

‘So it’s possible, isn’t it, that he became infected on the weekend, missed Sunday’s test, and then started work on Monday whilst carrying the virus, without anyone knowing?’

Rowe thought for a moment, then came back: ‘If he’d done that you’d have expected him to infect more colleagues on the Monday and the Tuesday—but he didn’t. The only other colleagues who were infected were those who encountered Mr Blake on Tuesday evening. That’s why he is the nexus, the link between all three.’

Tom could’ve punched the air: she’ll try to rescue it now, he predicted, but it’s too late. He looked to see Denham’s reaction, but the judge seemed unmoved.

‘Professor,’ Anna persisted, ‘I suggest that it is possible that PC Scott contracted the virus on the weekend and attended work on Monday without knowing he was infected.’

‘I have no reason to think,’ Rowe spoke slowly, patiently, as if explaining his reasoning to a student, ‘that PC Scott contracted the virus that weekend.’

‘But because he wasn’t tested on the Sunday, you can’t say for sure that he didn’t, can you?’

She’s pushing her luck here, Tom thought. She needs to stop.

Rowe took a deep breath, stroked his moustache, and said: ‘No.’

‘One final question, then.’ Anna bent down and pulled three stapled documents out of her bag. She walked up to Denham to hand him one, then flung a second at Tom. 

He’d not seen it before, so as she stood to address Rowe, he growled at her: ‘What’s this?’ 

‘Why don’t you take a look?’ she muttered, without turning to face him.

Anna emailed a copy of the document to Rowe—a swoosh at her end, a ping at his—and asked whether he recognised it. 

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘It’s an article I published about two months ago, outlining the findings of my research into the virus.’

Tom shot to his feet. ‘Your Honour,’ his voice shook with anger, ‘I’m somewhat taken aback by My Learned Friend’s cavalier attitude to criminal procedure. This is, quite simply, an ambush. I’ve never been shown this, which means I’ve not had the opportunity to verify its authenticity—’ 

Denham raised a hand, silencing Tom. ‘Mr Wells, your witness has just confirmed that he wrote it. Now if you have some other, superior method of verifying its authenticity, then perhaps you could tell us. Otherwise, I’m inclined to trust that your witness is correct: that he did write it, and that he’s in a position to explain it to those who’ll listen. Unless, of course, you’re suggesting that an accomplished prosecutor like yourself is incapable of digesting that information …’ He tipped his head forward and peered over his glasses at Tom.

‘Your Honour … no. No.’

‘Very well,’ Denham said, sitting back. ‘Carry on, Ms Hart.’

‘Professor, if you could scroll to page four of your article.’ Anna was holding out her copy, and when Tom looked over he saw that she’d highlighted a passage directly beneath a large bar graph. He flicked through the pages to find it, skimming the headings as he went.

‘And if you could read the third paragraph, please,’ she said. ‘Aloud.’

As the above illustrates,’ Rowe read, ‘studies in Newcastle, Manchester and London have all shown homeless communities to be particularly susceptible to the virus, with transmission and mortality rates higher than those in nurseries and nursing homes. A number of factors have been identified as responsible for this, including: substance abuse, communal living, the presence of pre-existing medical conditions, and extreme deprivation. However, further research is required into the interaction of these factors and their varying significance.

Tom slumped back in his seat.

Go to Chapter Eight

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